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Alan Patricof, 87: Let’s Get Going

Alan Patricof is living life to the fullest, starting successful businesses at ages 72 and 85, training for a marathon, attending Burning Man, and looking forward to the next adventure. He discusses his new book, why his company invests in later-life entrepreneurs, and his ambitions for the next 27 years.

Alan Patricof wants everyone to know he is not done yet; not done adventuring, not done with discovering the next frontiers in business, and not at all done with living life to the fullest. Bring it on, he says, what do you have? Besides planning another marathon and attending his first Burning Man, he continues to advise companies and countries via the not-trivial undertaking of his latest business, Primetime Partners, which he launched at the age of 85. For reference, he launched his previous business Greycroft at 72, at an age when most of his contemporaries were deep into a retired lifestyle.

“Society as a whole doesn’t tend to view older people as entrepreneurs, and the investment community definitely doesn’t.” This, combined with global demographic shifts toward an older population, is the idea around which Primetime Partners is oriented. Alan sees trends and opportunities that others don’t, or won’t. He looks to the future to see what could be, rather than what has been. His focus now is on what he labels “the ageless generation,” focusing on the over-60s as the fastest-growing segment of the population. Alan is betting on people like us, investing in our world, and, knowing his track record, that is probably a good place to be.

Alan and his co-founder of Primetime Partners, Abby Miller Levy

He has always worked in finance and is an early practitioner of venture capital, an area that he has specialized in since the 1960s, back when there wasn’t really even a word for venture and investing in early-stage companies. Frankly, the man is a legend. But prior success is not what gets one on the cover of AGEIST. It is what one is doing now, and what one is looking to do in the future, that is our jam. We leave the legacy stuff to others.

We are shameless fans of Alan, whose curious mind can lead the conversation from art to music to politics. He is as much an investor in companies as he is a cheerleader for their leaders. He will just as happily discuss the art and gallery scene as he will economics; interests that can take him to 2 or 3 different social events after his work day. He is a “just say yes, you never know who you will meet” sort of guy. To be around Alan is to be contagiously inspired by the possibilities of life.

Alan, how old are you?
87. And I’m proud of it.

When did you start Primetime Partners?
At age 85. Two years ago. Just at the early stage of the pandemic.

Why on earth does someone with your level of success start something like Primetime at 85?
Well, I relate it in my bookNo Red Lights. That’s how I live my life, I guess since I was born. I always try out something new. I’ve always been interested in many things. But I’ve been in politics, I’ve produced theatrical shows. I collect art. I’ve traveled on behalf of the International Finance Corporation, which is part of the World Bank, to all far reaches of the world dealing with people in the developing world who need encouragement to build entrepreneurial enterprises. In the course of this period of time, I’ve built three businesses, and each one of them — well, the first two have become quite large, the first one in particular, which has been around and celebrating its 50th anniversary. The second one I started at age 72. I got the itch again in late 2019 because I saw so many of my friends who were aged 60 were retiring and going to play golf down in Florida, or go fishing, or do something that was not as productive as they were capable of doing because they’re all in good shape. I shouldn’t say they all were. A lot of them were in good shape.

“I committed to living to 114”

It was like they were checking out at a time when I have all my faculties, and I’m in good physical shape. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s no tomorrow; I decided about 15 years ago after I heard a lecture by a gerontologist, who said, “We all have the ability,” at that time, “to live to 114.” The only reason we didn’t live there was because we had a hip replacement, or we got prostate cancer, or pneumonia, everything chipped off of that, or you got hit by a car, or your genetics were terrible. But if none of those happen, you could live to 114, and depending on how many of them you have is why you ended up dying at 76 or 82. While I had had many of these problems, I liked the idea of living to 114.

So, if you read my book, you will see, and if you ever hear me talk about this whole subject, I committed to living to 114, 15 years ago. I always say to everybody, “If I don’t make it, you can come to my funeral and laugh, if you’re still alive.” So, there’s a double commitment there. But I live my life every day as if I’m going to be around for — I have 27 more years to live. So, that frames my starting a business, it frames new activities. It frames me going to Burning Man. It frames me applying to walk-jog the marathon this year. I ran the marathon many years ago. But now, I can’t run it. But I do everything else.

What is Primetime Partners?
Primetime Partners, it’s a venture capital fund that is dedicated to investing in anything with products, technology, services, media who services the — originally, we started saying over-60, but I’d say anyone who’s getting older — and there are all kinds of services that people who are getting older need. Some of them don’t recognize they need it in the beginning but, at some point, they run into it. Of course, today, with most people wanting to age at home, not in a senior living facility, that is going to create its own issues of how you monitor people who are at home and make sure they’re cared for, make sure they’re taking their drugs, making sure they get to where they have to go, and all these services are the kinds of things we invest in.

You mentioned running, and, did you say earlier that you just ran a half marathon?
No, I said, I walked-jogged a half marathon. I ran marathons when I was in my 40s. And I’m training now three days a week with a coach to build my strength up to be able to do 26 miles, 26.2 or 26.3. If you had asked me last Saturday, after I did 13-point-whatever in a half marathon, whether I felt that day that I’d do another half marathon, I would have said it was impossible.

