Research: The Average Age of a Successful Startup Founder is 45
The fact that entrepreneurship is young people’s calling became a famous belief nowadays.
There is something about the younger population that seems to help them get more easily connected with the modern form of doing business.
People believe that new generations are able to bring revolutionary ideas that are desperately needed.
The most popular examples, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs launched their companies in their early twenties, and since then, entrepreneurs were becoming younger and younger. Nowadays, we can hear about 13 or 15 year-olds starting up, especially in countries with a younger population.
Most people think that younger people are better suited for entrepreneurship since they are more creative at their age, and are certainly willing to take bigger risks than the others.
They are also more innovative and motivated to reach their goals as fast as possible, which makes them better in discovering new things and pursuing their dreams.
And what makes it easier for teenagers and younger adults to work on their projects is the fact that they have more energy and time and fewer responsibilities, whether it’s about family or finances.
In other words, people believe the younger ones are free to do more and able to do better than older ones.
But is it really true?
AMERICAN DREAM INSPIRING YOUNG AND VICE VERSA
Even if the whole idea of “the younger the better” way of thinking gets old and out-dated, there will always be those who love hearing stories about 12-year-olds starting up.
Basically, they make a good story and inspire others of their age to follow their steps.
Well, who doesn’t like to read about a nerdy kid who found a billion-dollar worth company in his own room or garage, or working for one of the most prestigious companies of all time? It’s an American dream 1o1.
The enthusiasm is even bigger when we speak about the founders of the social networks, who often start at a very young age, due to their will to build something totally new and unseen.
Just imagine how boring it would be if there weren’t these stories to entertain us. It’s usually about the kid who dropped out of school, spent many nights working at the comfort of his room, and finally showed up with the new incredible million-dollar idea.
Their dramatic lives, ups, and downs make perfect screenplays for the movies. But in reality, how many of them actually succeed and manage to keep their businesses alive?
It’s already known that older people build strong and lasting companies, but venture capitalists still invest in younger founders’ businesses.
Some people think they target the young ones intentionally, hoping they’ll get a better stake in these companies.
Venture capitalists also believe that younger people are certainly better entrepreneurs than more experienced ones. It could turn out to be a wrong belief, or it might be rational as well.
The myth about successful young founders made many people take unnecessary risks and demotivate the elder competition to work on their ideas.
Luckily, many studies were made, proving that middle-aged people make much better startup founders and company leaders.
THE RIGHT AGE
Many types of research were led to determine what the best age for becoming an entrepreneur is, and to see whether the twenties are the right time to expand the business career.
One study by Harvard Business Review succeeded at proving that not only young ones are suited for entrepreneurship.
They claim that the average age of a successful startup founder is actually 45, which is far away from popularly believed twenty-something.
“The older you get, the higher the success rate”, they wrote.
The fact that so many middle-aged entrepreneurs start high-growth companies proves these people’s willingness to take risks and start ventures.
HBR also wrote, “Our evidence points to entrepreneurial performance rising sharply with age before cresting in the late fifties.”
Besides this study, there was another, done more recently by MIT. They revealed that startup founders in their twenties have small chances at starting and leading successful companies. The average age of lasting companies’ founders is 42, according to this research.
Javier Miranda of the U.S. Census Bureau and MIT’s Pierre Azoulay and Daniel Kim worked on this question as well, using an expansive dataset. As well as the previous researchers, they also discovered that middle-aged entrepreneurs make the best entrepreneurs.
When it comes to tech companies, they revealed that the average startup founder was 45 at the time he started the company.
Besides, any 50-year-old who was part of the research had shown he’s two times more likely to have a long-lasting business than his 30-year-old self.
The results are crucial both for entrepreneurs who get motivation and society at large.
Research proved that older startup founders shouldn’t underestimate their odds against the younger population or give up on their ideas and projects.
The researchers combined U.S. Census information, tax-filing data and many other datasets, forming a list of about 2.7 million company founders who were active from 2007 to 2014.
Since all previous studies were based on very small samples, they wanted to rely on a wider range of data.
From the 2.7 million they’ve found, the average age of entrepreneurs at the time they started their businesses is 41,9 years, which is still far from the twenties.
The analysis included different sorts of companies, such as hair salons, restaurants, hotels, tech companies, etc. So in order to prove the Silicon Valley mythology false, researchers considered only highest-growth ventures and limited the dataset to contain only tech companies.
They found that only one company out of 1000 others recorded sales growth or increased the number of employees. Among this small category, the average age of business founders was 45. Researchers believed it was younger, but the study proved the opposite.
