There are 16.2 million solopreneurs in the US right now. Only 20% will find success at their first go of their business. Jim Sugarman and 4GenNow helps these solopreneurs by finding their intergenerational business partners to get a higher probability of success and funding. He shares that his biggest challenge is to find the key characteristics of these four generations of entrepreneurs and the unique skill sets they bring to the table. In doing this, Jim also addresses the issue of creating too many startups with too many failures.
We have Jim Sugarman. He’s the Co- Founder of the nonprofit 4 Gen Now. Jim, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to come by and visit.
Bob, great to be with you.
Jim, tell us a little bit about 4 Gen Now and who you serve.
4 Gen Now, we’re an international and intergenerational community of entrepreneurs, 1,600 at last count, from about 35 states and 23 countries. Our community members are looking to find an intergenerational business partner to launch a startup. That’s who we are. We’re also a non-profit awaiting a 501(c)(3) status, so our targeted market is 16.2 million solopreneurs. According to a survey from MBO Partners out of Virginia, there are 16.2 million full-time solopreneurs. As you and your audience probably know, only 20% of them will be successful in their first go around. They need help. 4 Gen Now is about helping solopreneurs find their intergenerational business partner so they have a higher probability of success and also a higher probability of funding. That’s who we serve.
I think about that. I’m out there and I’m this lonesome entrepreneur. Either they’re in my generation, baby boomers, or any of the other three generations that go, “That sounds interesting. How would I find one of these organizations?”
This is the how-to of 4 Gen Now. We have a platform designed to connect, match and fund intergenerational entrepreneurs specifically through face-to-face meet-up chapters around the US. We have 21 in the US, we have five overseas. Our flagship meet-up chapter is in Denver.
For some of the other meetups and groups, how does the local chapter organize it?
We have a two co-organizers in the local Denver chapter and they host monthly meet ups. Every monthly meet up will have a different theme to it and it will have a guest speaker. For example, we’ll have a meet-up where four different generations will talk about challenges of working together to find their business partner and once they have found it, challenges to overcome to make their intergenerational startup succeed.
How long has the organization been in operation?
Formally I should say since January, we just formed as an educational nonprofit in the Great Commonwealth of Massachusetts and waiting 501(c)(3) status hopefully from the IRS.
You started in January and you got 1,600 members already?
It was under a different name brand. To continue to be transparent, this has been a labor of love for about a year and a half now part-time, full-time just since January.
To drill down, let’s talk about your background and what brought you to be so passionate about what you’re doing.
As my wife reminds me, I’m a dreamer. I tried to extract the best from that by organizing trade shows and special events. That’s my primary background, or at least that’s what it has been for about fifteen years now both for myself in the US and for five years living in Hong Kong. What got me into this was I read an article that changed my life. In 2015, I read an article from the Kauffman Foundation, a well-known think tank based in Kansas City that advocates on behalf of entrepreneurship. This study showed in the last 40 years that the number of startups as a percentage of US businesses has actually declined by 44%. I read this article, scratching my head and said, “How can this be?” With more research, and I learned that not only did this Kaufmann Foundation publish the report, but the head of entrepreneurship, Victor Wang, coined a term in his testimony before Congress. He calls the fact that we’re creating too few startups with too many failures as America’s entrepreneurship deficit. Our entrepreneurship deficit has led to declining productivity, declining wages and a lower quality of life, according to the Kauffman Foundation. This article, that study that I read in December 2015 changed my life and is the reason why we’re chatting right now with your guests.
There’s so many different ways to go after reading the Kauffman Foundation. Was there a demographic that had greater success than another demographic?
Counter-intuitively, the Kauffman Foundation showed that for the last fifteen years or so, the number of startups by baby boomers, those in the 50 plus range, exceeded the number of startups of millennials. The initial outreach in terms of the customers or the market I approached were baby boomers. In fact, the first iteration of 4 Gen Now was called millennial and baby boomer co-founders. There’s a lot of anxiety amongst baby boomers, let alone a lot of wealth being transferred from baby boomers to their millennial children and Gen Z grandchildren. On the surface, there are not many similarities between the two, but if you dig down a little bit, there are many compatible similarities between those two generations. I started with millennials and boomers and then found a dynamic collaborative between Gen Z and Gen X.
Four Generations of Entrepreneurs: The number of startups by baby boomers, those in the 50 plus range, exceeded the number of startups of millennials.
When you get those groups together, what are the key characteristics that the generations bring to the table that are either complimentary or in conflict?
