Jeremy Gray – The Geriatric Entrepreneur
IBGR. Network. The World of Business at Your Fingertips
Is retirement not for you? Me neither! I have always known that retirement did not hold any attraction for me. Those financial product advertisement promising early retirement never resonated.
As Elizabeth Queen of England, who is still active at the age of 95, says “If I stop, I will drop.”
In season 9 I will share with you my experiences running a consulting business that delivers the much targeted six figure income. I also invite you to join me, as I build my business plan to escape the tyranny of the clock which limits my earnings to the hours I work. Over the next five years I plan to build an income portfolio that will support my family into the future. Please join me on that journey.
Episode 1 Why listen?
I was debating whether to change my show title from Practical Solutions to Difficult Problems to The Geriatric Entrepreneur, after all rebranding is a big step. I asked some folks what they thought and I got a range of reactions from “Great idea” to “Are you mad? Do you believe your listeners will identify with a geriatric?” Yes, I think if they have the same sense of humor as me, they will. In June I will be 68 years old and I am excited that today, age is no longer a barrier to new opportunities and experiences. I was 66 years old when I launched my first show on IBGR, an opportunity that technology has only recently made available to people with limited technical skills. Thank you, James Mulvany for Radio.co and Podcast.co. When I tell twenty somethings that I am on Spotify they look at me in surprise. They almost do not believe me, but they go on line, and sure enough there I am with over 150 podcasts.
Living in Singapore I take advantage of their excellent public transport system to take a bus to my office located in a co-working centre. It may seem strange to those who dream of early retirement, but I get a sense of satisfaction that I am commuting to my office just as I did nearly fifty years ago. Some may say if you are the same at sixty as you were at twenty you have wasted forty years.
Of course, I am older, and experience has changed me, but I do not go to work, I go to my office. I do not work for myself, I am self employed and work for my clients.
Many people in later life say they want to start their own business but only a small percentage actually do. Whether it is a belief they are too old, that they cannot master today’s technology or the risk of failure I do not know. For those who do not start these fears are real but they do not need to be. I have had so much fun since I left the corporate world, I feel it is my duty to share my experiences, and may be increase that percentage, even if only slightly, of folks who make the leap and launch their own business.
I believe there is a lack of support for the older entrepreneur out there. Witness the fact that I was able to obtain the domain name thegeriatricentreprenuer.com Dot com domain names are not so easy to find as they once were. In addition I use Canva for most of my images and I could not find a suitable graphic that delivered the message that retirement was not for me.
And for my younger listeners, do not let the name of my show have you reaching for the search key on your mobile phone. In forty years I have learned a few things. Although the way business is carried out today is very different than it was when I started; the fundamentals are still the same. You have to build a product or service that people want, you need to ensure that they know your product exists, customers need to be able to access your offering and you have to price it correctly, so you make a profit. I will address all these basic truths during the season. And as a plus, us older folks do not have as much time left, so we must move quickly and get it right first time. Not a bad concept for any entrepreneur. Also, we cannot risk too much of our capital, so if you are a cash strapped entrepreneur, my low investment strategies will be useful to you. As my tagline says Putting experience to work, suitable for all ages. Yes, this show carries a G rating.
But apart from my enthusiasm, how will this series help you? I read a lot of business articles and books, and in the most part they contain useful information on what to do, they are inspirational and get you fired up. But they almost universally fail to tell you the how. IBGR from the days of its launch has been focused on the how. We are using the medium of radio and podcasts which are sadly deficient when it comes to delivering images. Although I will do my best to demonstrate the how during my show, I am simultaneously launching a blog, called surprise surprise the Geriatric Entrepreneur where I will be able to post images that will guide you along the way. Such as this week’s offering which guides you on the step-by-step process needed to link Amazon Associates links onto your WordPress based website. I believe the blog will save you time in getting your own business underway. Because that is another thing I have notice about business books that promise success, their essential message can be distilled down to two words. Work Harder.
I am launching the Geriatric Entrepreneur over the course of Season 9 and I will share with you every step I take. As said earlier my initial objective is to encourage you to seize the opportunity and start your own business. But of course I do hope that eventually there will be opportunities to monetize the content but that will not happen in the next 13 weeks. So whether this venture is a success or failure continue to follow my blog post.
There will be other useful features, such as summaries of interesting articles or books I have read that I feel will be of interest to my listeners. I will share some of my failures, such as an attempt to drum up business from the dental community. I put some money and a lot more time into that venture to capture zero clients despite managing to get my website on the coveted first page on Google. Many times being the first listing on the page. I have just checked, and it still ranks of the first page if you search I need a CFO for my dental practice. In later episode I will see what lessons we can learn from that failure.
Episode 2 10 things you need to consider before you launch your second career.
