How Seniors Can Help Startups

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What would happen if those with wisdom meet with those who are seeking insights? Can senior citizens with years of professional experience and expertise provide much needed vision and guidance for startups and help catapult them to greater heights? Innovation evangelist and research scholar from IIM Bangalore, Pavan Soni, thinks this is an area worth exploring. Read on to know more…

There are two unignorable trends in India today. Firstly, people are retiring early in their careers or retiring from the formal job market even with a massive headroom to contribute, and secondly, a growing restlessness amongst those in their 20s and 30s to start on their own. Add to this the growing life expectancy and standards of living, and the democratization of knowledge and ideas. No longer can it be said that only the most well educated could start, or that only the most well-endowed could lend advice.

While the average life expectancy in India has grown in recent decades, thanks to improved access to healthcare and awareness of lifestyle changes (at least in pockets), the formal retirement age remains stuck at 60. It leads to a massive workforce, which is still eager and competent to contribute in significant ways, but which is not offered avenues. They either resort to doing some pro bono assignments or settling for jobs that only tap into their good selves marginally.

On another hand, we have a growing population which has got disillusioned from the formal job structures and have realised that starting on their own is not that bad an option after all. So instead of yearning for the best pedigree or the ‘requisite years’ of work experience, these kids (if I may) are ready to plunge. Much thanks to the celebration of the startup culture in urban India, epitomised by Bangalore, and the support institutions that have come up, entrepreneurship now seems to be doable.
How about connecting the dots here? What would happen if those with wisdom meet with those who are seeking insights? We have a Medici Effect waiting to happen here!

As the co-founder of Mindtree, and the famous author Subroto Bagchi noted – ‘startups fail because they often fail to scale’. The failure of scaling could be largely attributed to the inability of the setup to move away from a personality or people-centric style of management to process-oriented workflows. In following the process, and doing things well and for long is precisely where the seniors have excelled in over all these years. They have the right prognostics and insights to know when and how things work and don’t, and for a young entrepreneur that would be a great boon. So instead of spending the requisite time to hone processes and bringing the discipline, why not seek guidance from the disciplined? Remember, startups are not all about ideas and fancy technologies, it is mostly about good old ways of executing small things well, and having a grit. That is where the seniors have a significant contribution to make.

I propose a case for the seniors to work with the entrepreneurs in sharing their insights from industry, work, and life, such that we effectively circulate the hard-earned wisdom back into our societies and economy, and to help the entrepreneurs grow. That would be a great gift and is worth a shot.

Let me deliberate a bit on the model. Think of it being a two-sided market. On one side the startups list out their requirements for consultation, short and long term advisory, and even employee requirements for specific jobs. On the other side are the interested seniors presenting themselves as experts in specific disciplines, such as accounting, human resources, production, planning, and other functions. They can even share their preferences, such as time availability, travel or locational constraints, qualifications, degree of sophistication, and of course, expected honorarium. This would be very similar to a job market, except that the engagements would range from one-time to semi-permanent in nature.

For instance, there is a Bangalore based K-12 education startup by the name BrainSTARS. The company offers Maths Labs for children between grade one to eight and adopts a methodology that focuses on multiple intelligence while developing kids’ understanding of mathematics and other scientific concepts. One of the advisors on the board is Prof. VSS Sastry, who is well into his retirement years now and has a passion for designing maths games and puzzles. His penchant for maths is infectious, and his years of experience handy in knowing how some of the most complex maths concepts could be taught using simple puzzles and games. In fact, the startup is looking for several seniors who love learning and teaching, even in vernacular languages and Prof Sastry is a great example of the kind of insight that can benefit a startup.


In an attempt to bridge the gap between youth, innovation, experience and wisdom, Silver Talkies, in collaboration with Innovation Evangelist Pavan Soni, aims to bring interesting second innings opportunities to retirees wishing to associate with startups and other organizations. We would be happy to be a conduit for connecting the two and could conduct interactive sessions with Mr Soni for interested retirees on the scope and nature of the association.

So, if you are retired and think you have time at your hand, with a passion for sharing your insights with those who need it, do join in, and we can look at second career opportunities alongside budding entrepreneurs. Write to mail@silvertalkies.com to know more.

About Author

Pavan Soni

Pavan Soni in an innovation evangelist by profession and a teacher by passion. He consults with leading organizations on innovation, creativity, and strategy, and mentors startups in their growth journey. Recently he was featured as the only Indian to be nominated for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award for 2016. He has been invited thrice to speak at the prestigious TEDx, and was conferred with the 'On the Job Achiever Award' by CII at Lakshya in 2007. Presently, Pavan is pursuing his PhD in Innovation Management from IIM Bangalore. More on him is available at www.pavansoni.com