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Startup Tips for Older Entrepreneurs

The host of the Product Boss Podcast suggests how to find the time, energy and inspiration to begin and build your own company

By Erin Flynn Jay

Jacqueline Snyder, founder of The Product Boss, a site that helps product-based small businesses grow their systems, visibility and sales, built her first million-dollar enterprise when she was 40. She has since gone on to expand her business empire and host The Product Boss podcast to share her insights and experience with others.

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Jacqueline Snyder, founder of The Product Boss  |  Credit: Courtesy of Jacqueline Snyder

A first-generation American whose mother immigrated from London and father from Israel, Snyder achieved success with the very first business she started to sell her own product, Cuffs Couture, a fashionable and functional accessory where women can hold their essentials: ID, cash, credit card, lip gloss and more.

Snyder at first sold Cuffs on her e-commerce website, which took a while to get working and make sales to people who weren't her friends or friends of a friend. She left no sales channel untried, hawking her Cuffs in-person, at flea markets, to wholesalers and on flash deal websites such as Zulily.

Startup Experience for Sale

Her big break came when Kim Kardashian, Carrie Underwood and other celebrities began wearing her cuffs and sharing them with people close to them. This led to an InTouch magazine article about the cuffs and got them into dozens of fashion retailers worldwide, helping Cuffs Couture generate sales of more than $100,000 in its first year.

"Her big break came when Kim Kardashian, Carrie Underwood and other celebrities began wearing her cuffs and sharing them."

Along the way, Snyder learned a lot about making big money with small businesses. She packages her experience in online courses and live seminars for which students pay as little as $37 and as much as $2,497.

"We're always evolving, especially as women," Snyder said in a phone interview. For example, her student Nancy Biggins started Copper Hummingbird, an online shop that sells copper hummingbird feeders. She was a zookeeper for 30 years before retiring at the age of 52 to start this business.

"She started that as a second part of her life and her career and she's grown that into a business where Buzzfeed is posting about it," said Snyder.

Take Your Side Hustle Seriously

Biggins is the caretaker for her mother, who helped Biggins make Copper Hummingbird products while she was growing the business. "If we're always willing to keep growing, learning, adjusting, changing and being curious about our life, anything is possible," she said.

How can people over 50 who have a full-time job make time in their schedule for a side hustle? Snyder said you have to build it into your calendar the same way you build in business meetings or exercise classes. It comes down to your priorities and capacities.

"If you do well early in the morning, you may need to set your clock a little bit earlier to try and knock out whatever you can," said Snyder. "Maybe you're a night owl like me and things start to flow better like that 3 to 5 o'clock hour, your dinner time. As we start to mature in age, we also really understand ourselves, our bodies, how we function better and what feels more natural."

Biggins saw a need in the market and created a product to serve that need, helped by her expertise in the field. "If you've always had a hobby that you really like and you want to see if there's a way to monetize it, if you are an artist — whatever it is that you have an idea for — if you feel you have the capacity to make it, that would be a great thing to do," Snyder said.

Experience Is a Commodity

Once you successfully introduce your product to the market, you probably have learned enough to teach others. When you have expertise, Snyder said, you only have to be one or two steps ahead of other people for you to offer advice, coaching or teaching. "You could bottle up the information that you know for X number of years — if there's something you've nailed," and sell it as a service by teaching and training, Snyder said.

"Lean into the stuff that lights you up,"

"Lean into the stuff that lights you up, that comes naturally to you and it's something that you have knowledge about that you could bring forward and offer to other people," she added.

Take the leap, Snyder advises. "What's the worst thing that can happen? You make something, you try and sell it and it doesn't do well." If that occurs, she added, "You get back on your feet and you try again, and you try again."

A Role Model in the Family

Snyder's mother Lydia Brodsky (age 66) was a stay-at-home mom who was creative but didn't believe in herself. "She was very busy being a mom and would make things, try to sell them, but . . . (she) never believed that she could grow a business as a mom of five children without business education," she said.

Brodsky saw a trend and created Happinest Designs, selling customized Moroccan baskets with different colors and initials monogrammed on them. She used Etsy to start selling $200 custom baskets; when orders reached a certain volume, Brodsky started selling wholesale.

A few years ago, Kris Jenner bought 11 or 12 Brodsky baskets as Easter baskets for the Kardashians. "So that is someone who didn't believe in herself for years and years," said Snyder. "And then once her children were raised and out of the house and she was in her late 50s-early 60s, she was really able to create the business that was a side hustle, that allowed for her to spend time on the things that she wanted to, to have safety and security in it, to know that she had the ability to make her own money."


Make Your Business Fit Your Life

Another Product Boss client, Martha Bourlakas, aged 59, owns Storied Goods, which makes sugar cubes infused with flavors like rose petal, orange cherry and cinnamon-vanilla. "She has older kids and a child with special needs," said Snyder. "She really needed a business that she could operate from home."

"She really needed a business that she could operate from home."

How do you keep working when you're dealing with poor health? "The beauty of owning your own business — to be able to make your own money — is that you own your own time," explained Snyder, who is not yet 50 but said she has had "a ton of health issues."

"I have launched a new product from a hospital bed, but I also know that as we get older, our energy levels decline and then there's medical things," she said.

Snyder has been working on a continuity plan. "When you do this for life, we have life insurance," she said. "The other thing to think about is a continuity plan for your own business. It might be that you get disability income insurance. The company can help pay for it and then if something happens to you, you can still compensate a portion of what you pay yourself while the company can pay someone else to come in and help you out."

Dealing with Disasters

She said that when one of her students told her community and her customers that she had cancer, they rallied behind her. "As we create these intimate relationships with our customers, we also will have them back us and support us when we need them the most," Snyder said.

If you are a product-based business — that is, you sell a product, not a service — Snyder said you can think of ways to manage the product, have other people make it, and then determine distribution channels that don't require you to deal with fulfillment.

Amazon is a popular platform because it will do the selling for you. "You don't have to worry about orders coming in and shipping them out tomorrow," said Snyder.

Photograph of Erin Flynn Jay
Erin Flynn Jay is a journalist based in Philadelphia. Recent national writing includes First for Women, Woman's World Magazine, and Bar & Restaurant. Read More
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