Complimentary, the visionary and the idealism of we baby boomers, the tech savviness and get-to-the point of the millennial and Gen Zs, and the efficiency and the result metrics of the Gen X-ers. The values in terms of starting and running a profitable business are common. That is a common goal. The skill sets are unique and complimentary. What is most in conflict are the communication styles. Speaking as a boomer, I prefer face to face, secondarily a phone, thirdly, an email, fourth is a text, whereas Gen Z’s it’s probably the opposite. How do you take such radically different generations and how do you create a collaborative dynamic between that creative tension? That’s the joy. That’s the journey that I’m on. Trying to bring that to our community members.
Do you have an example on the front-range of Colorado?
I do. I just came from a meeting with the millennial co-founder of Tejon Technologies. I met with the millennial co-founder and he was sharing his story for a half an hour of how he met his baby boomer co-founder. They are in the process of raising funding but he shared with me some of the problems from a communication perspective that he and his boomer co-founder had to work through. The reason why they’ve been successful in his terms because they bring very different complimentary skill sets to the table. The boomer is a coder, a tech genius. The millennial is a business, operational, sales, and marketing business development person.
I would’ve thought that would’ve been the other way around. How many boomers are coders? Before I forget, how do folks find you on social media?
We are at 4 Gen Now, and that stands for 4 Generations Now. It’s 4GenNow.com. Also through the Meetup platform in 26 cities but by going to the 4GenNow.com site, under our community section, you’ll see a list of all the 26 Meetups that we have. Interested folks can click on and attend the Meetup and or subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll invite them to join one of our regular webinars.
For the resource for the boomer or the millennial or Gen Z or Gen X, what types of resources and where do they find them that you offer?
We’re rolling out a revised business plan or business model. I look at 4 Gen Now and my role is as the ambassador for the concept of intergenerational entrepreneurship. This is what 4 Gen Now is leveraging, bringing four generations of entrepreneurs together to meet, get to know, and launch start-ups together. From a resource perspective, we offer both online and offline resources or ways for our community members to interact for example, online, webinars. We’re rolling out under development right now a matching application. In the very near future, our members, wherever they may be around the world, for a very nominal fee of $10 a month, will be able to reach out on an unlimited capacity to other members in the community to see if perhaps they might be suitable business partners.
From an offline perspective, we presently offer the Meetups in 26 cities and summits both here in the US and overseas, and our US celebration summit face to face event where we bring our community together from an educational perspective. We have pitch sessions. We have guest speakers and generational experts. We have Angel investors talking about why they prefer investing in startups with intergenerational co-founders. They are held right now once a year and our 2018 version will be in Denver and Brussels.
For the folks, when they searched and there’s not one in their community and they want to start one, what are the qualifications and how do they get signed up to start a community?
The only qualification is their passion and of course a reputable ethical perspective of genuinely wanting to communicate and work with other intergenerational entrepreneurs. If the interest is there, all they need to do is to contact me and I will work with them to give them the appropriate agenda. By using the Meetup apparatus, it’s very simple how to communicate with other members and how to invite them to the monthly Meetups. I work real closely with our co-organizers, so anyone who’s out there in the city in which there is presently no Meetup, not to worry. If you’re interested, we’ll make it happen.
I was thinking with 26 cities, you’ve got a few left to fill out. You were talking about meetup apparatus. Is it an application or is it something that goes on online? How does that work?
All online. It’s a relatively friction-freeway for members in the community and for anyone online to find an area of interest and then sign up and then be invited to a Meetup. We work with WE Work the ubiquitous international co-working space. At the end of last year, they ended up acquiring the Meetup platform. It’s a very easy, simple, and freeway for people to find a topic that interests them and then engage face to face with other like-minded individuals.
If it was the perfect outcome for you, where would you see this organization in the next two to three years?
The metrics that I would like 4 Gen Now to be evaluated on are three. Number one, the number of inter-generational teamed startups that are formed, not just in the US, but in Europe. Number two, the number of intergenerational startups that flourish after five years, and number three, the number of jobs created. Because of the entrepreneurship deficit that I alluded to earlier, we’re creating too few jobs, too many failures in the US, and similarly in Europe, there’s a huge unemployment problem amongst the youth aged fifteen to 24. Over six million youth in the EU are either unemployed or not involved in any vocational educational training. Similarly, for the 50 plus generation, they’re looking for new ways to stay engaged in the economy. I would like in two years to have 100 intergenerational team start-ups that have formed, legal registration from a corporate perspective, and that they’re in the process of building a product, building a service, or bring the service to market. We’ll have to evaluate the metrics in five years just to see the number of jobs created because of this new dynamic.
