A few weeks ago someone who I had met through someone came to talk to me about their business.  It wasn’t something I was interested in but thought it was the right thing to do.  Like all entrepreneurs, he was passionate about his business.

What was different is that he is in his early 60’s and has been retired for a few years. He wanted to get back to doing something he cared about.  He did his research on his idea and found himself out in Silicon Valley talking to some VC’s through a friend of his.  They were all extremely nice but he wasn’t sure what milestones he needed to reach to get them to his invest in his business.  So he asked me if I could give him some advice and read through the lines of the feedback.

My feedback was simple.  You are too old.  No VC is going to give you capital.  If you really believe in your business then find a few people who are in their 30’s who are the right people and give them the majority of the stock and become the visionary.  He chuckled.  He got it and he knew what I was telling him was exactly what he thought.  We actually had a good laugh.

Ageism is a funny thing in the work world.  People who don’t get to a certain level in their careers by 50 have a hard time getting past that bar.  Yet we all are living longer, we all feel younger at an older age even though just like generations of the past not all of us really understand this generation (aka millennials).  We have experience and wisdom but we don’t have the stamina to grow a business from scratch.  It takes years so someone who is in their early 60’s could be 70 before they can even show success.  Big ask for an investor.

Even in companies, I don’t see many chomping at the bit to hire someone in their 60’s but someone who has years ahead of them.  It is a better investment.  Yet there will be more people over the age of 65 by 2020 than toddlers.  That signifies many things from medical costs to strains on social security but most of all it says to me there is an opportunity.  What it is I am not sure but as much as I wouldn’t invest in the guy who came into my office, I liked his energy and drive and underneath all of that, there is something happening here.

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    Don’t I know this.It’s reality more than an ism to me.You learn to work with it and find a way to lead by ideas if you have the ability to translate experience into a piece of the future that leaves your past way behind,

    1. Gotham Gal

      Not easy.

      1. awaldstein

        So the truth.

  2. Tracey Jackson

    Part of the problem is that people in their fifties and sixties don’t help others in their fifties and sixties. If they don’t who will? It’s a form of self-loathing though cloaked in pragmatism. Understandable on one level and deeply troubling on another. If you haven’t, read Tad Friend’s piece on ageism in The New Yorker from three weeks ago. Great insight.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I did. Great insight for sure.Happy New Year!

      1. Tracey Jackson

        And Happy New Year to all of you!

    2. awaldstein

      I’ll search the article out.It’s a huge market and one with means as well.My contemporaries though my clients are invariably younger.

      1. Tracey Jackson

        And it’s only growing and living longer and in better shape, with a huge will to keep on going and contributing. I love what Sophia says. I hate using the word older or elder as it applies to me, but once you hit a certain age and have achieved a level of success you are often long on wisdom, more focused and hopefully less ego driven. And often have better work habits. You understand the ebbs and flows of life and business, but it’s oddly at this point it’s decided you are dispensable. Tech as we know has taken the desirable age down further than in decades past. I think Boomers will change many pre conceived ideas about this in the next decade. And those who are now 40 will be 50 in ten years!!!

        1. awaldstein

          I’m all in on this.Living it every day.

    3. JLM

      .Interesting thought. There are support organizations out there which anticipate the aging of their members.I was a member of YPO back in the day. Michael Dell was a member of our chapter and there were 3 members who became billionaires.The criteria to join have changed over the years. When I joined you had to be younger than 40. Now, it is 45.…One of the secret functions is something called “Forum” which couples you with a 6-10 person peer group. Highly confidential. It was the best peer-to-peer group I ever experienced.When you hit 50, you can morph over to WPO in which you can stay until the week after your funeral.This is a highly organized and supportive group. If I were to travel to Australia, I can make contact with a number of WPO or YPO members. It is a very powerful set of contacts.I recognize this is not the same as the startup world exactly, but it is a good model to follow. It anticipates the value of age, wisdom, experience, and mutual support.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. Tracey Jackson

        Sounds great. Smart. Fair.