It’s time to grab a notebook and pen or pencil and start jotting down the thoughts that are going through your mind about your new business venture. I do strongly suggest that you do physically write down your ideas rather than typing them on an electronic device. Research has shown that the act of writing by hand leads to better retention of ideas. And if you are like me I love a high quality note book combined with a fountain pen. There is something deeply satisfying about liquid ink gliding over smooth paper. But then I know I am a bit of a throw back.
Episode 3 Start with a side gig, develop your breakthrough idea.
There is a saying that the best time to plant a shade tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now. The best time to launch a consulting business is when you are still employed. And if you are not employed then the second best time in now.
I used the side gig route. Some 8 years ago, it looked like my MNC career was going to involuntarily end, Well at least involuntarily on my part. My employer had no such concerns. In one of the many restructurings that most companies seem to have, my role had been pulled out of Asia and back to HQ. It seemed to me that the writing was on the wall. I was about sixty years old at the time, which is not the easiest age to find a new job. I decided I would become a part time or fractional CFO. As I said a couple of minutes ago, I felt I had some useful experience that would stand me in good stead. At about the same time I had been speaking at a CFO conference where I met a young lady who was running a business called the CFO Centre in Hong Kong. She gave me an introduction to Steve Settle who was launching the CFO Centre in Singapore. Steve had the excellent sense to take me on as one of his CFO Principals. For me the great opportunity presented by the CFO Centre is that it gives you some instant credibility. An international company feels you are good enough to represent them. So that is how I got started.
As this was a side gig I did tell my employer what I was planning to do and asked for their agreement to my plan. This use to be called moonlighting as many companies had employment contracts that prohibited third party work. I think this is much less common these days but do check your contract of employment. I also made sure there was never any conflict of interest between my full time and part time employment.
Wherever your skill set lies, be it marketing, sales, engineering there will be an organization that provides part time skills to companies that need help. Launching my consulting career with the CFO Centre has been a true asset. I have gained experience in a number of industries, help companies make progress and increased the skills of their in house finance team. My time with them is coming to an end as I am relocating to Vietnam. The disadvantage of this route, they take a big chunk of your earnings.
As I said I launched my consulting career as a side gig before my retirement while my full time employment paid the bills. If you are not fortunate enough to be able to follow that route do look for ways to establish credibility either by affiliating yourself with an organization such as the CFO Centre or getting your name out there by posting on LinkedIn, public speaking, writing blog posts etc. For more ideas listen to my podcasts discussing Dorie Clark’s book “Entrepreneurial You” Episode 45 of Season 8 Building Your Brand. would be a good place to start. That podcast will be available from 8:00 AM Monday April 4 on your favorite podcast provider
Since starting I have gained more clients via referrals and LinkedIn and I’ll share those experiences in another show.
How to stand out from the crowd
It is estimated that globally there are 53,000 coaches and 700,000 consultants. I recall chatting with a colleague we were both thinking about a post retirement consulting business. I figured I had some unique characteristics that would make me stand out. I had lived on three continents, worked on four, I had extensive M&A, business startup, and business turnaround experience. He said, “You know Jeremy, there are thousands of people out there who are just like you and me” And of course he was right. Just hanging out your shingle is not going to get it done.
Now it is time for me to pivot my business. My consulting income provides a cushion so I can take time to develop what may or may not turn out to be a breakthrough idea.
How will you find your breakthrough idea? Already within you have everything you need to develop your breakthrough idea. Your business experiences, life long learnings, passionate beliefs and values are unique. No one is the same as you. There maybe many like you but there is only one you. Teasing that breakthrough idea out of yourself, well that maybe a bit more challenging.
Give yourself Space to Think. David Allen, author of the well-recognized productivity guide, “Getting Things Done” says “You do not need time to have a good idea, you need space. And you cannot think appropriately if you do not have space in your head” You do not need to set aside hundreds of hours for long term thinking, but you do need to give yourself time to think. Agatha Christie is quoted as saying the best time for planning a book is when doing the dishes.
Dorie Clark puts it this way. “Breakthrough ideas do not come from the center. They come from the edges.” When two often apparently unrelated ideas suddenly connect. Mix your perspectives and experiences to enable you to see new ideas.
Steve Jobs had a similar perspective.
"If you're gonna make connections which are innovative, you have to not have the same bag of experience as everyone else does."
Grab that journal, exercise book or whatever you used to jot down the answers to the 10 questions you asked yourself during episode two, get yourself a coffee, tea or your favorite beverage and find sometime for sustained reflection to allow those breakthrough ideas to emerge.
Read, or listen to new books. If time is pressing consider subscribing to Soundview or Blinkist. I use both and they both have their good points. If money is of concern then I would recommend Blinkist. It can be fascinating to listen to several blinks by different authors on the same topic and hear sometimes quite contrasting views and conclusions.