The other part of the same research focused on companies that exited the market successfully, revealing a stunning fact – the average age of the founder in this category was almost 47.
Clearly, middle-aged entrepreneurs are mostly leading successful long-lasting businesses. They also have more chances of starting a new company than people in their twenties.
As a final test, these researchers counted the probability of success among the company founders.
This revealed that a 50-year-old founder has 1,8 times more chances to start and manage lasting business than the 30-year-old, and a 20-year-old founder has the smallest chance of them all.
ENTREPRENEURS ARE IMPROVING WITH AGE
A famous psychologist Erik Erikson explains that people, as they grow up tend to look for the meaning of their lives, which helps them feel alive. According to his theory, all healthy people go through eight stages of development, starting from infancy, ending in late adulthood.
For our topic, we’ll focus on the seventh stage which usually starts at the age of 40 and ends by the age of 64. This period is considered to be very productive with increased creativity.
Besides, people at this age like to engage with mentoring, teaching and helping the next generations.
People in this stage have a lot of motivation which makes them work and find their value, not only for themselves but for other people as well. They are looking for an answer to the question “What could I do to make my life worth?”
But do we know what exactly makes middle-aged people more successful or with better leadership skills? Is it a safer financial resource, a Better network of suppliers and consumers, or something completely different?
Well, even if we can’t determine how success works, we’re sure that founders with many years of experience have more chances at succeeding than their younger competition with no experience in the same industry.
Older founders had a lot of time to build a strong business, learn from mistakes and become stronger and smarter. They worked more on developing their leadership and problem-solving skills, which led them to success.
They are not tracking trends and news in many areas, as young people usually do, but they do have more important qualities. They had a lot of time to study competitors’ businesses making them more familiar with their opportunities. Many experts truly believe that experience can and should fight young founders’ skills.
In highest-growth industries like technology, health care, engineering, the average age of a prosperous entrepreneur is 40.
However, for those above the age of 50 and under the age of 25, there are equal chances of developing a successful business and a long-lasting brand.
According to Duke University scholar Vivek Wadhwa, the majority of people (75% precisely) have more than 6 years of experience in the chosen industry before they start their own businesses. This study was held on 549 technology ventures.
There’s a fun statistic saying that a 60-year-old entrepreneur is 4 times more likely to start a successful business than a 30-year-old. He is also 1,7 times more likely to get his startup in the top 0,1% of all firms. Why?
There are many explanations, but the important one is a difference between idea and execution.
What we actually do to reach our goals is what matters the most.
That’s what helps the business grow. And it’s hard to execute with very little or no experience at all.
EXAMPLES OF OLDER SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEURS
- The middle-aged people tend to do work that matters both for themselves and future generations. A good example is 47-year-old Jacki Zehner who became a youngest female partner at Goldman Sachs, who shares her story, inspires and encourages another woman to change the world.
- Another example is 69-year-old Carol Fox who was working on U.S. Philanthropy project and spent many years teaching billionaires from China how to spread the circle of caring outside their families.
- And speaking of caring, we won’t miss mentioning a 73-year-old photojournalist Paola Gianturco. She is an activist grandmother movement, intending to inspire and encourage all other grandmothers around the globe to work on education, health care, and human rights to help the younger generations.
- The next one is Leo Goodwin, who started his company GEICO at the age of 50. Previously, he worked as an accountant until he decided to try and start his own business. He built a car insurance brand just to help customers get better and more quality service. Nowadays, his company has more than 27000 people, proving dozens of people that it’s not the age that’s important for success, anyone can be an entrepreneur.
- At the age of 41, Donald Fisher found Gap with his wife Doris. They started off with a small store in San Francisco, offering only one type of jeans. Later, they succeeded in convincing a bigger company to let him open a huge store where they would sell different styles and sizes of jeans. It turned out as a good idea and they quickly expanded to more locations. Today, their company has an estimated worth of 9 billion dollars.
- Chip Wilson started Lululemon at the age of 42 after he got inspired by the yoga class in 1997. He wanted to offer more comfortable and fashionable yoga wear for women. He came up with a brilliant idea to use the stretch fabric that is used for snowboard long underwear to create more durable yoga pants. The company turned out to be quite successful, yet he left the business in order to start a new one with his wife and son in 2014.
- Carol Gardner, started her company when she runs into a depressive stage in her life, right at the age of 52. Her age, depression, divorce, and the bad financial situation didn’t stop her from developing what later became a successful business. The company she named Zelda after her dog, had an estimated value of more than 50 million dollars in 2010.