  3. Sophia

    If I could afford to hire new staff, and the position were appropriate, I would hire retirees. I have thought about this before, because I have family and friends of family who are retiring from their careers, but still looking for work to keep them busy. I see them as a great applicant pool. I want people that are reliable, think strategically, and want a steady job. Also, they bring years of experience from working, and aren’t as addicted to technology as younger people are. I can understand why VCs wouldn’t invest in someone older perhaps, but I think they still are appealing as job candidates.

    1. Gotham Gal

      You go to the head of the class.

    2. Susan Rubinsky

      I am on a board of a startup non-profit where, at 51, I am the second youngest person on the team. The Chair is six months younger than me. Everyone else is retired. This is the wisest group of people I have ever worked with. The insights of the older people on the team save us a lot of time. Being a consultant, I work with many different teams at many different companies and organizations, and I’d say this is the most efficient team I have ever worked with. We’ve gotten more done in a year than some of my other clients get done in five years. Our startup culture in the U.S. is missing out on some great people.

      1. Gotham Gal

        They absolutely are.

      2. JLM

        .Why do you think the people who do the fighting and dying in wars are in their twenties while the politicians and generals are so damn old?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  4. lisa hickey

    We have to solve for ageism. I refuse to believe it’s a reality that can’t be changed. I refuse to believe people in their 60’s and 70’s can’t be energetic, tireless, brilliant, strategic, insightful, and forward-thinking. Just because something is hard to change doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

    1. Susan Rubinsky

      A friend of mine who is in his 60’s is on the rise — currently at the VP level — of a late stage tech startup in NYC. He and are very close friends and talk daily. I don’t see any doors closing for him any time soon. He is smart, energetic and insightful. He gets more done in a day than a team of millennials get done in a week. One recurring conversation he and I are always riffing on is about relevance. If you bring relevant thinking and strategies to the table and know how to execute them, you will always be in demand.

      1. Gotham Gal

        I believe you are correct about that. He gets it. Unfortunately many do not.

      2. lisa hickey

        Completely agree. Know how to solve problems. Solve the ones that matter. Show the results. And yes to relevance. It at least helps ageism go away on an individual level if not a systemic one.

      3. JLM

        .Every person has a duty to keep their skills current. That is why I have always been a gadgeteer.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. lisa hickey

          I agree…but I think it’s more than skills. Looking at what Susan and Joanne are saying, there’s something about energy. And I believe that energy comes from being able to envision a future that others cannot.

          1. JLM

            .A lot of energy is the ability to manage time well. When I got out of business school, everybody was headed to Wall Street to be an Ibanker.I had several interviews including all of the big boys. In those days, the interviews were a tag team of an MD and a partner. The MD ran the interview.They fancied these interviews as being “stress” interviews.One of the questions had to do with working through the night. Would I do it? How would I react?I answered that I would do it one time to get the job done and, thereafter, I’d work with whomever to re-organize the work so nobody had to work through the night. The MD did not like that answer.Needless to say, I did not get a job offer.Three months later, I got a call from the partner who invited me to lunch. I was already working in NYC by then, so I went as a curiosity. He said I was the only person who had ever objected to how the work was being organized.The reason this became important was they were losing a lot of second year analysts which was alarming as they’d spent 2 years training them and expected them to become VPs in a year.It is not energy as a quantum force; it is focused energy on the task at hand. I can still outwork any 20-something. I get up earlier, stay later, work harder, whatever it takes. I refuse to make it a necessity.When I am working with slightly seasoned CEOs, this issue of time management is a big deal. The better CEOs are much better time managers.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    2. JLM

      .I don’t think you can change it, but I do think you can use it to your advantage.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  5. JLM

