THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

25 September 2019

Choosing revenue over retirement - starting a business in your 60s

Bryher is the founder of Autodotbiography. In honour of Book Lovers' Day, Bryher tells us about her book-based business and the inspiration that made her start a brand new business up at the age of 60. 

I know that at the age of 60 most people think their careers are over. I spent 25 happy years at the BBC working on all kinds of factual programmes. I was Editor of 'That’s Life!' and later Editor-in-Chief of BBC Online during the very early days of website development.

So why, at this late stage of my life have I started a business for the first time? I have put my bank account, my home, life-savings and my future on the line? Is it because there is insanity in my family, and I’ve inherited it?  Not as far as I know. It’s all down to my mother’s untimely death.

When my mother died 20 years ago I was devastated.  We were extremely close, she was my best friend, my wise and trusted advisor and more than that, she was great fun to be with. With her sudden death our wonderful relationship died, and so did her memories.  They say that when a person dies a library burns and I think that is so true. There were so many questions I wanted to ask about her life but it was too late.

As her executor I had to rummage through her life to find the documents needed to sort out probate.  I came across drawers full of photographs of people who must have meant something to her but who were now anonymous.  I had no idea who they were and never would. There was no-one to ask.

She had told me very little about her childhood – I knew it had been tough and that she clashed with her mother.  Then I found a story written by her.  It was on yellowing paper and typed on a very old-fashioned typewriter.  It told of jumble sales held at the Methodist Hall where her father was the caretaker.  She described how she would sneak into the hall before it opened and try on hats with magnificent feathers, or teeter on high heels, only to tear them off and put them back when the doors opened and the sale began.  I loved reading it.

I realised that while the rich and famous have their lives recorded, this wasn’t possible for everyone.  Of course, there are ghostwriters to help people tell their story but they tend to cost thousands of pounds. A blank piece of paper or screen is very daunting. Just knowing where to start can be difficult.

I wanted it to be easy, and affordable, for anyone to write their life story and have a beautiful hardback book at the end of the process.  It took 12 years of devising and writing and spending our life savings and putting our house on the line – my husband of 44 years, Paul, has been magnificent in supporting me.

Bryher 1

So, hundreds of thousands of words later and all my savings, I launched www.autodotbiography.com , a unique online system that makes it easy for anyone, no matter how good or bad at writing, to create a beautifully written, lavishly illustrated hardback book of their life story for their family.  All the author has to do is answer simple questions - selecting from pre-written answers, if they are not a confident writer, or writing in their own words if they are.  To illustrate their stories they can upload photographs and documents, and then our automated system turns their words and pictures into a beautiful book.  Basically, it is a virtual ghost writer and a virtual book designer.

By profession I have been a television producer, so it might have been expected that I would produce videos of people’s stories and there are companies that do that. My reason for producing a book is that it is intended to be a family heirloom and that means it has to last hundreds of years.  An autodotbiography is a hardback book with very high-quality paper, designed to last.  As a programme maker and an internet entrepreneur I have watched many video and photographic formats come and go and who knows how we will be accessing our data in 100 years. More likely than not it will be impossible to get at these precious memories because the operating system or app no longer operates. But an autodotbiography will still be sitting on a bookshelf for future generations to enjoy.

Bryher 3

There are so many things to say about running my own business. It has been terrifying, amazing, frustrating and a tremendous adventure. I have learned to do so many things in the course of running the business. For instance, I never dreamed I would become a cruise ship speaker!  But lecturing and running workshops on cruise ships is a terrific way to market autodotbiography, as well as seeing the world with some delightful people who have wonderful life stories to share with their families.

I am thrilled to report that at the ripe old age of 62 I won an award from PRIME (Prince of Wales Initiative for Mature Enterprise) Best New Digital Business.  And I have wonderful comments from the authors who have completed their books and their fascinated families that makes it all worthwhile. In a world when physical books are becoming outnumbered by digital formats, it is wonderful to see the importance people still place on creating beautiful books and I love that I have been able to build a business out of this. 

To find out more about Authodotbiography, visit https://www.autodotbiography.com/.