The founder perspective

Jaleh Bisharat

Jaleh Bisharat, who is in her early 60s, never thought she would start a business of her own; after leaving her role as chief marketing officer at Eventbrite, she began advising startups. It wasn’t long before she spotted a gap in the clean beauty market, and NakedPoppy was born. Sitting at the intersection of clean beauty, health and tech, NakedPoppy not only offers a range of beauty products, but also uses an AI-led algorithm to curate a personalised beauty and skincare routine for each customer. Here are Jaleh’s key takeaways for older founders.

1. Be radically customer-centric

‘Absolutely nothing matters more than putting yourself in your customer’s shoes,’ says Jaleh. ‘It is so easy to get caught up in “work” and the assumptions you are making about your customers, but you need to talk to them and learn from them regularly.’ In the world of beauty, she believes, older women are regularly alienated by anti-aging messages. Being an older woman herself allows her to not only be authentic in her communication to other women in her age bracket, but also to be universally appealing to younger customers.  

2. Use your network

After a 35-year career in Silicon Valley, Jaleh found that she had no problem getting funding for her idea. For this she credits the people she got to know over the course of her career – a significant advantage of being an older founder. ‘“Networking” itself has a forced feeling to it, but if you work hard through your career, people get to know your work, and your work speaks for itself,’ she says. ‘In the early stages [of launching a business], people are betting on people, not just the idea.’

3. Leadership style is important

Building a people-centric business comes from careful leadership and, after various senior positions, Jaleh is keen to develop a culture of ideas at NakedPoppy as well. ‘Culture gets set at the top,’ she says, ‘and is mimicked through the organisation. It’s about how you handle those “Oh, shit!” moments, and project calm as well as projecting charisma.’

The venture capital perspective

John Zapolski, Alive Ventures

A handful of venture capital firms are beginning to take advantage of the older market. After raising $12m in July, Alive Ventures aims to build six to eight companies for older people a year, launching the first in early 2021.  Recognising that there is a large gap between our perception of over-65s and their actual behaviours – and thus a largely untapped gap in the market – founder John’s ultimate goal is to grow the amount of money available to invest in businesses for older consumers, and says a couple are already in development, including a social network called Bloom that facilitates online group experiences.  

‘We started by thinking that older adults’ worries centred around disconnection from society in retirement, income insecurity or a major change in health. It was only once we started designing with them that we realised this was a sociologist’s framework of looking at older people,’ says John. ‘Older people want the same things for themselves that we have wanted throughout our lives. When we think about any other segment of the population, we think of people wanting experiences, to improve their lives through connections and relationships, and to find more ways to express themselves. Older consumers want brands to make them feel excited rather than catered down to. They want to be recognised as complex, both emotionally and psychologically, rather than trapped in their bodies. They want to celebrate everyday life and are willing to invest in that.’  Four themes emerged from John and his team’s research on what matters most to older adults: finding love, reimagining work, reinvigorating vitality and establishing new friendships. Entrepreneurs coming to Alive Ventures with this consumer base will be encouraged to develop design-driven, high-quality products and experiences around these themes.

The expert perspective

Cal Halvorsen

‘Older entrepreneurs have higher success rates than people under 50 – the most successful entrepreneurs who gain access to venture capital are, on average, 45 years old,’ explains Cal Halvorsen, who is an expert in senior entrepreneurship and has worked at various non-profit organisations specialising in increasing economic opportunities for older adults. But the huge interest in entrepreneurship among older adults isn’t always a choice. ‘Some people are pursuing their passions, and others become entrepreneurs because they might be out of other options,’ he says. 

Cal is referencing the 2007 global recession: ‘Younger people are always the quickest to lose their jobs and the quickest to get their jobs back, but those over 50 who lose jobs often don’t come back into the workforce.’ For this group, self-employment is a necessary undertaking.  

‘The importance of self-employment continues to increase with age. For those in their early 50s, 16% are self-employed. When you get to early 60s, 21% are working for themselves. Between 70 and 74, 41% work for themselves, and among those still working after 80, 51% are self-employed. We found that older people want to stay in their encore careers for more than 10 years, so they are worth the investment.’

This is part of a larger feature on the new business of growing old.

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This article was first published in Courier Issue 37, October/November 2020. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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