    .What an interesting and courageous subject.I am 67 (next month). I have a degree in engineering (could have taken my degree in econ or math as well) and an MBA in finance.I got into business on the heels of 5 years in the military in which I served with elite units in command positions. When I was 25, I commanded 400 combat engineers. I had the authority to promote, demote, prefer charges, give Article 15 punishments, have men do dangerous things, ran a mess hall big enough to feed them and an adjoining unit 3 meals a day, signed for $100MM of equipment including 2 tanks. I served on three continents and trained on two more.Everything I ever needed to know to run a business I learned as a platoon leader and a company commander. The first rule was very simple — take care of your men before you take care of yourself.The business world didn’t really value the experience I had. They didn’t understand what it means to be thousands of miles from home and having the lives of hundreds of men in your hands. When you screwed up, men could die.I rode that wave to establish several successful businesses, my favorite being developing high rise office buildings. At age 29, I looked into a 120′ deep hole, wherein $100MM was going to build a 50-story building and said to myself, “You better not screw this up.”Today, I drive by that building and laugh. I think it laughs back at me.I ran private and public companies of some considerable size and breadth. I was better at some than others. I made my fair share plus some of mistakes, but it all turned out. I learned how to assemble, motivate, hold accountable teams, and I learned how to hire good people. I gave them the vision and they finished the planning from there.I tried to retire, but I kept getting calls from people, so I decided to form a company called “The Wisdom of the Campfire” and I advise CEOs, entrepreneurs, founders, and VCs. I get a lot of calls when the barn is already on fire. I do no marketing and I still get a lot of calls.I know more stuff about running a business than any ten of my clients put together, but I have to be careful because I can’t “give” them the answer. I have to help them find the answer. When I do, they often ask, “How did you know that?” I respond, “I was a CEO for 33 years, an Army officer for 5 years, and went to a military school where I learned something about leadership. And, I probably screwed it up a few times along the way.”I work with some truly brilliant CEOs and I have had the great pleasure to see them grow, and go to the paywindow. I had a little something to do with it, but mostly they had it inside themselves. I just showed them where it was.We do not value wisdom and experience in the US today. We value youth. But, here’s the thing, wisdom stands back and laughs at youth.It takes a smart person to tap into the value of wisdom and experience. Much of the youth of today are too immature to be able to see how easy it would be to tap into wisdom.The worst type of discrimination in the US today (business, not racial) is older women. They are invisible. I worked through with a woman dealing with a big SV company and it was pathetic to see how tone deaf and clueless they were. And, it is considered to be an “enlightened” company. The woman, PhD and MD, objected to going to team building with the “guys” at establishments which were “male” focused (you can translate that).As people live longer, there will be a general increase in the age ceiling, but there will no shortage of young, clueless people.Another funny thing is the reaction I get when somebody asks me what I think about something before they know my personal history. At times, they discard my advice, but when they find out I founded 7 companies and dragged a few to the paywindow, they take my advice completely differently.I work with a couple of the incubators and accelerators. When you meet young entrepreneurs through that channel, they seem to be a little more appreciative.I figure I have one more business in me before I have to fish full time. [When I sold one business, I became a scratch golfer, so I train well.] I am going to start an incubator/accelerator which has a co-ed cohort, a veteran’s cohort, a woman’s cohort, and an old, wise person’s cohort.You have identified an untapped vein of value.BTW, the Presidential election pitted a 70 year old white man v a 69 year old white woman. So much for our crusade for youth.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. Tracey Jackson

      There is so much of this to respond to. All of it deeply interesting. The service thing is so true. Though I’ve never been in any form of the military. Sabastian Junger deals with some of your points in his new book Tribes. You might like it. We are a society that feels at 55 we should be put in gated communities and only allowed out for doctors appointments. With the exception of our politicians. They need to be old Sourhern white men. Go figure! Being a woman approaching 60 I know way too much about invisible. But I’m dealing with it in a positive way. Though without question once you hit that point you have to fit into the places society is comfortable seeing woman over 50. Or you have to out fox them?

      1. Gotham Gal

        the white man politician over 60…go figure for sure!