- Also, one 50-year-old, Wally Blume, started a Denali Flavors company, which turned out to be very successful. Nowadays, they offer 40 different flavors, while the company earns more than 80 million dollars each year. He couldn’t have achieved that if he wasn’t determined and persistent, not letting his age stop him from working and succeeding.
- Amazing Harland David Sanders started his own business at the age of 62, which kept the name for many years and now is world-famous as simply KFC. He claims he wasn’t trying to get inspiration from other people’s examples, but started his own business due to his love for cooking. His incredible skills made him so popular, which helped this brand reach 118 countries in more than 18000 stores.
These amazing people absolutely proved the young-only-entrepreneurs belief wrong, by showing their best self at the later stage of life and inspiring many other middle-aged people to try the same.
Now it’s easier to understand why people even suggest that 55 or 65 year-olds have more potential in innovation than people in their twenties. We really improve with age.
YOU CAN SUCCEED AT ANY AGE
The fact that dozens of successful companies were started in the founders’ the twenties led to a wrong belief that if you don’t start at a young age or fail to do so, you’re not going to be able to it later in life.
While this is no case, in reality, people still tend to form their opinions according to a small (inappropriate) example. But success doesn’t follow trends. So contrary to a popular belief, it certainly doesn’t follow the young-age trend.
The truth is a relatively small number of businesses that people develop at their early stage of life actually succeed and last on the market.
Most of them fail, but not because there wasn’t potential at all, but because it was not the right time for it. The lack of experience, lack of financial support and many more prevent the business from flourishing.
And we know how painful and embarrassing the failure is because society understands it as a weakness and a sign of immaturity. By judging, people cause an emotional breakdown which will take a long time to heal.
But what some people don’t understand is that this failure isn’t the end of the story.
Furthermore, if young entrepreneurs learn their lessons from their first business mistakes, they build a foundation for success in that industry in the future.
However, the important thing for a young founder to overcome is credibility. It’s crucial to find your values and understand before you say why someone would invest in you. Determine what you can offer and what potentials you have.
We recommend a “stepping-stone” approach to strengthen your credibility faster. It’s described in a statement “Do one thing today that makes you more credible tomorrow.
If nobody trusts you enough to invest or buy a product, you can give something for free so they can test you and see whether you are what they’ve been looking for.
The customers and investors should learn your value before you reach out to them. The more things you can list as your qualities, the better. The only way to get money on the marketplace is by having a skill to offer, or unique product.
Having a high-income skill can earn you much more than any other one, so spend some time to determine what skills you possess and which ones are worth a million dollars. In a population of around 7,5 billion people, it’s reasonable to expect strong competition.
To get rid of the competition, the skills you learn should be the ones, you master.
Most people just try to list as many new skills as possible and make a huge mistake by not choosing a couple and becoming very good at it.
The most valuable thing at the market is the skill that no one knows better than you.
But it takes years of practicing, learning and achieving smaller goals to get that one skill you want.
This is where many young starters give up and move onto something else instead of working harder to succeed in the future.
One more lesson that takes most of the young entrepreneurs some time to learn says “don’t neglect the revenue model”. Too many companies didn’t or didn’t try at least to understand how to monetize themselves.
Basically, those who don’t have a business model, aren’t in business at all. It seems more like a hobby. Without a solid model behind your business, people won’t invest in it.
There are so many rules to follow and at a young age, it can seem a bit overwhelming, especially without an assistant. One day you have a million-dollar idea, while the next day you start asking yourself if this is the right thing for you.
But we see failure as a mistake we can’t learn from, as an end of the process.
Some young entrepreneurs believe that if their business idea fails at the realization, they’ll most probably end up being homeless with no chance to try again.
Well, it’s quite the opposite, but we tend to imagine the worst scenario.
Young founders need more motivation and encouragement, especially if it didn’t work out the way they wanted. They need to train themselves to think more positive and look forward to new challenges.
It’s normal to fear, but you shouldn’t let these fears stop you from reaching your goals. Failure shouldn’t be accepted as a bad thing but a lesson. In many cases, the company’s success was built on previous failures.
As Henry Ford said,
“A failure is just a resting place. It is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
Just look at the age of most popular successful scientists, artists, politicians. They didn’t get awarded in their twenties. They had to work hard for decades before being able to show their work and be proud of it.
Even Nobel Prize winners are too far from their twenties in the time of getting the award.
Success comes in many shapes and different times for different people.
The key to success is working on improving every day, staying motivated, breaking goals into smaller and more reachable ones and believing you can do it.
Just by learning and working on yourself every day is a success already.
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