What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Ellen DeGeneres

You know Ellen DeGeneres as a comedian, daytime television host and an actor.  But did you know she’s also an entrepreneur who’s into designing furniture and pet products?

Ellen has a business called ED Ellen Degeneres, an American lifestyle brand. She was 56 when ED launched in 2015 as a joint partnership with Christopher Burch, the CEO of Burch Creative Capital.

ED’s products range from women’s clothing to home decor.  Among its latest unveilings: a Spring ’17 collection of furniture in partnership with Thomasville, Loloi Rugs and Royal Doulton.  ED also has a line of toys, carriers and other designs for dogs (Ellen and her spouse, Portia de Rossi, own three).

As one of the entertainment industry’s best-known personalities, Ellen has an enormous social media presence, deep financial resources and other advantages that most entrepreneurs don’t have.  These assets enabled ED to grow quickly right from the start.

“ED is an extension of my lifestyle and is inspired by who I am as a person.” — Ellen DeGeneres

Yet her entrepreneurial experience also offers takeaways for any new business owner. One is to stay true to yourself when it comes to designing products that bear your name. “ED is an extension of my lifestyle and is inspired by who I am as a person,” says Ellen on her company’s website.

Another lesson is to choose a business idea that’s a long-term interest. You’re less likely to lose steam when the startup hits a rough patch (which it will).

“I’ve loved home design for as long as I can remember,” Ellen says in this article.  “I know what I like, so designing it made sense for me.”

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How an E-Bike Ride Inspired a Boomer Couple to Launch a New Business

During a California trip to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, Scottsdale residents Kathy and Bill Puryear decided to rent electric bicycles to tour some nearby resort towns.  It was a two-wheel adventure that turned into something much bigger.

“We realized that there was nothing like this in Scottsdale, and it could be a really exciting business to pursue,” explains Bill in this post.  They returned home and, six months later, opened Pedego Scottsdale, their own e-bikes store.

Kathy Puryear was among several late-blooming entrepreneurs profiled in this March 2017 Inc. Magazine article about Pedego Electric Bikes, whose products are in a category of bicycles powered by motor-assisted pedaling.  Among the article’s tidbits:

•  Almost all of Pedego’s dealers are in their 50s or older – a demographic that also comprises Pedego’s primary market.

•  Most of these dealers are like Kathy Puryear – i.e., retired or semiretired people who are first-time business owners.  Pedego’s store owners include several former teachers, military personnel and government workers.

•  Pedego has a business model that supports older entrepreneurs and mitigates common skill deficiencies. For example, the company sets up individual stores’ websites and provides social media help since technology has been a challenge for some dealers.

•  Pedego’s co-founders, Don DiCostanzo and Terry Sherry, are serial entrepreneurs who were in their 50s when they started the business in 2008.  Their age helped them design a product that appealed to people like themselves.

DiCostanzo, the company’s CEO, says he and Sherry welcome their latest business challenge.

“I have more energy now than 20 years ago,” he tells Inc. Magazine. “We don’t think of the dealers as old because we don’t think of ourselves as old.”

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Social Entrepreneur Helps Fathers Become Great Dads

By Lynne Strang, Late Blooming Entrepreneurs

Bob Hamrin

Bob Hamrin

As an economist, Bob Hamrin used to spend his days developing policies and analyzing data. One day, he came across a number that knocked his socks off.

“Thirty-six million American children under the age of 18 suffer from father absenteeism that’s physical, emotional or spiritual,” says Hamrin. “It’s a huge problem.”

That disturbing revelation played a big part in the father-of-three’s decision to change course at age 50 and found Great Dads, a Clifton, Virginia-based nonprofit that provides fatherhood training worldwide. The organization’s mission is “to encourage fathers to turn their hearts to their children.”

Over 53,000 men in 45 states and ten countries have taken Great Dads’ training seminar — “The 6 Basics of Being a Great Dad” — which is often held at churches, military bases and prisons. The four-hour training session attracts fathers of all stripes, from 16-year-olds who have yet to finish high school to 66-year-olds who hold executive positions.

Hamrin’s second act as a social entrepreneur is a big change from where he used to be. After earning a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he served as an advisor to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency, among other places. Later, he consulted for such organizations as the World Bank and the National Association of Manufacturers and wrote several books.

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“Go after what you feel deeply about.  And be willing to take a risk.  If you feel strongly about something, just follow your heart and do it.” — Bob Hamrin, Great Dads

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He encountered the startling statistic about absentee fathers while researching a book on fatherhood. Around that time, he and his wife, Carol, heard about several friends experiencing personal difficulties, prompting the couple to become involved with family counseling through their church.

In addition, he had grown weary of working on economic policies that had little effect on people’s everyday lives. It was a perfect storm that compelled him to act.

“I had had a number of entrepreneurial ideas that were intriguing but didn’t tug at my heart,” said Hamrin. “I thought, ‘Either I do this now or I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.”