      2. JLM

        .Two quick observations:You can only be a 21 year old Second Lieutenant in difficult conditions only once in your life. Many don’t survive it, but if you do, there is no comparable experience in civilian life. It puts everything into perspective.I used to hire guys who fit this mold – Captains from trade schools (West Point, VMI, Citadel) with MBAs. I once interviewed a woman who had flown A-10s in combat. I didn’t have the right job for her, but she was a killer. I was pretty sure I’d be working for her in a couple of years.Worldly, experienced women have a gear which nobody else has. They can kick it into high gear, especially if their children are involved. My wife, as Southern as it is possible to get, is a lawyer who gave up her practice to raise children. Once upon a time, when one of her children was involved, I watched her turn into a fierceness and back down a smug Country Prosecutor, the Ga BI, the FBI, Wells Fargo, and a huge background investigation company. She did it so sweetly and with such a complete victory, it was scary. Then, she went back to just being her. My Perfect Daughter said, “Dad, whoa, Mom. Wow!”MPD bought her a ribbon which said, “Fierce AF.”The world is going to have to wise up because people are going to work and live much longer.60 is the old 40.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    2. Sierra Choi

      Wow! Happy Bday JLM! I think the idea of “retiring” is very depressing and perhaps an artifact of American society that might be outdated. I’m wondering if you’ve read Randy Komisar’s The Monk and the Riddle? He writes very cogently how we are all inculcated to believe that there is a retirement at the end of our careers, but in reality, we must take many mini-retirements throughout our careers and never stop doing what we love.

      1. JLM

        .My father lived to be 97 and I expect to outlive him.I think a man has at least 6-8 careers in him.That is what keeps life interesting.I have been a professional soldier, a corporate cog, a real estate developer (high rise office buildings, suburban building parks, office/showroom/high tech buildings, apartments, warehouses, and land), a real estate re-developer (apartment, high rise office buildings), a public company CEO, an angel investor, a high tech startup mentor, a writer, and I have at least one more career in me.I have read The Monk and the Riddle. The book is 15 years old. I agree completely with its premise — we get paid with experience, ego enrichment, self-esteem nourishment, and cash. The richness of our lives is in the multiple experiences we have, the people we meet, how we test ourselves, the positive influence we have on people, and what we leave behind.Life is intended to be a continuous learning experience. I learned to fly an airplane when I was 50.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  6. JAJones

    I love this story from my friend describing his father’s experience running his new business from a WeWork in Manhattan at 70+ years old. He retired as a partner from a Big 5 accounting firm. ‘When we went to dress down on Friday’s at my firm it was a 4 hour discussion at our partners meeting and talked about forever. Some could not imagine no ties. I realize the dress code now is like going to the beach. I also, somewhat understand the ping pong table I think. But, I just went to get a cup of coffee and a bunch were drinking beer and playing Twister.’

    1. Gotham Gal


  7. pointsnfigures

    If Bill Gates walked through your door and said I want to raise money for a company, would you invest? I don’t think you lose the skills of being an entrepreneur just because you are old. Carry it a step further. Bill Gurley leaves Benchmark and decides to do a different sort of fund-would you become an LP? I do think there is energy that young people bring and bringing them onto the team is a good idea. If we are going to embrace “diversity” and we know there will be a lot of old people walking around why not have a few of them on the team?