So, between now and November, I’ve got to get my mindset right so that I can do two of those.

“No Red Lights is what I described as how I live my life. I don’t let anything stop me”

Wonderful. So, you have a new book called No Red Lights. What do you mean by No Red Lights?
No Red Lights is what I described as how I live my life. I don’t let anything stop me. I triple-book my events if I’m invited, so that I know how to make a book party, a cocktail party, and opening the same night. I’ll be in Chicago and Boston on the same day. I have a very positive attitude towards life and participate in every aspect of it. So, if you said to me, “Alan, let’s go and try whatever,” I would be more than happy to. Three years ago, I did The Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day in a place called Wainscott, Long Island. And I would have done it the next year, but they canceled it. We’ll see whether to keep doing these things, but as long as I feel the way I do and have the physical capability, and mental capability, I’m open to trying new things.

 
Alan’s book, “No Red Lights”

Always say yes.
Yeah. No red lights.

Talk to me about “Never Driving Alone.”
Well, that’s the subheading of the book. It means you can’t do everything yourself. Along the journey of life, the people you meet, the people you do things with, the places you go, it really relates to community, it relates to sharing, it relates to partnership, it relates to not conducting your life in a solitary basis. I don’t think anyone should be a hero in and of themselves. I think it’s part of a collective. But I always say to people that life is cumulative. It’s not where you are right now. It’s one of the things that have happened to you along the way. For my funds, I have to raise money and I’ve been successfully raising it in the last number of years in a relatively short period of time. I’ll often hear a comment, “Gee, you raised money in three months? That’s amazing.” And I always say, “50 years and 3 months.” So, nothing happens because of a moment in time. It has to do with your reputation and your collective experience.

“Nothing happens because of a moment in time. It has to do with your reputation and your collective experience”

There’s an epidemic of loneliness out there. What are your thoughts about that?
I think we have to be very concerned that people increasingly want to age at home. They don’t want to be at a senior living facility, they want to stay in their home. So, we have to be concerned with what’s happening in their home. I don’t mean big brother’s watching them, but rather just knowing that they’re okay, they’re safe. Loneliness leads to mental depression and leads to hospitalization. If nothing else, the healthcare plans that have insured most of us will do anything in the world to prevent one day in the hospital. Everybody is committed to keeping people alive and safe, and if they’re going to be in their home, then make sure that it’s comfortable, and that they’re entertained, and take their medications, and that there’s something, they’re not totally alone.

And what would you say to the people who maybe feel lonely?
I can’t change how they feel, but we can do things. We have a company called GetSetUp which provides education and entertainment and media to several million people, sponsored by a lot of their health plans, which is designed to make them not feel lonely.

You’ve got me thinking about the 114. What is your vision for what will happen to society if we have people living much longer? How do you see that transformation?
We have to find activities for these people if they’re going to live longer, so they don’t become totally sedentary, just existing. It’s going to be a different world. I forget the exact number. You probably know better than I do, but how many people are going to be over 100 in the next 10 years? That’s a lot of people; millions. The fastest-growing part of the population is the baby boomers, who, by 2030, there’ll be more people over 60 than there will be under 18. Like it or not, and that’s not just the United States; that’s in India, that’s in China, that’s in Japan, that’s in Europe, not necessarily Africa, the Middle East. I don’t know South America. But there are a lot of people around. It’s a big market opportunity, that’s what I would say, and that’s why we’re investing in that area.

I want to combine two of the thoughts that you’ve given me. This idea of the accumulation of wisdom so that we build on our experience and this idea of the much longer lifespan. How do you think those will combine? Because we’ve never had that before. We’ve never had people living longer and healthier carrying this amount of wisdom with them. What are the economic and societal impacts of that?
Well, I think there’s a knowledge transfer that perhaps is going to be there. It’s a process of respecting people and learning from people. I think we did learn a lot from people who’ve been there, done that. That’s why I encourage them to go back and do the same business they did before, start again, bring people who you worked with before, because you’ve got the biggest Rolodex, more money, and you’ve got knowledge. So, it’s a very valuable resource that society has frankly not taken advantage of as much as they could have up to now, but I think they will in the future.

“I started my second business at 72 and my third business at 85”

I think I like to tell people that we’re approaching the point where 90 is going to be the new 40 and where people like yourself are starting new businesses at this age, contributing and consuming.
As long as they have the energy, there’s nothing to stop them. I just say, again, I’ll quote myself. I started my second business at 72 and my third business at 85. So, if I can do it, so can you.

And what are your ambitions looking forward, assuming, we’ll say you’re going to be alive, what, another 20? You’ve done the math…
27 years. I’ve got a whole life ahead of me. If you think that way at 60, you’re just halfway through life.

Ambitions for the Next 27 Years of Life

For you, looking forward to these next 26 years —
27 years.

