Older entrepreneurs often enjoy the advantages of professional and personal experience. One study, in fact, noted that a background in a specific industry predicts greater entrepreneurial success.
Jake Messier, who founded his first company last year at age 45, may be a case in point.
His profitable marketing firm, HEARD Strategy & Storytelling of Worcester, Mass., with nine employees working remotely, serves public broadcasting icon WGBH and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, among other clients.
Messier draws on his years of experience elsewhere in pitching his business, telling prospective clients that “I gathered a large amount of disparate but complementary skills in past jobs, and since I couldn’t find a job which used them all - I made my own.”
In the past, Messier worked as an assignment editor in a Boston television newsroom, a Marine Corps combat cameraman, the public relations head for PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow,” the director of alumni engagement for a top university, and marketing director for several high-profile organizations.
“When I moved into the agency world in my early 40s and was ultimately offered a partnership at a Boston firm, I was intrigued but thought I could do it better,” he said.
Messier attributes what he considers one of his greatest assets – team-building – to nearly 10 years in the Marine Corps.
“As an entrepreneur, I believe it’s the thing that will either make or break a new company. While I had a vision for the type of services HEARD would be providing for its clients, it’s ultimately trusting my employees to deliver both excellent work and outstanding customer service. The reputation you have as an entrepreneur is lasting and without mercy and can easily be befouled by inattentiveness of employees,” he said.
Being a later-in-life entrepreneur with an eclectic background helped Messier create a vision for his business and provided him with the confidence to lead it well, he said. As company leader, Messier works with his team on client accounts while also prospecting new business, creating workflows, juggling human resources and navigaing payroll and taxes.
“I can’t imagine having that skill set when I was 30. I feel like one aspect of the job would have taken precedence and I wouldn’t have been able to segment out the time it takes to do all of those jobs effectively,” he said.
“In my 30s I was still honing my craft so that people would take me seriously when I eventually branched out on my own, and certainly wouldn’t have had the ability to handle the administrative or executive tasks that comes with running a small business,” Messier explained.
Experience also gave Messier an advantage in looking for clients.
“I have a fairly large network from the various in-house positions I held throughout the years. When they found out I was going out on my own, the stars aligned and we started working together,” he said.
Because he was lucky enough start the company with a good client stable, Messier could bootstrap the company without risking his family’s money or anyone else’s.
Several months after launching, HEARD was approved for a substantial line of credit. Due to organic growth and revenue, however, he said, "we haven’t had to touch it."
Messier suggests that older first-time entrepreneurs tap their professional networks when they go out on their own. “I’ve reconnected with dozens of former colleagues … and while they certainly all haven’t led to a working relationship, those people can act as evangelists for your new company.”
Combining his own experience with “young, hungry and exuberant” digital-native staffers has worked well, he said.
Messier acknowledges there are challenges to running his own business, including the responsibility for providing other people’s livelihoods.
“I oftentimes stress out our current team with so much work before hiring a new team member to relieve the pressure because I want to make sure there’s enough work for the team when things slow down and we don’t have to lay people off if we can help it,” he said.
Messier isn’t looking to build his company into one of the biggest in the industry. “I have a certain level that I want to get HEARD to and then I’ll cap it. I don’t need to grow an empire at this point in my life. I’m building a successful company with great clients but don’t need 100 people working for me,” he said.
As a parent of two college-age children and a third in elementary school, Messier wanted to create a work-life balance he felt he couldn’t achieve as someone else’s employee.
“While I certainly put in the same amount of hours, if not more, in any given week, I feel like I can work on my own schedule and have more free time to enjoy hobbies, like hiking with my dogs or coaching my son’s flag football team,” he said. “I’ve done the 60-hour work week with two-hour daily commutes, and I’m not going back.”