Who is Bill Gordon?
I am a problem solver. That is what an entrepreneur is. Entrepreneurship is not genetic, it is a set of learned skills. At the core it is simply a way of thinking. It is, first and foremost, understanding how to recognize opportunities to solve problems. Once a problem is recognized it is about using creativity to imagine and then implement innovative solutions. You have to love it, which I really do.
In recent years I have been teaching entrepreneurship or mentoring because I love to help others and enjoy making a collective impact as I guide my students or mentees. Along the way I picked up a UC Berkeley Ph.D. and a Wharton MBA which would allow me to call myself an award winning (Gates Grand Challenge grant) cell biologist and/or a finance professional who raised a few billion dollars of debt and equity to support broadband expansion in four countries (Spain, France, Germany and Belgium) in Europe in the 1990s. I prefer entrepreneur because that is where my heart is and how I believe I can continue to add the most value to the world, both doing and teaching it.
I have been married for 34 wonderful years to my wife Noelle, we have two amazing adult sons, Wyatt (25) and Cooper (23). I have been vegetarian for 7+ years, fully vegan for over 2, exercise regularly, practice yoga, meditate daily (am on a 500+ day streak) and am enjoying the change Noelle and I made when we moved to Portland, Oregon in December 2014 after decades in the Northeast where our sons were raised.
A very brief story - my best guess at what whetted my appetite to become a professional problem solver....
Where Did the Idea for 50Plus Nation Come From?
50 is the new 40.
However, unlike 40, at 50 change is the order of the day, lots of change either begins in earnest or can be seen on the horizon. From 2012-14 I taught entrepreneurship to Millennials and young Gen X in accelerator programs in CT and at the School of Visual Arts in the MFA in Design for Social Innovation program in NYC. The energy of the students was contagious. They were generally either trying to figure out how to use entrepreneurship to change the world but in many cases just trying to create their own jobs in a fickle economy. I was still consulting to the state of CT while teaching as adjunct faculty but began to ask myself where all of this leading for my wife Noelle and I. It didn't take long to realize it was whetting my appetite for another entrepreneurial adventure, the opportunity to solve another problem.
I began by analyzing my own life.
I also looked at long time friends in the same age bracket. The biggest concerns I could see were empty nests, careers starting to wind down slowly, or in some cases ending abruptly, based on economic hiccups, switching from stay at home Mom or Dad status to facing the challenge of trying to rejoin the workforce in an "ageist" job market, but in many cases fighting boredom or general complacency, hoping for a greater sense of purpose going forward. What was most astounding was the number of friends we saw decide to divorce as the last child left home unable to face the empty nest with their long time partner.
I realized most of us have some great news.
Thanks to medical science and healthier living we have likely been gifted with a decade or more of additional time. Most 50Plus people I know still have dreams of a bright future, in spite of the concerns I cited above, and are looking forward to the additional time. Yet this gift doesn't come without challenges which will need to be addressed.
Putting the pieces together I sensed opportunity.
As I was finishing my first year at the School of Visual Arts teaching entrepreneurship to Millennials and Gen X, it hit me that both of these generations were being very well served by the program I was co-teaching or others like it. Yet I was beginning to realize that the 50Plus demographic could use a strong dose of entrepreneurial thinking as well. That's when it dawned on me that no one was focused on teaching entrepreneurial thinking to us. That's how the seed for what is now 50Plus Nation was planted.
It's not that we weren't entrepreneurs earlier in life.
Collectively we made significant impacts. Entrepreneurs in our 50Plus cohort, the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak), Bill (Gates), Tim (Berners-Lee), Vint (Cerf), Larry (Ellison) just to name a few, helped give birth to the most important development of the 20th century, the Internet. Because of the Internet we are now all living at a powerful convergence — with incredible forces of innovation, transformation and connection available at everyone's fingertips. The Internet still has huge untapped potential to positively impact lives.
Millennials were the first "digital natives".
They were born into the world just as it was beginning to connect digitally at scale. We slowly dipped our toes in alongside them and learned enough to be dubbed "digital immigrants". On balance we watched as they dove in, experimenting, connecting, collaborating with abandon successfully leveraging the Internet for a wide range of their own needs.
The big news: we now have a chance to be first.
We are the first human beings to hit 50Plus, the second half of life, in a dramatically interconnected state of the world. What does this mean? The fact that any one of us can reach over 4 billion other human beings almost instantaneously is BIG NEWS. In spite of our unique personal blends of expertise, knowledge, skills, talent and wisdom accumulated over three decades or more of life experience, the "ageist job market" doesn't want many of us, just when we could really use the help. This is where we can be very DISRUPTIVE because we don't need to depend on an ageist job market. We have tremendous value we can repackage and offer directly to our fellow citizens of the world independently through the Internet.
The full power of the Internet is available to help us meet the challenges of a dramatically expanded life span. We have a choice whether to use it or not. Using it will allow us to become true "digital pioneers". However, to do it successfully means we have to embrace entrepreneurial thinking.
Not a repeat of the digital land grab.
That may be what comes to mind when you hear the word "entrepreneur", immense wealth ending up in the hands of a lucky few after taking huge risks. Let's be clear - I am not talking about playing entrepreneurial lotto where a few winners take all again this time.
Entrepreneurial thinking is about solving problems.
Tina Seelig of the famed Stanford University entrepreneurship programs quoted from a long standing saying at Stanford, in her book Insight Out, "Entrepreneurs do much more than imaginable with much less than seems possible". She punctuated them with her own words, "as this message communicates, entrepreneurship isn’t just about starting companies. It’s about starting anything". In a separate quote she said, "it behooves us to teach people of all ages to be entrepreneurial, enabling them to invent the world in which they want to live".
50Plus Nation's mission is to help people who are 50Plus maximize the gift of longevity.
Some of us will need more income to support ourselves and our loved ones. Others will want more experiences or a renewed sense of purpose. All of that can be addressed by taking full advantage of our wealth of life experience and coupling it with the power of the interconnectedness the Internet has given us to reach the majority of our fellow citizens on the planet with ease. Embracing entrepreneurial thinking will be the key.
My role models:
50Plus Nation will introduce you, whenever and wherever we find them, to others in our 50Plus cohort that have already embraced entrepreneurial thinking in their own unique ways. However, every one of my role models are millennials or young Gen Xers. I don't 50Plus Nation to be an age ghetto. I want it to be a place where generations can cross over when it is best for everyone. We have a lot to offer each other.
One last question: why the name 50Plus Nation?
These changes are happening to quite a few of us. 50Plus is no longer just Baby Boomers and our parents. Gen X has been joining the bottom rungs of the ladder in 50Plus cohort for two years now. You might ask, "but, why use the term nation, that sounds grandiose or just weird?" Very simply, given that there are 110 million of us in the US alone, if we were an independent nation we would be the 12th largest nation on the planet. That's a big number, it is something to reflect on. To me it makes it clear that this is important. Most important it is about community because we need each other