5:06 p.m. Just got back from our “fireside” chat, which was more like a group of folks sitting on couches and foam footstools in a cavernous hall of exhibitor booths. Next to us was a booth featuring a Segway-like scooter and mini-electric cop car, both of which kept their flashing lights going through most of our talk — and threatening to give us all migraines or seizures.
Anyway, a very interesting conversation, with Tom and I and, by the end, about ten other folks representing everything from chambers of commerce to the LA Times to entrepreneur incubators. Very smart people — indeed, everybody at this conference is impressively competent, smart and dedicated . . .which gives you hope that we’ll find our way out of this current financial mess
The topic we discussed, something Tom and I are considering doing a future book about, is entrepreneurship after 40. It turns, though no one seems to have noticed, is that ages 40-54 are the single largest creator of new businesses in the United States. And, personally, I’m seeing entrepreneurs these days as old as 80. Unlike their post-adolescent counterparts, these middle-aged entrepreneurs are much more experienced, more pragmatic, and surprisingly, greater risk-takers. They also have very different needs: whereas the young entrepreneurs typically need advice and skill training in management, marketing, etc., the biggest obstacle to older entrepreneurs is . . .wait for it . . . .affordable health insurance.
In other words, just about all it would take to create an entrepreneurship boom among middle-aged people and senior citizens is readily available medical coverage. Even capital isn’t that big of a problem, especially with new techniques of investing your 401K into your own start-up.
If all of the stuff Tom and I talked about in our speech this morning made the rest of the attendees feeling optimistic about the future — and, boy, we’ve probably heard that from a hundred people — for me, it was this little bit of insight about Over 40 Entrepreneurship that made me optimistic about the future — and made the Governor’s Conference worthwhile.
12:34 p.m. The Governator has just finished his luncheon address. We’re all back in the main ballroom. A State Senator (a Democrat!), and an old pol, gave the introduction and out stepped Arnold in a tailored suit. I’m at the front table, so I was just a few feet away: Man, is Schwarzenegger a big guy! He’s got to be at least my height (6’1”) but he’s still got a lot of his old bodybuilder physique, which must put him in a 48LLL suit jacket and a 20×34 shirt. He’s wearing what looked like, at first, big clunky workman’s dress shoes, but on closer inspection appear to be alligator and probably cost a lot of dough. But the most impressive thing is the size of the guys head: ‘leonine’ doesn’t quite capture it; he looks like a cross between a Mt. Rushmore face and an Easter Island Statue. He’s got the accent too — still saying ‘Caleeefornia’ after six years in office.
It’s easy to be amused by all of this larger-than-life Governator stuff, but the one thing that comes across with this guy is just how smart he is, and how comfortable he seems in his own skin. He’s talking to entrepreneurs here, and having been one of them (body building equipment magnate, restaurant owner, etc.) Schwarzenegger really speaks their language. When he talks about meeting payroll and ‘signing the front of the check, not the back’ he knows what he’s talking about — and it connects with the audience. And when he enumerates all of the problems facing the state, he seems to have a command of the facts and their implications (he only got up once, on ‘workers compensation’, but by then the audience was ready to forgive him anything. And when he handed the microphone over to Carl Schramm of the Kauffman Foundation to announced Global Entrepreneurship Week, I noticed that Arnold stood calmly to the side, for the full twenty minutes of Schramm’s speech (superb, BTW), without moving, without drawing attention to himself, firmly planted on the stage and not rocking a millimeter the entire time — like a giant, benign statue.
Maybe that’s why he’s still so popular, a Republican in a Democrat state: you just feel like this guy will protect you — be it from space aliens, robots from the future, or an economic downturn.
Off to run a “fireside chat” about entrepreneurship after age 40. . .
10:51 a.m. Well, we survived the speech — and the swarms of people around both Tom and I seemed to suggest that we managed to pull it off. I’m not sure how we did it. Part of it, I think, was that we actually treated it as a tag-team, smacking each other’s hand as we handed off the presentation. That got some laughs. Part of it was the sheer density of our presentation: in 45 minutes we covered everything from the fragmentation of Web 2.0 markets to the next billion consumers to Web 3.0 marketing to mash-up culture to the rise of the Protean Corporation (pant, pant). But most of all, what I think really got to the crowd was the fact that, in the midst of our current economic melt-down, the two of us were actually optimistic. In fact, we even predicted that just beyond our current troubles lies the greatest business opportunity any of us have ever seen. I can’t tell you how many people came up afterwards and thanked us just for getting them out of their blues and giving them some hope.
Tom’s off to sign copies of JUMP POINT; I’ve got a private meeting with Carl Schramm of the Kauffman Foundation.
9:14 a.m. Tom Hayes and I are here at the Governor’s Conference on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, being held today and tomorrow at the Renaissance Hotel next to LAX. It’s not a huge event — just 250 people — but the organizers decided to keep the first one small. In fact, at one point, just to get a ticket you had to have a personal approval note from the Schwarzenegger himself. The good news is that this has resulted a very balanced audience. Hayes and I were fearful that this was going to be another one of those events filled with Statehouse types talking to each other about what would be best for the Little People. Instead, thanks to those audience real-time voting terminal thingees placed at each seat, we’ve learned that the audience is evenly spread from around the State (the largest contingent, interestingly, is from Northern California), a predominately Baby Boomers with a strong dose of Gen Xers, run companies with less than ten employees, about half sell internationally and two-thirds use Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. I’d say that’s a pretty good profile of California small business.
We’re on in five minutes. Tom and I are going to try something neither of us has ever attempted before: a tag team speech. Last night on the plane we divided between us with Powerpoint slides we’d take. This is either going to be a very clever presentation or a catastrophe.