In December 1996, Hamrin shuttered his consulting practice on a Friday and started Great Dads the following Monday. “I went cold turkey and never looked back,” he laughs.

The nascent group had challenges at the beginning. Bob’s salary was just $6,000 the first year – an especially stressful situation since he and Carol had one child in college and twins who were about to start.

Undaunted, Bob Hamrin pushed forward, making the rounds among churches and submitting applications for financial support. It wasn’t long before he received buy-in from several pastors and won a few small grants. Over time, Great Dads picked up steam, forming partnerships with such groups as Prison Fellowship and Forgiven Ministry.

Great Dads, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, now gets its funding primarily from individual and church donations as well as training fees (proceeds go back into the organization).  Hamrin has a team of seminar instructors who have been fathers for a while (associates must have at least one child who is age 16 or older).

Hamrin attributes his success to his faith, optimism and entrepreneurial mindset. His future goals include a stronger social media presence for Great Dads and new, creative ways to communicate its message. At age 70, he’d also like to find a successor to take over for him one day.

Meanwhile, he still gets gratification from working on a cause that truly matters. For those considering a life change, he offers this advice:

“Go after what you feel deeply about. And be willing to take a risk. If you feel strongly about something, just follow your heart and do it.”

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Car Buffs Start a Business Offering 3D-Printed Auto Parts

As restorers and builders, Bill Hahn and Paul Vorbach often faced challenges when trying to locate rare and expensive components for cars.  They found help in an unlikely place:  3D printing

The discovery led Hahn and Vorbach to co-found HV3Dworks LLC., a Harmony, Pennsylvania-based company that works with several 3D printers to produce rare or custom components for automotive restoration projects.

HV3Dworks is an offshoot of Hahn and Vorbach’s core business, Hahn-Vorbach & Associates Collector Car Restoration. The two co-founders spent several months testing the waters before they launched their new business in August 2016.

On his LinkedIn profile, Vorbach describes his career journey this way:  “After a 35-year career managing systems integration and software development projects, I found myself about to be laid off and decided to pursue my passion for hot rods, sports cars and all things automotive. I was presented with an opportunity to become a business partner at a high-end automotive restoration shop….and I haven’t looked back. I love what we do and look forward to going to work every day.”

MSNBC recently featured HV3Dworks on “Your Business,” a show dedicated to issues affecting small business owners.  Here’s the video:

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Entrepreneur from Korea Finds Niche Selling Appliances

By Lynne Strang, Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs

Edward Kim

Edward Kim

Edward Kim is good at multitasking. That’s evident by the way he runs his appliance showroom.

On a cold January day, Kim is busy filling in for a store manager who’s on vacation. He doesn’t miss a beat as he waits on customers and answers the phone during an interview about Buying Together, the business he founded at age 40.

Buying Together, located in Annandale, Virginia, sells refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers, ovens, televisions and other merchandise mostly to Korean customers in the surrounding community. The 2,200- square-foot showroom packs an assortment of brands, including Maytag, GE, Amana, KitchenAid and Bosch, to name a few.

“If I had started at age 30, I could not have survived,” says Kim, now 52. “I had no experience or connections. And connections are very important, especially in this business.”

Finding a Business Idea

The path to entrepreneurship hasn’t been easy for Kim, who grew up in South Korea and studied history and economics in college. In 1990, he joined LG Electronics where he spent eleven years in marketing. Over the years, most of his family relocated to the United States.

In 2002, he moved to U.S. to be with his family and to help his sister grow her delicatessen. When the deli expansion didn’t happen, Kim found work with a food company that serviced military bases. The company went bankrupt, leaving Kim without a job.

He began researching business ideas in part because the independence that comes with entrepreneurship appealed to him. “I wanted to do my own planning and make my own decisions,” he says.

Kim’s original plan was to arrange for group purchases so his customers could “buy together” and receive a discounted price. “The concept didn’t work because it took several days for the products to ship – and people wanted them quickly,” he says. “But I kept the Buying Together name anyway.”

Opportunities and Challenges

When Buying Together opened in 2004, it had to start as an online business since Kim had no credit or money for a brick-and-mortar showroom. Unable to obtain bank financing, he borrowed $40,000 from a pool of money provided by the local Korean community. The loan, which he repaid in two years, allowed him to open a showroom in Centreville, Virginia six months later. He moved the business to Annandale in 2009.

Two other factors helped Kim launch his business. One was his attendance at trade shows while he was a LG Electronics employee, which gave him in-depth knowledge about consumer buying preferences (he now sends his own employees to shows for this reason).

Another was a former boss who pointed him towards the NECO Alliance, an appliance buying cooperative. The alliance provided a mentor who visited Buying Together’s showroom and offered advice. “He always said, ‘reach out when you need help,’” recalls Kim.

