How I Became an Entrepreneur at 66
Syndicated from, Mar 11, 2018

5 minute read


It's never too late to reinvent yourself. Take it from Paul Tasner -- after working continuously for other people for 40 years, he founded his own start-up at age 66, pairing his idea for a business with his experience and passion. And he's not alone. As he shares in this short, funny and inspirational talk, seniors are increasingly indulging their entrepreneurial instincts -- and seeing great success.

I'd like to take you back about seven years in my life. Friday afternoon, a few days before Christmas 2009. I was the director of operations at a consumer products company in San Francisco, and I was called into a meeting that was already in progress. That meeting turned out to be my exit interview. I was fired, along with several others. I was 64 years old at the time. It wasn't completely unexpected. I signed a stack of papers, gathered my personal effects, and left to join my wife who was waiting for me at a nearby restaurant, completely unaware. Fast-forward several hours, we both got really silly drunk.

So, 40 plus years of continuous employment for a variety of companies, large and small, was over. I had a good a network, a good reputation -- I thought I'd be just fine. I was an engineer in manufacturing and packaging. I had a good background. Retirement was, like for so many people, simply not an option for me. So I turned to consulting for the next couple of years without any passion whatsoever.

And then an idea began to take root, born from my concern for our environment. I wanted to build my own business, designing and manufacturing biodegradable packaging from waste -- paper, agricultural, even textile waste -- replacing the toxic, disposable plastic packaging to which we've all become addicted. This is called clean technology, and it felt really meaningful to me. A venture that could help to reduce the billions of pounds of single-use plastic packaging dumped each year and polluting our land, our rivers and our oceans,and left for future generations to resolve -- our grandchildren, my grandchildren.

And so now at the age of 66, with 40 years of experience, I became an entrepreneur for the very first time.

Thank you. But there's more.

Lots of issues to deal with: manufacturing, outsourcing, job creation, patents, partnerships, funding -- these are all typical issues for a start-up, but hardly typical for me. And a word about funding. I live and work in San Francisco. And if you're looking for funding, you are typically going to compete with some very young people from the high-tech industry, and it can be very discouraging and intimidating. I have shoes older than most of these people.

I do.

But five years later, I'm thrilled and proud to share with you that our revenues have doubled every year, we have no debt, we have several marquee clients, our patent was issued, I have a wonderful partner who's been with me right from the beginning, and we've won more than 20 awards for the work that we've done. But best of all, we've made a small dent -- a very small dent -- in the worldwide plastic pollution crisis.

And I am doing the most rewarding and meaningful work of my life right now. I can tell you there's lots of resources available to entrepreneurs of all ages, but what I really yearned for five years ago was to find other first-time entrepreneurs who were my age. I wanted to connect with them. I had no role models, absolutely none. That 20-something app developer from Silicon Valley was not my role model.

I'm sure he was very clever --

I want to do something about that, and I want all of us to do something about that. I want us to start talking more about people who don't become entrepreneurs until they are seniors. Talking about these bold men and women who are checking in when their peers, in essence, are checking out. And then connecting all these people across industries, across regions, across countries -- building a community.

You know, the Small Business Administration tells us that 64 percent of new jobs created in the private sector in the USA are thanks to small businesses like mine. And who's to say that we'll stay forever small? We have an interesting culture that really expects when you reach a certain age, you're going to be golfing, or playing checkers, or babysitting the grandkids all of the time. And I adore my grandchildren and I'm also passionate about doing something meaningful in the global marketplace.

And I'm going to have lots of company. The Census Bureau says that by 2050, there will be 84 million seniors in this country. That's an amazing number. That's almost twice as many as we have today. Can you imagine how many first-time entrepreneurs there will be among 84 million people? And they'll all have four decades of experience.

So when I say, "Let's start talking more about these wonderful entrepreneurs," I mean, let's talk about their ventures, just as we do the ventures of their much younger counterparts. The older entrepreneurs in this country have a 70 percent success rate starting new ventures. 70 percent success rate. We're like the Golden State Warriors of entrepreneurs -- And that number plummets to 28 percent for younger entrepreneurs. This is according to a UK-based group called CMI.

Aren't the accomplishments of a 70-year-old entrepreneur every bit as meaningful, every bit as newsworthy, as the accomplishments of a 30-year-old entrepreneur? Of course they are. That's why I'd like to make the phrase "70 over 70" just as -- just as commonplace as the phrase "30 under 30."


This talk originally appeared on TED. TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. This talk was presented at an official TED conference.

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