Episode 4 Bring your breakthrough ideas to life. Learn from successful innovators
In 2003 the Indian environmental researcher Narayana Peesapaty spotted an alarming trend: Groundwater levels in the region of Hyderabad were falling precipitously. He examined rainfall records but found nothing to explain the drop. Looking deeper, he discovered that the culprit was a change in agricultural practices. Many area farmers had abandoned millet—a traditional crop increasingly regarded as “the poor man’s food”—in favor of rice, a thirsty crop that requires 60 times as much water to grow. And because they had access to heavily subsidized electricity, the farmers were continuously pumping water into their fields.
Peesapaty tried to influence agricultural policies by documenting the problem in government reports, to no avail. So, he looked instead for ways to boost demand for millet. He hit on the idea of turning it into “edible cutlery”—a solution that could attack not just the groundwater deficit but also the scourge of plastic waste. Peesapaty quit his job to pursue the project. A decade later, after a video he posted about the cutlery went viral, orders began pouring in. Two crowdfunding campaigns exceeded their targets by more than twelvefold, and the first corporate orders shipped in 2016.
This great story demonstrates that there are two potential routes to a solution of a problem. The first is conformity, Peesapaty tried to influence government policy. The second, originality, in the case edible cutlery.
Unconventional thinkers have unprecedented access to knowledge, talents, capital and potential customers. Yet breakthrough products or services are hard to find, Gary Hamel, a recognized business thinker, notes that corporations are awash with ideas that full into one of two buckets. Incremental no brainers or flaky no hopers. I wonder into which bucker he would put Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Branson’s Virgin Galactic or Jeff Bezzo’s Blue Origin.
Why should this be? The authors in talking with both entrepreneurs identified three related criticisms of existing innovation frameworks. The often-used stage-gate process is too linear to facilitate radical innovation. It works fine for incremental innovation but fails when it comes to breakthrough innovation that moves forwards, then goes backwards and then forwards again during the development process.
Innovation frameworks are incomplete. They do not allow for the way people act when developing new ideas. They focus on lean methodology (action and fast iteration) whereas Adam Grant of Wharton talks about strategic procrastination – time for deep reflection.
Finally traditional frameworks are misleading. They gloss over pitfalls and biases that limit creative thinking.
Even when leaders recognize this pitfalls and know they must break the paradigm during the creation stage, they fail in execution. Take the Sony Reader, never heard of it you say, I am not surprised. Technically brilliant but Sony did not enlist the book publishing industry as an ally, Amazon did not make this mistake when it launched a technically inferior but incredibly successful Kindle just over a year later. Sony engineered an elegant device; Amazon offered a solution.
The authors have developed a five element framework that is more accepting of the messiness of breakthrough innovation.
Look through a fresh lens. Our experiences tend to interfere with our ability to look at things with a fresh set of eyes. This may blind us, unconsciously, to radical insights. To combat this bias question what perspectives drive your focus and what you might be missing as a result. Nivea conducted an online analysis of discussions about deodorants on social media sites. Their findings, contrary to what they expected, it was not the fragrance, effectiveness or the development of anti-stain deodorants and the company’s most successful product launch in their 130 year history.
Step Back to expand your understanding. Its now time to step back before rushing into problem solving. Many of us of have a tendency to jump to the solution. Instead take a break, change activities, wait a day or two to allow alternative solutions to emerge.
Look for unexpected combinations. It is not uncommon for companies to lose their imagination after they have achieved a measure of success. Xerox was almost a monopoly in the world of photocopiers. Complacency set in, innovation was second place to sales, they lost out to competitors who had better products. Avoid this by asking yourself questions such as “Why not?” or “What if?” “What if we no longer did what we do now?” The McLaren group known for their Formula One racing team considered their skill sets such as aerodynamics, predictive analysis to turn their attention to other areas where this skill would be helpful. McLaren is now a consulting and technology group that owns a formula one team.
Test smarter to learn faster. You have turned your idea into a prototype solution to test it out. The challenge is that as you start testing confirmation biases and the sunken cost fallacy deaden your ability to react to feed (I talked about the sunken cost fallacy during show 4 of Season 6. Listen to assess your propensity to fall foul of the sunken cost bias) Go external with your prototype, expose it others so they can see it, touch it, and interact with it. Listen to what they say. Negative reactions are as helpful and positive reactions. Do not spend too much on your prototype, the idea is to test not build. Simple models are sometimes referred to a Frankenstein models.
Navigate to avoid being shot down. This can be internal, Steve Sasson, the Kodak engineer who invented the digital camera lost Kodak’s support in part because he called filmless photography. Or external Jonathon Ledgard saw drones as a solution to some of Africa’s transport problems. The word drone can sound menacing, so Mr. Ledgard called them “Flying Donkeys” a much friendlier description. Present your ideas that are consistent with your company’s goals and in a way that will resonate with your customers.
I am committed to helping entrepreneurs succeed. I can bring the experience of 30+ years of experience at the C-Suite level in an MNC from Europe, North America, and Asia. Combine this with eight years of helping a diverse range of businesses and I can provide you with practical solutions to any difficult problems you may be facing.
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