Home Human Resources News Hugh Chappell: Forget midlife crisis! You don't need to be twenty-something to start a business

Hugh Chappell: Forget midlife crisis! You don't need to be twenty-something to start a business

by LLB Editor
2nd Sep 13 8:59 am

Angel investor Hugh Chappell, who has stakes in Lovestruck & ParkatmyHouse, on why age is no barrier to jump on the entrepreneurship train

I’m told a midlife crisis typically hits men at the age of 43 and women at 44. The male midlife crisis lasts between three and 10 years. For women it’s two to five years. Typical signs include still going to music festivals like Glastonbury, joining Facebook or Twitter so your bosses think you ‘get’ digital and often not being able to sleep due to worries at work.

Now midlife crisis or not, I regularly meet people in their late thirties, forties and beyond who sit on the conveyor belt of employment, loyal to their bosses, working hard yet wishing they had ownership in the businesses they work for. They think that “entrepreneur” and “start-up” appears only in dictionaries reserved for young people. You see they’ve left education, started work and made good progress, rented or bought a home, met their future partner, become parents …… you get the picture. And with this conveyor belt comes conformation and responsibility, in particular financial responsibility, hence the need to go to work every day irrespective of whether they want to or not. It doesn’t have to be this way however since the conveyor belt of entrepreneurship and business startup is available not just to younger people but to everybody – no matter what their age.

Certainly youth has many advantages including the financial support of parents/guardians providing protection from rent or household bills to pay and perhaps a monthly allowance?  This helps mitigate risk and can soften the blow of possible failure. Yet for those of us beyond our thirties and forties have something that is particularly difficult for our younger counterparts to compete with, that is our experience. With other people’s money we’ve probably been there and we may have even done it. This allows us to make informed decisions based on previous knowledge and gives us the ability to leverage our network of business contacts and/or customers often built up over many years.  This unfair advantage provides us with the opportunity to hit the ground running perhaps by starting a business and generating revenue immediately from existing customers in our current network.

But stop!, I hear you say. Yes, I want to be an entrepreneur and I certainly want to have ownership in the business I work for however I have bills to pay and a lifestyle to lead. This conundrum is perfectly normal and, in fact, applies to just about every middle-aged person. So, how do you jump off one conveyor belt (employment) and join the other (entrepreneurship and business start-up) when you have responsibilities to yourself and those around you?  Now one size never fits all however let’s look at one of my experiences:

In 2010 I invested in a dating website called Lovestruck.com. London-based, the two Founders, both in their mid-thirties, had successful careers in marketing and technology (website development) yet yearned to start their own business. They decided to establish Lovestruck in 2006 by working part-time and outside of normal working hours (evenings and weekends). This allowed them to develop their product and build the technology to operate. After a planned period of free usage (necessary with this type of business) they were able to generate revenues via subscriptions. At this point they were in a good position to seek outside investment from angel investors (myself included) to provide sufficient funds to enable them to commence marketing and importantly, to leave their employments. Interestingly, Lovestruck.com was not disruptive, there were 1,400+ dating websites operating at the time, however it was the founders and their experience that truly impressed me. Great people always interest me since I enjoy working with them and learn myself. Now salaries post-investment did not match those enjoyed in employment (they very rarely do) however the combination of remuneration sufficient to pay the essential bills and ownership meant they had made the leap from employment to ownership.  Revenues in 2013 will exceed £2.3m and now Lovestruck.com is one of the leading sites in the London dating scene in addition to operating in Hong Kong and Singapore. The founders enjoy the benefits of running a successful business and have sight of the ultimate return that an exit, one day, will provide.

In my case it took 26 successful years as an employee before I finally plucked up the courage to start my own business, aged 44. My midlife crisis was probably working for the same employer (Taxan) for 18 years however having built a business in Europe (with investment from head office in Japan) from zero to £50m+ of turnover per annum (and highly profitable) I had no regrets. I was probably too successful and paid too well to risk jumping conveyor belts.

I think everybody has “a song inside them” and in my case it was always wanting to own and run my own businesses. This I finally achieved in 2003 and 2005 with TrustedReviews.com (sold to Time Warner/IPC Media in Oct 2007) and bit-tech.net (sold to Dennis Publishing Ltd in Oct 2008).  Fortunately, financial prudency and preparation allowed me to invest my own money in both businesses and this is something I recommend if circumstances allow you to do so.

If you have a song inside you and the words “entrepreneur”, “ownership”, “start-up” resonate then do not let age be a barrier. The difference between you and success is ultimately you.

Hugh Chappell is a serial entrepreneur, angel Investor and advisor.  His recent investments include Lovestruck.com, ParkatmyHouse.com, Parkopedia.com, Net Communities and Cyclr.com all based in London. His non-exec roles include Time Out, Dennis Publishing and MyVoucherCodes.co.uk. He is a Board of the E2Exchange and Launch 48.

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