Buying Together opened at a time when housing construction was booming in the U.S., fueling a need for household appliances. As a result, the company’s annual sales more than quadrupled between year one and year two. In 2005, he opened a second location in Rockville, Maryland.

Then came the mortgage meltdown in 2007-08. As home construction dried up, so did Buying Together’s business, forcing Kim to close the Rockville location and lay off 10 of his 13 employees.

“I didn’t have a Plan B when business shrunk,” said Kim. It was a painful experience that taught him an important lesson.

Realizing he needed to diversify, Kim became a county government contractor in 2009. Three years passed before a Loudoun County agency finally awarded a contract to Buying Together. In 2014, the company expanded into a new jurisdiction when it won a contract with a District of Columbia agency. About 30% of Buying Together’s annual revenue now comes from government contracting.

“Start Small but Act Big”

Kim has ambitious plans for his business. In 2017, he’s opening two new locations in the Washington, D.C. area – one in Ellicott City, Maryland next month and another in Centreville, Virginia by mid-summer. He also wants to open Buying Together franchises in Richmond and Virginia Beach by year-end and another independent location in Dallas, Texas during 2018.

Entrepreneurship runs in Kim’s family. His wife has a cosmetics business. He has three children, including a college-age son who wants to own a business and may join Buying Together after he graduates.

Kim works seven days a week and doesn’t get to bed until midnight. It’s a grueling schedule that doesn’t allow much time for the history books he enjoys reading. Still, he “strongly recommends” entrepreneurship as a second career.

“I heard about a Ph.D. who lost his job the other day,” he says. “Nobody guarantees you a job anymore.”

His advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?  “Start small but act big,” he says. Keep your housing expenses low, do your homework, know your market and acquire the knowledge you need.

Most importantly, don’t give up if your dream is to own a business.

“Life is long,” says Kim. “If you have a few pennies, keep at it.”

Note:  The Korean edition of “Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40” is now available. For more info, please visit the “Book-Korean Edition” page on this site.

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Seven Memorable Quotes from 2016

sometimes-you-fail-then-you-succeed-2A new year brings new hopes, dreams and opportunities. Here are seven quotes from age 40-and-older entrepreneurs who have been featured or mentioned on this blog in 2016. May their words of wisdom provide inspiration and ideas as you set goals for 2017.

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“I finally feel like I’ve found the thing to do so I can leave a legacy for myself as well as my family.” – Laurie Sayles Artis, Civility Management Solutions

“By the time you get to be 55 to 60, you’ve had challenges in your life – which allows you to put things in context. Sometimes you fail, then you succeed.”– Jeff Williams, founder, Bizstarters.com

“We didn’t need scientists to find a cure [for hunger]. There are so many wonderful causes and so many passionate people that are addressing them. We have been inspired by so many of our in-need neighbors who have come seeking help.” – Jon Bon Jovi, singer and co-founder, Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen

“It is true that you reach a point in life – usually in your 40s – when there are two ways you can go. You can go one way, or you can choose to own your own life, be positive and choose that path.”– Carolyn Hartz, founder, SweetLife

“I am learning something new every day AND I am teaching something new every day. I don’t have to “fake it” to “make it” any more. If I screw up – I say so. I can laugh about it, I correct the mistake, and I move on.” – Jo Ellen Soesbee, owner, ToolBox TomGirl

“Don’t start out on a shoestring (budget). Make sure you have enough money to get your business off the ground. When people are desperate for money, they don’t make good decisions.” – Juanita Tackett, owner, LED Source Charlotte

“I’m persistent. I keep going until the job gets done. I want to be successful. In the military, I made becoming chief a goal before I could retire, and I did. And I always told myself that when I get out, I would work for myself and never work for anybody else.” – James Blagg, founder, Sail Florida Adventures

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50-Something Entrepreneur Finds Her Niche in Energy-Efficient Lighting

Juanita Tackett owns LED Source Charlotte, a North Carolina-based energy-efficient lighting franchise that she acquired at age 51. Her Twitter description says she’s the franchise’s “Chief Figurer Outer,” a role that comes easier when you’ve spent decades figuring things out before starting your first business.

Tackett’s decision to buy the franchise is the latest move in a career that’s included stints in fashion accessories, real estate and washer/dryer rentals. When she opened LED Source Charlotte in 2012, she became the company’s first woman franchise owner.

While this Charlotte Observer story about Tackett came out some time ago, her shared insights and wisdom remain useful to those thinking about a second act as an entrepreneur. As she says in the article, she wanted a business “with a proven concept that complimented her skills and experience.”

Among Tackett’s key messages: “Don’t start out on a shoestring (budget). Make sure you have enough money to get your business off the ground. When people are desperate for money, they don’t make good decisions.”

Tackett credits the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) with helping her through her journey. Here’s a video in which she talks about the influences that have helped her become successful.

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