Startups and Baby Boomers: What’s the connection?
American Express’s Open Forum has advised that companies may want to hire an older worker over a younger one because of their “strong work ethic, loyalty and communications skills.” But, what about a startup? Some may have been hesitant to hire baby boomers or seniors as their corporate focus is usually on cutting edge, innovative advancements, but are these necessarily mutually exclusive? Can older workers satisfy the needs of contemporary tech startups?
Another concern is that older workers tend to be more expensive than their Gen X and Millennials, counterparts. Is hiring baby boomers a luxury that should be considered by startups often strapped for cash?
In fact, I say that not only can the older generation contribute to startups, but not leveraging their experience can be detrimental to startup companies. Hiring a baby boomer for a startup then becomes not a luxury, but a necessity that can help provide a true competitive differentiator.
At Panoramic Power, we develop unique wireless energy sensor and a cloud-based energy efficiency solution for businesses: a very technical undertaking with savvy customers. We are based in fast-paced New York City, serve clients all over the world, and rely heavily on online channels. All of these are characteristics that would seem to put baby boomers and even senior citizens out of contention for being part of our team.
Dan Wijsboom, our Senior Electric Engineer, is over 70 years old. He grew up before the advent of email (or even home computers, for that matter). When he was my age, energy efficiency meant turning off the light when exiting a room. And yet, his contributions to our device-level energy monitoring system make him a key member of our team. American Express is right about Dan and his generation having “strong work ethic, loyalty and communications skills,” but Dan’s value to our company is far beyond just that.
Benefits of Baby Boomers for Every Startup
Are they more expensive? Possibly. Do they tweet, Facebook, Instagram, and +1 everything that makes them smile (or grouch)? Likely not. Should you still hire one? Absolutely!
Dan, our own shining example, and many others like him, grew up in an era of reform and believe they can change the world. They are independent thinkers. They think outside the box and do not conform to trends. They welcome challenges and they like to make a difference. And what is a startup if not the corporate version of these characteristics (independence of thought, nonconformity, motivated by challenges, and inspired to change the world)?
Baby Boomers as Mentors
Thrive15.com is an online portal that offers 15-minute online business courses. Its founder, a young entrepreneur named Clay Clark who got his start as an owner of a DJ company, hired baby boomer and Pulitzer-nominated author Clifton Taulbert to mentor young entrepreneurs. As mentors, baby boomers have a lot to share.
Baby boomers can teach and inspire younger workers at every startup. Younger employees at startup companies often report dissatisfaction with onerous demands that do not align with training opportunities. Startups’ resources are limited and their needs are limitless. But the knowledge and experienced amassed by experienced workers in their long careers makes it a valuable resource for training and mentoring the younger workers.
Baby Boomers’ Rolodex
Naturally, baby boomers offer extensive experience in their field and industry. Often, their experience may also come with industry contacts and connections. Younger employees entering a new field may spend exorbitant resources gaining access to industry contacts which may be just a phone call away for older workers.
Baby Boomers’ Work Ethic
Sandra Powers, Founder of LawyerReviews.com says, “baby boomers are slightly more flexible than some of our Gen X and Millennial team members. They often are more willing to stay late without coercion and are not as demanding in ensuring they receive enhanced benefits for extra work. Ultimately, I have found what baby boomers bring to the table a perspective that is results driven and goal oriented.”
Baby Boomers’ Experience and Its Draw with Investors
Sonation.com’s co-founder, Paul Henry Smith offers another layer on insight, “Bruce Cichowlas, 63 years old, our VP of Engineering, has released software products before, knows 25 programming languages, and has worked with challenging teams in the past, he not only got our product done, but anticipated needs and built support systems to manage them . . . that lets investors know that we’ve got a unique and experienced team they can trust to execute well.”
Startups for Baby Boomers by Baby Boomers
Though ours isn’t one, there are many tech startups that target the boomer and senior generations for their customer base. For tech startups selling to this broad niche, targeting baby boomers requires understanding seniors’ tastes, problems, and use cases. Hiring a baby boomer may present easy access to this important audience segment. In fact, here are some stats that may shock you:
- Baby boomers make up a $750 billion market.
- 80 million baby boomers (approximately 42 percent of the population) hold 77 percent of all personal assets and account for half of all discretionary spending.
- Total disposable income for people over 50 was more than $3 trillion in 2010.
Baby Boomers and Startups are Perfectly Matched
What I have learned from running a startup is that startups need employees who:
- Are committed and dedicated
- Relish long work weeks and define themselves by their professional accomplishments
Welcome exciting, challenging projects and strive to make a difference
- Do not bounce around between employers, reducing turnover, hiring costs and training costs
- Will not hesitate to challenge established practices
- Can lend a sense of sanity and moderation which is often needed in fast paced start up environment
What I have learned from working with Dan Wijsboom is that older workers fit the bill exactly. So even though they may be slightly more expensive and may need some training on technological innovations (or sometimes, they may lead the training…), hiring a baby boomer is the right move for startups that can benefit from resourcefulness and experience.