Is there a study that talks about the chief reasons for failure on the boomer versus the millennial?
I’m not sure if there’s a study from a generational perspective for failure but CB Insights, the well-known research firm, on an annual basis they come up with the top 20 reasons why startups fail. The number one reason is bringing the wrong product or service to market. Basically, the product has no market need. The number two reason for startup failure according to CB Insight’s 2016 report is the company running out of cash. The third reason they cite is having the wrong team, but I beg to differ. As an entrepreneur, I think that is 100% wrong. The number one reason, in my opinion, why startups fail is because the wrong team is in place. With the right team, they would bring the right product or service to market, with the right team, they would not run out of cash, so I contend.
With the right team, they would bring the right product or service to market and they would not run out of cash.
I think about all of the components. I started a number of businesses myself and so a great deal of those topics resonate. For many in my particular generation, there’s a great deal of intimidation perhaps on the advance of technology and the ability to use technology to communicate one to many. It’s an interesting approach for you. Shifting gears here a little bit, this is the part of the podcast where I try to take in and extract every single ounce of wisdom that I can from you in a pleasant way. Looking back over, what’s the most recent book or influential book that’s altered your perception on being the founder of this organization or how you run the business?
I’d have to say Ken Dychtwald’s book on the generational wealth transfer that we’re involved with right now. I think he wrote that in the mid-80’s. That had a big impact on me. Amy Lynch, who’s an intergenerational expert and she serves on the board of advisors, she’s a well-known author, Generational Edge. Amy publishes a lot of white papers in terms of what it takes to create generational harmony in the workforce. As I alluded to, there has not been much written about this concept of intergenerational entrepreneurship. It’s on my to-do list to write a book.
It strikes me way back of the apprentice system when you think about the skill of the master and the enthusiasm of the apprentice. Both with different skill sets one requires the other. I think about this approach to bringing those skill sets together. You got to go, “What was new as old,” or vice versa. It makes a lot of sense to bring those collective wisdom of the crowd together.
To your point, it’s very easy to see the differences and the gaps when trying to unite the generations, but it doesn’t take too much digging into the weeds to find a lot of commonalities. Just to use that apprentice-mentor analogy, one of our colleagues talks about bi-directional mentoring. It’s not from seasoned to inexperienced, it’s both ways. It’s bi-directional, because we boomers, it’s not that we are resistant to new technology, it takes, at least I’m speaking for myself, a little bit longer, but we are open to learning in a way that we can understand.
Back to my college days, there was a computer on campus. I think with the rapid pace of change in the social media space, it’s not so much that the boomers will not be able to learn it, but there’s a lot to know. Some of those who have grown up around that might have an edge.
They do, and for those Gen Z and millennials, they don’t have the school of hard knocks, they don’t have the life experiences and the wisdom that the successes and failures have given. They don’t have that skill set. They don’t have that perspective. While we boomers, at least this one here speaking now, lacks the technology and the tech savviness, but we bring other very important skill sets to the table that are integral to a successful startup.
Maybe that segues nicely into the next question. What failure or at the time apparent failure has served you or your company best or set you up for future achievement and why?
That’s a no brainer. I have 324,000 reasons or ways that I can answer that, which is the amount of money that I lost by investing or by collaborating with the wrong business partner. I alluded to this article that I read in 2015 by the Kauffman Foundation that changed my life. Something else about the same time that changed my life was selecting the wrong business partner who happened to have been a boomer. I realized that we were too similar, and regretfully, that partnership didn’t work out. Was it a failure from a financial perspective? It was a living nightmare. However, from an opportunity perspective, what I learned is that like-minded teams tend to maintain, and diverse teams innovate. The lesson that I learned painfully was if the co-founders are too similar in terms of perspective, in terms of outlook, in terms of experience, and there is not enough dissimilarity, there’s a high probability that it will not work out. That I can attest to.
If you can put an ad on a page on one of the local papers sharing you message or advice, what would it say and why?
4 Gen Now, if you want to start a company, have at least two other co-founders and find those co-founders either half your age or twice your age. That would be the message. Don’t do it alone. Have a minimum of three co-founders to the team and get your product and service out there as quickly as possible, deploying the MVP or the minimum viable product.
Four Generations of Entrepreneurs: If you want to start a company, have at least two other co-founders and find those co-founders either half your age or twice your age.
With that being said on finding co-founders, the first level thought is there are different experience levels. Are there other things that play into having more than just a single founder as a benefit?
Angel-backed deals, according to an angel resource publication, they prefer investing in startups with at least two co-founders,