It's Never Too Late to Become an Entrepreneur: The Fred C. Young Story
There is a general misconception that only young people are entrepreneurs. You may even tell yourself that you are too old to start a business (we all know the adage about teaching an old dog new tricks).
But the truth is that I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my adult life with both successes and failures, and I’m by no means the only one.
In my late twenties, I started off as a graphic design solopreneur while straddling a full time job and doing freelance work at night. Eventually I left the comfort and security of a full time job with a salary and benefits and fully committed myself to satisfying that unrelenting fire that every entrepreneur possesses.
Now at 56 with several ventures behind me, I’m not even close to being done. I continue to spend my rare moments of creative thinking time about what could be my “next thing”, and honestly, that’s what really excites me.
Today, I’m more experienced, have more relationships, more resources, and more knowledge than I did as a young entrepreneur, and that can be a significant advantage when launching a business or idea.
Rest assured, you don’t have to be the smartest, richest, or the most tech-minded person and I’m pretty sure there is not an age requirement to change the world.
Be passionate, do your homework, and work hard. I want to share a story that I hope will inspire you (at any age) to stoke that fire that lives in you…
The fishing lure that changed the game.
While in his sixties, a man named Fred C. Young started whittling on a piece of wood, trying to make a fishing lure for himself. Fred was in a full body cast at the time because of spinal injuries suffered while working for the Atomic Energy Commission in Oak Ridge, TN during the 1960s. This to say, he had plenty of time on his hands.
After doctor appointments, he made a habit out of stopping by a local lake to study the bait fish. He'd toss small pieces of gravel in the water and watched as the minnows scurried away with a tight little wiggle, fearing that they were about to be lunch for a cruising bass.
Fred took inspiration from this motion and set out to mimic the look of fleeing minnows with a lure. He kept experimenting and stopping by the lake to test his prototypes until he was satisfied.
Let’s note that Fred was not a design engineer, didn’t have a flashy workshop, sophisticated CNC machines, or even a well-ventilated paint booth to finish out his lures.
He worked in the basement of a small two-bedroom house and whittled most of his lures over a dishpan in the family den. Fred used a humble egg carton to transport his creations as they seemed to be an ideal, low-tech package to tote and protect his finished lures.
Never would he have imagined that he was about to ignite an industry that today exceeds $20 billion.
The power of collaboration.
Fred Young’s brother, Odis, field-tested his lures and offered feedback. With this teamwork approach, it wasn't long until Fred perfected the design that would catch a lot of fish.
Other fishermen in local tournaments often asked what he was using, and when Odis let them look at it, they'd make fun of its homemade quality and crude looks. But they didn’t laugh at the number of fish Odis was catching.
As time went on, more and more fisherman got their hands on Fred’s lure and word got out about this homemade lure. In the spring of 1972, a pro-fisherman won first place in a B.A.S.S. Tournament event. This skyrocketed demand for the lure and Fred found that he couldn't carve them fast enough.
Many anglers resorted to renting lures for $25 a day. That’s about $150 today. Fred started getting orders and requests from all over the United States and abroad, from pro-fishermen, outdoor enthusiasts, celebrities, and young kids.
In honor of Odis, Fred’s field tester who towered at 6’6”, the lure later earned the trade name “Big O”. Once it became a trade name, Fred sold the Big O to Cotton Cordell, a tackle manufacturer who mass-produced the lure from plastic.
Over a million Big O lures were sold in the first 12 months of production and each one was packaged in a branded egg carton, an homage to Fred’s original, thoughtful packaging.
An unexpected legacy.
Fred, at 65 years old and a 7th grade education, nearly single-handedly created a major lure category, which doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend your “retirement”. He’s now celebrated as one of the most influential people in bass fishing history.
Fred continued to hand-carve lures for family, friends and the pro bass fisherman. At the time of his passing in 1987 he was 74 and there was a three-year waiting list on his prized creation and his originals today are highly sought after collectibles.
Some say he was a genius for having the vision and fortitude to create a lure that started such a craze. His lure design has been copied many times over and the original Big O lure is still sold today. Fred worked countless hours, enduring failure after failure until he perfected his lure.
I know this because Fred Young was my grandfather. He never cared about the notoriety or the money. In fact, he gave away much of the proceeds to help strangers in need, poor and less fortunate communities. He was simply a creative entrepreneur driven to satisfy the fire.
GUEST POST: Today’s post was written by Sonny Goodall, a lifelong entrepreneur, creative thinker, and co-founder of Lighthouse Marketing in Marietta. Years in the making, FireWorks Coworking was once his “next big idea.” Nothing would make his day more than to grab coffee with you and chat about the Fred Young story or fire that drives you.