Solopreneurs: Find an Intergenerational Co-Founder or Throw in the Towel? by Christa Ward, 4GenNow Senior Researcher

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We’ve all read the stories about people like Elon Musk. The lone giant who comes up with an idea, makes millions, becomes wildly successful and is on the cover of every business magazine. Impressive stories that give the struggling solopreneur hope that the endless hours and sleepless nights they’ve been putting in will not be in vain.

Success can happen, but these stories are far from the norm. Most solopreneurs don’t reach this level of success with 80% of startups failing after the first 18 months.

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The Solopreneur

Marketing expert Neil Patel defines the solopreneur as, “… the proverbial chief cook and bottle washer, who started the business, owns the business, runs the business and is responsible for the business' failure or success.”  As intimidating as that may sound, millions have chosen to take on the responsibility of being a solopreneur. Because let’s face it: There are some clear advantages. You are the boss. You are the one who makes the key decisions. Most importantly, you make all of the profits.

The disadvantages of being a solopreneur are the flip side of the advantages. You have to make all of the decisions. There’s no one there to share ideas with. You are the smartest and the only one in the room, which can be both an asset and a liability. You have to motivate yourself to keep up the fight even if things are not going your way. You are the one putting in all of the long hours. If the business takes a hit financially, it’s your wallet and livelihood that suffers. As a solopreneur, you can make it work but it’s a risk that you take alone.

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The Value of Intergenerational Partnering

Having a co-founder or two is an alternative a solopreneur should consider. When I think about the value of finding a co-founder rather than going it alone, this quote always comes to mind, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” It’s a bit cheeky but it’s applicable to the solopreneur. It’s easy to think your ideas are the best and only ideas out there but it can also be very limiting. Having one or more co-founders gets you out of your own head. Additionally, with the marketplace these days being so generationally diverse, having an intergenerational team makes strategic sense for a business.

Research shows us the workforce is changing, and more generations are working side-by-side. Young people are taking over the workforce in sheer numbers and older people are staying in the workforce longer. In the startup world specifically, women over 55 are making great strides.

Investors are also seeing the advantages of generational diversity. Angel and venture investors note the value of funding intergenerational startups because they foster diversity in backgrounds and expertise. Baby boomers and Gen Xers are more apt to have been in the workforce longer and have the gift of experience. Younger team members, aka digital natives, often can introduce new ideas relevant to the current marketplace. Intergenerational teams can be the perfect marriage between experience and wisdom and youth and energy.

There are many examples of intergenerational teams sharing the load and making it work. OneClick.chat (formerly Potluck), a Philadelphia video-chat startup is one. Co-founders, Dillion Myers and Alan Gibson are a millennial and a baby boomer, respectively and each brought their areas of expertise to the team. The company’s mission is connecting people through the company’s web-based video chat platform via presentations and discussion groups. Last fall, the company raised $225,000 in a pre-seed round and received a $150,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to join a study with the University of Illinois regarding the impact of video chat on social isolation among older adults.

If you are a solopreneur, whether or not you throw in the towel is up to you. Some people like to go it alone and that’s fine. If you want to share the load and be more attractive to the marketplace, an intergenerational partnership may be the way to go.

Are you part of an intergenerational startup?

Share your experience here. Don’t forget to register to meet other entrepreneurs and share your experience at 4GenNow’s Power Summit coming up on October 12th in Denver.