Well-Paid at 40? Why It May Be Time to Quit

Published: September 02, 2015 11:03 IST
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There are so many who are bitten by the entrepreneurial bug at 40. Why does everyone end up talking about the 25-year-olds?  

This question popped up as a strong response to my earlier blog capturing the dilemma of 40+ high-achievers in the corporate world, who find themselves at a crossroad with entrepreneurs in their 20s cornering the digital and e-commerce space. 

So I set out on a weekend quest - to find compelling stories of brave hearts who plunged into entrepreneurship in their 40s, leaving behind cushy well-paying corporate jobs. A single post on FB threw up a fairly long list of referrals, demonstrating there are far more second-life entrepreneurs than we speak of. 

My mission was to discover what triggers the crossover from a secure world a to chaotic one? After all, there is hardly anyone I know who hasn't nurtured a secret dream of doing something of their own at some point in their life. What then brings about the final pushover? 

Here are some known and some surprising discoveries from the amazing stories I heard. The best known trigger for venturing out on one's own - the proverbial "hitting the glass ceiling" did emerge as a strong argument. Vivek Hazari decided to launch Mobili -T, a Transport solution business, well into his 40s. His reason "Once you've reached the number 2 spot, what next? The number 1 spot is elusive with the promoter holding on to it".

A similar sentiment was echoed by several more who say they struggled to grow in a narrowing pyramid structure. A lateral move to another corporate job only meant similar responsibilities and no new excitement.  

Now, the surprising discovery. 

Each of the 40+ entrepreneurs I spoke with defied the typecast of the restless MBA who switches companies frequently. All of them had held successful long-term jobs before starting their own venture. I found none at all with the "I hated being a corporate prisoner" syndrome. Their trigger for getting out was simply a belief that they can do it better from the outside.  

An erstwhile banker, Manish Shah launched bigdecisions.com, a financial empowerment portal, dismayed by the messy way financial products including life insurance were being sold to customers. "I strongly felt we needed to do something different in the business," Manish says.

Gauri Garodia worked with the fragrance division of Unilever for almost a decade before she launched a perfumery business Code Deco out of Singapore. "On the surface, the luxury perfume market seems saturated and yet there is a lack of individuality. Code Deco was born from my discontent with the choices on offer," she says. Imagine the guts it takes to play in a market dominated by the established deep pocketed luxury heavyweights!

Such conviction can spring only from deep domain knowledge. 

Another inspiring story from the 40+ dashboard, is that of Sandeep Mirakhur. After 15 years at Airtel, he grabbed the company's six-month incubator program to develop a mobile VAS (Value Added Services) solution, Talktime Loan, which clocked five times the revenue of the then existing best-selling VAS product. Why did he have to step out of Airtel, you could ask? Simple answer: "Large companies become big because of innovation and then they stop innovating. It's very critical to cannibalize your own product to stay ahead, like an Apple or a Google, but few Indian companies have that DNA." 

The freedom to innovate, think out of the box, move rapidly with new ideas, are some of the biggest triggers for the transition from a job to entrepreneurship in ones 40s. 

I also discovered some interesting threads connecting these entrepreneurs. For most, it's a very well thought out move rather than an impulsive jump. "You can't have EMI payments to worry about. Even cutting down in a big way on your lifestyle is not easy on the kids or family" said Vivek Agarwal, who has been running a successful retail intelligence business SharedReach for the last five years. He, like the others I connected with, has a high-earning spouse. This financial security paved way for a longer term ability to bootstrap, plough through and  turn cash positive. Most of them gave a miss to the song-and-dance routine with investors, which young entrepreneurs can rarely avoid.  

Now the question - are the chances of success greater if you start out at 40 than in your 20s? I don't think my dozen plus conversations are good enough to answer that. But several global studies have found that businesses set up by older entrepreneurs are more sustainable - a deep pool of knowledge, people management skills and an extensive network add up to greater chance of success. It's hard to argue with that. 

So here's the final word on entrepreneurship for the 40+ cubicled lot. Your window is not closed, as headlines and hype will make you believe. Take the plunge.

The corporate drill has already made you super disciplined. Your challenges will be different. 

"One of the first few things that hit you is the complete lack of structure - no office, no business so no deliverables - sometimes feels great but if you've been part of a structured work environment, it can be pretty unnerving. The other thing that stands out is the sheer amount of time every seemingly small thing takes - stuff you could throw people and money at in your MNC gig needs different solutions and needs you to be a lot more patient," sums up Manish Shah, founder, of bigdecisions.com.

Have any of the folks I've spoken with thought of going back to a corporate job, in case the venture does not succeed? None have. They all said unequivocally that the thrill of creating meaningful value is hard to turn your back on.  

 From the Diary of a 40 plus.

(Manisha Natarajan is Senior Vice President - Corporate Affairs and Executive Editor - Real Estate at NDTV.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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