I am doing the most rewarding and meaningful work of my life right now”
Another excellent and uplifting talk thanks to TED below. This one is by Paul Tasner, and is 7 minutes long. Paul worked in corporate environments for 40+ years and has been an entrepreneur since 2011. It is an affirming reminder of the phrase “You’re never too old to make a difference”.
Employee to Entrepreneur
In his talk, Paul describes his route to entrepreneurship in an endearing and accessible way, and comments “what I really yearned for [when I began] was to find other first-time entrepreneurs who were my age. I wanted to connect with them. I had no role models, absolutely none.” He sets out his vision to connect the “bold men and women who are checking in when their peers, in essence, are checking out” [i.e. retiring].
Paul’s professional background is as an (industrial) engineer by training, with a PhD in mathematics. His 40+ year employment career was spent in manufacturing and packaging. His last corporate role was in a natural-cleaning products business as Director of Operations. As a result of the late 2000s recession, Paul faced redundancy a few days before Christmas, at the age of 64.
A side note on redundancy
As a South African, I’ve always had negative associations with “redundancy”, possibly because of the stable-employment, job-for-life culture I grew up in, my experience of the impact a breadwinner losing their job can have on a family, and my own bursary reciprocal commitment with my first employer. When I moved to the UK however, the sentiment here was completely different, probably shaped significantly by the global financial crisis. The British relationship between employer and employee was much more transactional, with employers regularly “rightsizing”, and like the US, often choosing the pre-Christmas period to make the changes… This still astounds me… Employees have similarly adapted, some taking pride in how often they can get a payout, almost seeing it as yet another component to be negotiated, and a chance to go travelling, do some gardening, or play golf. Unfortunately it is often older workers who can be harder hit (despite ageism being illegal), especially as their employers are implicitly saying they’re too costly for the value they add. And sadly this divide between when we need to work until (to fund a longer lifespan) and when employers want us to work until is widening...
Back to Paul’s reinvention: in 2011, Paul started “PulpWorks”, a designer and manufacturer of eco-friendly packaging, often made from recycled paper and agricultural waste. One of their products is Karta-Pack, made from moulded wood pulp. The company now has revenues >$1m annually.
One of the reasons for Paul’s success is that he was able to use his decades of experience in a new way. He has described this as: “I’ve spent almost my entire life doing exactly what we’re doing here with PulpWorks. But I’ve done it for employers, not for myself. It’s an amazing feeling”. Another is the partnership he formed with Elena Olivari (an architect) who was looking for a new job that would give her a stronger feeling of purpose. I found it interesting too that Paul’s wife (a registered nurse) had experience of entrepreneurship: her own healthcare startup.
Paul freely admits he was a novice at many entrepreneurial activities when he started, including things like filing patents, outsourcing, job creation, forming partnerships, and raising funding. And, Pulpworks’ initial desire to build a local manufacturing plant was blocked by lack of capital, despite spending a year pitching for funding.
Sense of Purpose
The sustainability ethos of the company is another of its striking characteristics. As mentioned above, it contributed to Elena’s desire to join Paul in his mission. Paul has described it as: “We are replacing a plastic package that will most likely be landfill with a biodegradable package that will leave no stain on the earth. That really matters to me now”. Part of this ethos came from seeing it in practice during his corporate role with the natural-cleaning products business (which made environmentally-friendly soaps and household cleaners). Paul summarises his perspective as “I felt a passion to make a difference for people and the planet”.
Advantages over Millennials
Older entrepreneurs, sometimes referred to as “olderpreneurs” or “boomerpreneurs”, have some advantages over twenty-somethings:
Keep on Keeping on
Continuing to work, and remaining active members of society, is an increasing desire and/or necessity for older workers. Many express an inclination to use their skills and experience to have an impact, and continue a healthy life. Future Laboratory describes this as “work will become a better system for ensuring longevity and endurance”. It is thus fitting that all of us (including employers) encourage this positive approach.
Hearing Paul’s story inspired me, and so many others, so it is excellent that he is now a role model for what the media has referred to as the “new wave of Boomer founders”. It is great that Paul’s experience can show others the way forward, his example providing precisely what he himself yearned for at the start of the decade.
I have never been more challenged or fulfilled. I have no regrets about starting when I did. I simply wasn’t prepared before then.”