27! Excuse me. I’m cutting it short. What is your ambition? Where do you want to go in the next 27 years?
I hope in a reasonable period of time, we’ll do Primetime 2. We made 24 investments so far in this first one and, hopefully, sometime, later this year or next year, we’ll do Primetime 2. I’ll live to see my grandchildren have their children so I can be a great grandfather. I’ll travel. And it is possible I’ll come up with another business idea. My mind is very fertile. I haven’t stopped yet, and there’s no reason why I should. I’m doing right now things like Burning Man and doing the marathon. I think my son wants me to do a triathlon out in California, which I’m hesitant about because it’s a half-mile of swimming in the ocean. Not that I couldn’t do it, but I’m just hesitant. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll start a startup business. I’m intrigued by the developing world. So, I just am in the process of considering doing something in a governmental capacity. Not full-time, in a part-time role, because I’m intrigued.

You mentioned Burning Man. What did you learn from Burning Man?
I haven’t been yet. I was scheduled to do that. I was scheduled to go in 2019 and they canceled. So, they refunded my money and I signed up to go this time.

Wonderful. There’s a tremendous amount of new things happening in the world today. Because of your position, you see a lot. What is it that’s of most interest to you that you see happening out in the world?
I don’t know. I don’t have an answer to that question. I can see some trends developing. I see that the pressure of globalism is probably going to get reduced significantly. As I said, obviously, I think that the lack of utilization of our older population is happening. I think there are going to be very profound disease cures in my lifetime. I’m not sure about Alzheimer’s. That’s a really tough one. But cancer, muscular dystrophy, and MS, I think we have a good chance of solving some of these problems in a reasonable timeframe. But I am concerned with what’s happening in the country, and democracy is really under attack, and that concerns me. Like everybody else, I’d like to see the country be a nice place for my grandchildren to grow up and there’s nothing else more profound. I hope to go skiing again next year. I skied last year.

“If you don’t want to go back into business, try something new and exciting, and study”

What do you want people to know?
I would love people to know about my book and Primetime. But those are very specific selfish interests. On a non-selfish basis, I would love your audience to be inspired to say, “He could do it, I can do it.” If they’re thinking of retirement or thinking of slowing down or thinking of whatever, I encourage them to think about utilizing the rest of the time they’re on this earth to do something really exciting that maybe they’ve always wanted to do. There are alternative careers; you don’t have to do the same thing. Maybe they’ve been wanting to do something all their life. A bucket list is about traveling, but there could be bucket lists about: someone who wants to be an antique dealer who’s been a venture capitalist, or someone who wants to be an aviator. If you don’t want to go back into business, try something new and exciting, and study. Get certified in something.

What are the three non-negotiables in your life today?
Don’t quit, be curious, and have an open mind to new ideas. I’ll stick with those three.

Someone told me last week, “There are no failures until you quit. Everything else is a pivot.”
That’s true. Pivoting is part of the business I’m in now. You start out with one idea, you’re committed to it, you’re sure it’s absolutely right, and it doesn’t work. So, either you go broke, stubbornly saying, “I’m going to make it work or it’s not going to happen,” or, you pivot and say, “It’s not working and I’m going to do something else.”

4 COMMENTS

  1. This is an incredible article and truly inspiring, thank you. In my twenties during the Cold War I was still in the UK and there was this Russian propaganda piece about how Russia was great and people lived long , healthy lives. They showed a village where everyone was over 120 and active . Meanwhile on British TV we were being shown how to make a nuclear bomb shelter in our home from a kitchen table , a mattress and bedroom door! As a young Mum it terrified me and I vowed that day to live to at least 120 ( currently 130+ lol) like the Russians in that village! 30 years later my vow is still holding strong and my quest is to do daily all I can to fulfill my pact with myself and my family and to help others to do the same ❤️

  2. I watched my mother live to 102 and my dad to 95. Both very successful people in their respective fields of surgical research and vocational education. My dad got up every day at 4:30 to get to work and my mom (depending on a speaking engagement or flight) much later….she was Turkish they sleep late! My dad retired and sat down and never got up again and frankly he didn’t care. My mother was lonely when her sphere of influence waned and she spent hours organizing her old typed speeches. Two dramatically different end of life lives. Unless we can ENGAGE older folk and get them talking, doing, creating, it is going to be a long road to 114. After witnessing my parents I’ll be happy to check out at 90 and btw so will all my friends as we talk about it a lot. This better end also takes money! People are more and more outliving their money. Could you address that sometime?

  3. I have a red Swatch with a {STOP} sign of the face that I put on my wrist when projects feel like they are starting to slow down. The the type around the sign reads, “Don’t {STOP} Me.” So I understand Alan Patricof’s philosophy. My outlook about aging changed when I entered the start of my third life. I was doing a deal with Donald Farber, a man who made a name for himself by bringing the “Fantastiks” to Broadway. He was Kurt Vonnegut’s business manager and attorney for almost 4 decades. Donald was 92 at the time we met, he was the most energetic, enthusiastic, and supportive partner that anyone could imaging. What I didn’t know at the time is that he was he was at the end of his third life, being recently diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer. We would only have a couple years to play in our shared sandbox, but what a joy it was to spend tat time together. He breathed fresh air into me and instilled a yearning to create well into my 90’s … knock on wood. PrimeTime Partners sounds like a winner, where do I sign up.

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AUTHOR

David Stewart
David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

 

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