    1. Gotham Gal

      There are always outliers…thank god

  8. Erin

    Sorry for the late addition here, but I *kind of* get why some people have a hard time finding work after retirement. Some people are assholes and for forty years, they run roughshod over their families and treat their wives like an appendage, giving the finger to personal development, or giving themselves a serious look in the mirror, and when they retire, they’re still an asshole, but now they’re self-satisfied about it, even though the admin assistant who thinks they’re a loser is paid to organize their party and make a slideshow about their years at the company, and make a fuss about them. So then they go home and wax poetic about the rich lives they’ve lived at the supper table, tool around a bit at home and then think they’re entitled to more! Freelancing! Working from home! Consulting! The last step in the ladder of the individuation process! When you work for a company, your personality is just a quirk, because when a company hires you- let’s say you work for Deloitte- they’re getting Deloitte, not really you. Kind of you, but not really. If there’s a problem with you, Deloitte hears about it and there are processes to go through, so there’s a safety net for the client. People can’t really say to a colleague what they think about them because they have to keep working with them for several more years. So there’s a vested interest in not confronting or excluding anyone. As an entrepreneur, you have to have the whole package internalized within you- the skill set, the self-discipline, the accounting, the head, the heart, the guts. You’re the employee and the manager, and if you have never *noticed* “oh boy, I suck at this task and oops, maybe I should develop some humility”, then no, no one will ever hire you to work alongside them. They’ll see your grasping fingers, your quiet desperation to not have to deal with the trail of neglect you’ve left behind you over the course of your life, and they’ll say sorry, I’m giving this job to a younger person. Because with a younger person, there’s still this false virtue associated with their youth. This is not to imply anything about your friend there, and certainly lots of retirees are easy to work with. Yes, getting old is scary, and not having a job title to prop up your ego is terrifying, but it’s not like there was nothing they could’ve done about it over the course of their lives.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Ouch. ?

      1. Erin

        Present party excluded.

  9. Anne Libby

    Even in companies, I don’t see many chomping at the bit to hire someone in their 60’s but someone who has years ahead of them. It is a better investment.The funny thing here is that I think 4 years is currently the median tenure in a company. Companies aren’t really investing in people for the long term.So if you’re hiring someone for 4 years, I think there is a sweet spot there for older people. If, like @susanrubinsky:disqus’s friend, they have figured out “relevance,” many experienced people have an advantage over new grads.It’s costly and time consuming to train new grads in some of the basics of business that aren’t taught in school. One of the most frequent refrains I hear in my work is, “Joe Bloggs went to (name an elite school). I can’t believe that I have to tell him to (name a basic job skill, like creating a typo-free presentation.)”Interestingly, Amazon has apparently figured this out, they recruit older people to work in their warehouses during the holidays. Fascinating book on this group, *Nomadland* by Jessica Bruder.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Will pick up the bookThere is so much value on the older workforce

      1. Anne Libby

        I’ll be interested to hear what you think. (I want to say something, but no spoilers, lol.)Related: I interviewed Marci Alboher for an upcoming edition of my newsletter. Marci works for, where they’re working to connect wisdom and expertise of older folks with not for profits and businesses with social agendas. They’re doing good work, and Marci is really great.

  10. Heather Wetzler

    This number really stood out to me in this article, “The senior living industry has 10 years to find 1.2 million new recruits…”…I bring that up because of your stat about 2020 – -it is going to be interesting

  11. Sierra Choi

    This is a very interesting topic and I’m glad you have brought it to light. However, I have to say I disagree with you. 99% of startups founded by young founders fail. The average lifespan of a tech startup is 3 years. However, older people who start businesses have a much higher success rate, and I believe overall 65% become financially viable within 5 years. Craig Newmark founded craigslist in his 50s, and the Prince of Wales in the UK has a charity called PRIME (The Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise) which is geared towards funding people 60+ over to start their businesses.I think one of the primary reasons VCs might be more interested in recent grads/ early 20s founders is because they have said that founders “must learn how to live in poverty” and work for next to nothing. More experienced people are probably not willing to live in poverty and work for shares as opposed to someone who has just graduated from university. However, then again, I think many experienced people in the corporate world don’t really understand the nature of startups, and the multi-hats one must wear in the early stages, so there could be other factors as well.As for myself and the ventures I am involved in, I would love to have interns who are 50+ or 60+ even 70+! We have so much to learn from older people, yet we discard them and treat them like 2nd rate citizens. Ageism in America (and elsewhere) I think is something that should be addressed, in addition to sexism in the workplace.

  12. ErikSchwartz

    “If you really believe in your business then find a few people who are in their 30’s who are the right people and give them the majority of the stock and become the visionary”…is simply not an acceptable solution. Would you tell a woman founder who was having trouble getting funded to go find a team of men, give them the majority of the stock and just be the visionary?