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Entrepreneurship is blooming in the advertising sector. Advertising industry veterans are leaving their well-paying jobs to launch their own enterprises. Age is no bar. Almost all who have exited the agencies in the last one year are in their 50s.

The developments are a reflection of the changing complexion of entrepreneurship in India. Earlier, pink slips or lack of job opportunities forced people to turn entrepreneurs. Today, they may be taking the plunge out of choice. Sanjay Nayak, president at McCann Worldgroup, quit the agency earlier this month to start a yoga wear brand called Proyog with three partners. The company will raise money soon and plans to sell its yoga wear for women on Jabong, Myntra and Amazon. It is eyeing the international market too.

Arvind Sharma, former chairman and chief executive officer of advertising agency Leo Burnett, has also started an e-commerce venture—Indiasarihouse.com—to hawk India’s traditional ethnic wear. The site went live six months ago. In January, the company started shipping its products to international markets.

Pratap Bose, who quit DDB Mudra—the Omnicom Group agency—in April 2014, will not be selling apparel. He is preparing to launch a media business. The former chief operating officer, who worked at Mudra for six years, calls it a media and communications conglomerate where he will be joined by a bunch of people from DDB. The venture will house agencies that will focus on out-of-home advertising, branded content, sports marketing, media planning and buying, rural marketing, retail solutions and shopper marketing. Later, Bose will launch a pure-play advertising agency. His offices are coming up in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru.

Advertising veteran and serial entrepreneur Sandeep Goyal is also returning to advertising after five years via a new-age media agency that he is planning. Up until January 2016, the former Dentsu India chairman is bound by the non-compete clause that he signed when he sold his 26% stake in Dentsu to the Japanese parent in 2011. He has been running a successful mobile marketing and advertising firm, Mogae Media, in the meantime.

To be sure, the advertising sector has always seen executives branching out on their own to launch creative boutiques, design agencies or direct marketing companies. However, now it’s people in their 50s who may be switching to unrelated businesses.

So why are people in their 50s, earning top-dollar salaries, starting life all over again? For a start, 40 is the new 20 and 60 is the new 40. The risk-taking appetite has grown across age groups. It is no longer unthinkable for someone even in their 50s to quit everything and start afresh. (“If age is a barrier, then I am blind," Nayak remarked.)

Some quit their careers to follow their heart. Yet others do not want to continue with their stressful corporate life, working for someone else. Those who have spent a lifetime advising companies what to do with their brands find the opportunity to start something on their own and create a brand from scratch really appealing. Some say that with their succession plan in place, they can leave their job causing very little disruption.

The confidence to do new things stems from the range of opportunities that have unfolded across sectors backed by a mature ecosystem: Technology platforms, logistics and broadband connectivity, among others. “Even seven years ago, building a global business in half-a-million dollars would have been impossible. Today we have customers in 12 countries," says Sharma of Indiasarihouse.com.

Some say that advertising professionals are more suited to entrepreneurship as they have the unique ability to work with several clients across different industries at the same time. So they slip comfortably into the new zone and are quick to adapt. They also have a network to tap from and employees who are willing to follow them.

People are perhaps also giving start-ups a shot as there are more success stories and role models around. You see more ideas getting converted into businesses around you as funding becomes available. Apart from the regular structured funding options, there are many young, second-generation industrialists, businessmen and high-net-worth individuals, who are looking out for new ideas to invest in. Many of them study abroad and come back to handle traditional family businesses, but make their private investments on the side, feels Sanjay Sarma, the advertising professional who turned entrepreneur to launch his own design and branding firm 10 years ago.

The shift will not be without its challenges. The biggest test that the entrepreneurs will face will be a change in mindset. Unlike the young entrepreneurs in their 20s, the senior executives are conditioned by their lifestyle and workplace. At work, they are supported by large teams, which may not be the case in a new enterprise.

Yet, they admit that the idea of a new opportunity is exciting and liberating at the same time.

And some like Sarma would not trade the experience for anything else.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing, and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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Updated: 27 May 2015, 11:55 PM IST
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