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‘Old School’ Still Has Something to Offer Young Entrepreneurs

We may be wizened, but we’re wise — which can come with age, if you’re willing

Photo by Sergey Nivens, altered and edited by Author

Pre-COVID, I attended a social function wearing a shirt and tie. A young man (young to me, anyway) greeted me, shook my hand, and said, “Way to rock it old school, man!” I assumed (turns out, rightfully so) that he was referring to my shirt and tie since everyone else was in jeans and T-shirts.

It was a painful moment for me. I felt old and understood what it meant to feel “out of place.” Less than a week later as I presented a talk to a group of students, one of them called me “Pops.” Seriously? Is this some kind of “Old School” movie? (You’re my boy, Blue!).

The fact is, I am old. I’m 66 years old, which means I’ve been through a lot of battles and wars. I’ve struggled and fought and found my way through several startups, some succeeding, some failing. I’ve seen a lot of “stuff.” I’ve faced a lot of potential investors (some without much potential, frankly) and I’ve presented hundreds of pitches. I’ve written business plan after business plan, edited hundreds (maybe thousands) of pitch decks. And yes — I’ve been broke on a Tuesday and needed money to make payroll by Friday. If it has to deal with a startup company, chances are, I’ve been there, done that.

So what’s my point? My point is, I’ve EARNED the right to be where I am. I’ve struggled, stumbled, and succeeded or failed on my own two feet. My EXPERIENCE has been the best teacher, the most complete education, the direct line to what should be done. I AM old school. I am the voice of experience, the lifelong learner, the one who’s done it.

I realize things have changed and I’ve heard, many times “that was then, this is now.” I get it. I’m past history, the “prior generation,” the old stuff that is passed. And you know what? I’m OK with that — and I’m not.

I’m always surprised when people much younger than I am tell me I don’t know what’s going on, that I don’t understand how things are now. Really? Things have changed that much?

I’ve got news: They haven’t. Entrepreneurs (or wannabe entrepreneurs) are still chasing dreams. They still have to get investor money. They still have to pitch their business to get that money. They still have to plan, strategize, and push their dreams to make them into a reality.

You can take all the “Shark Tank” episodes and all the “Startup Weekends” and all the “Hackathons” experiences you want — and you still end up presenting a solid sales pitch to convince potential investors to give you money to make your dreams a reality.

Sure, I know that many businesses “roll their own” (ah, another old school term) to raise money from friends, family, and fools — the 3 Fs. I know that many (emphasis on MANY) companies don’t keep track of their cash flow and rapidly run out of money due to not watching this important factor. I know that the majority of companies that pitch to investors have WAY too many slides for the amount of time they have allotted and, thus, don’t impress investors as they run out of time.

I know that many companies don’t grow because they don’t PLAN for growth. They just plan for the next day, or next week, or next month. As Pogo once said, “I have seen the enemy — and he is us!” (Look it up. It’s famous to us old people).

My point exactly

So, yes, this is a “choppy” blog post. (I’m old, so you should cut me some slack. My editor isn’t getting any younger, either, for that matter.) This is a short information session about trusting the experience of age, the seasoning of battles lost and won, the depth of life’s trials.

This is an honest effort to get you to listen to that “voice of experience.” To help you understand that while we might be “old school,” you might find we have value because we’ve survived the trials of time.

Don’t just ignore the wisdom of days past. Don’t just let the lessons of prior years go unnoticed and unappreciated. Age has value. Familiarity lends itself to wisdom. Know-how gives confidence. Been there, done that broadens proficiency.

The scars of my battles past, of fights fought and won, the fortunes gained — and lost — can educate your own efforts. They can smooth your path, make you understand the effort needed, assist you in finding your own way to success. I will cheer for you as you do.

So, don’t discount “old school” in me or any of your elders. “Old school” may be just the school you need.

And just for the record, you’re not getting any younger either.

Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.

Originally published at the IncubatorBlogger on March 30, 2021.

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UF Innovate connects innovators with entrepreneurs, investors and industry; incubates startups and growth companies; and fosters a resilient innovation ecosystem — all in an effort to make the world a better place.

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UF Innovate

UF Innovate

Tech Licensing, Ventures, Pathways, and Accelerate, which includes two business incubators, The Hub and Sid Martin Biotech. We build business on innovation.

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