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‘I spent my £40k pension lump sum on starting a £4m business in retirement’

Tricia Cusden
Tricia Cusden, 76, says her business venture 'has been more successful and rewarding than I could have ever imagined' - Clara Molden

Retirement looks very different now from how it was 20 or 30 years ago. There has been a societal shift in what it means to be older, with many people retiring then going back to work or, increasingly, starting a business.

According to Enterprise Nation, 35pc of new British businesses are started by people aged over 50. At odds with the popular idea of young founders, the average age of people starting a business in the UK is 46.

Research from Penn State found that a 50-year-old entrepreneur is 1.8 times more likely to have success than one in their 30s.

Here, we meet two people who started successful businesses in retirement.

‘I invested my £40k pension lump sum into my business – last year it brought in £4.2m’

Tricia Cusden, 76, has always been busy. She went into teaching young and idealistic but, she says, “Every day I faced 44 seven-year-olds and I felt all I did was contain them in the classroom.”

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She soon realised that being an entrepreneur was more her style. “I loved making money,” she laughs, “and that was the opposite of what teaching was all about.”

So in 1974 when her daughter was born, she started her own slimming club. “I knew I didn’t want to work for anyone else and I didn’t want to work full time, so I advertised, wrote diet leaflets, got a pair of industrial scales and rented a local community centre.”

The club ran successfully for 12 years and, she says, “was successful enough to provide a good additional income for my family”.

For Cusden, at 34, it wasn’t enough – but it planted a seed. She did a degree for mature women at Hatfield Polytechnic and, she says, “it made me feel like I could accomplish anything”. After that she went into management training and launched a consultancy, landing some high-profile clients.

Tricia Cusden
Cusden's make-up brand, Look Fabulous Forever, now employs various family members - Clara Molden

By the age of 64, Cusden had started to wind down her professional work. Her daughter Susie had had a difficult birth and she needed Tricia to help her when her granddaughter was born with a rare chromosomal abnormality.

“I balanced my time between caring for her other daughter Freya and relieving Susie at the hospital,” says Cusden. “It was a traumatic period filled with highs and lows, constantly worrying about the baby’s condition.”

Eventually Cusden found herself at a crossroads.

“On my 65th birthday in January, sitting alone in my house, I wondered what to do with the rest of my life,” she says, “Despite being content with my own company, I felt lost. I thought, ‘I could live another 30 years. What do I love? What do I dislike? How do I want to spend the next decades?’” She adds, “I’d gone from being very hands-on and with a full-time purpose to having nothing to do.”

She considered becoming a make-up artist, then focused on entrepreneurship. So she decided to create a makeup line for older women. “Many products didn’t work on my aging skin. Chanel’s luminous foundations, for example, didn’t suit my needs anymore. I was using about 12 or 13 different brands.”

So Cusden looked up cosmetic manufacturers, determined to start something. She found one in Ipswich, called her brother and arranged to stay with him.

“I had £40,000 from my tax-free pension lump sum, money I could afford to invest but that had to cover everything, including the website, design, packaging and product,” she says.

She came up with a brand called Look Fabulous Forever. The manufacturers liked the idea and agreed to make an initial run of 200 units of each product: “They also offered to keep the containers on the shelf and only charge me as I needed to draw down from them. This flexibility was invaluable and something I didn’t fully appreciate at the time.”

Last year Look Fabulous Forever and Creative Cosmetics posted a combined group revenue of £4.2m. The company employs various family members and, says Cusden, it “has been more successful and rewarding than I could have ever imagined”.

‘People are retiring at their peak performance’

“There is plenty of evidence that people starting a business when they are aged 50 or over are two or three times more likely to be successful and more profitable than those started by younger age groups,” says Victoria Tomlinson, 68-year-old founder and chief executive of Next-Up and the Rethink Retirement platform.

The reasons, Tomlinson thinks, are obvious: “People with years of experience have seen so many situations that can hit a start-up, from economic crises – Brexit, Covid, the Ukraine war, recession and more – and know to anticipate and protect the business where they can.”

Tomlinson runs workshops for pre-retirement partners in professional firms.

“Often, few have got their heads around what next – partly because they’ve had no time to think, partly because it’s too difficult,” she says. “They realise there is still time to fulfil dreams – such as starting a business. People are retiring at their absolute peak performance and feel strongly they are wasting all that experience if they just ‘retire’.”

‘I couldn’t sit back and do nothing after retiring so I started a spice business’

Shashi Aggarwal, 71, wanted to stay active after retiring from the family shop. “We were hands-on every day. But after turning 60, we decided it was time to step back.”

She and her husband travelled extensively for five years, exploring destinations such as Alaska, China, and New Zealand.

But after a few years of leisure, Aggarwal found herself longing for a new venture. “I was bored,” she says, “I’d been working non-stop for 38 years. I needed something to keep my mind occupied. There’s no way I could have sat back and done nothing.”

Shashi Aggarwal
Shashi Aggarwal's business, Spice Kitchen, employs about 20 staff – with her son primarily overseeing operations - Jay Williams

Her son suggested spice blends, as she’d always been a keen cook. She launched her business Spice Kitchen in 2012 as a retirement pastime – but it quickly exceeded expectations.

After putting a spice tin together, she sold the first first one on Boxing Day. Within a few weeks she’d sold hundreds, and within a few months the family started appearing at trade shows and approaching retailers.

“Soon, it became clear that Spice Kitchen had evolved from a hobby into a fully-fledged business,” she says. Aggarwal was invited to cook for the chief executive of eBay and the products began appearing in John Lewis and Selfridges.

Today, Spice Kitchen employs about 20 staff, with Aggarwal’s son primarily overseeing operations while she remains involved in recipe development and production. The company continues to explore new opportunities, including expanding internationally and diversifying product lines.

At the end of 2023, Spice Kitchen invested £40,000 in a new cloud-based software solution to automate its systems which, it says, will help double sales to £2m. Aggarwal’s “retirement hobby” seems to have paid off.

I worked really hard for 38 years,” she says, “I couldn’t sit back and do nothing.”