“We have a myth in our heads of what the prototypical start-up founder is, and myth is an early- to mid-20s male who studied computer science at an elite school and dropped out,” says Roy Bahat, of the Bloomberg Beta investment fund, as quoted in The New York Times.
If you’re thinking a Mark Zuckerberg type, complete with hoodie sweatshirt, you’re probably thinking of how most people picture budding entrepreneurs.
The only problem is that what most people think happens to be wrong, Mark Zuckerberg notwithstanding.
According to OnStartups, the median age of company founders when they started their current companies is 40. And far from being college dropouts, some 95 percent of 549 company founders surveyed graduated from college, and nearly half held advanced degrees.
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That sounds about right to Lottie O’Connor of the Guardian, who writes:
For many, being a twentysomething is characterized by career uncertainty and debt, while a lack of experience working for other companies could make starting your own a risky business. Your 30s is the era of children and mortgages: a combined responsibility that could rule out taking a leap into the unknown. Forties, on the other hand, represents an attractive combination of financial security and business experience.
The Over-40 Bunch
Here’s a by-no-means-comprehensive list of successful business owners who started their companies in mid-life:
- Vera Wang (fashion designer)
- Gary Heavin (founder of Curves fitness, a franchise noted for tremendous growth in the 1990s)
- Jack Weil, Rockmount Ranch Wear (he started the company at 45 and died with his boots on at 107, still acting as CEO)
- Tim and Nina Zagat (yes, the Zagat of restaurant review fame)
- Ray Kroc (bought his first McDonald’s in 1954)
- Henry Ford (started Ford Motor Company after designing and manufacturing automobiles for other companies)
- Brian Halligan (Hubspot inbound marketing and sales platform)
- Manish Chandra (Poshmark, a mobile and online marketplace for women’s fashions)
- Arianna Huffington (The Huffington Post)
You could make the argument that times are different than when many of these people started their companies. Depending on how old you are, you may be perturbed by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla’s remarks in Venture Beat that only younger people can start innovative companies because, “People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”
The problem with such a broad remark is that it ignores the evidence. A Kaufmann Foundation study of 5,000 start-ups shows that the firms that survived after four years typically had a primary owner older than 45. And while Steve Jobs may have launched Apple while still in his twenties, the fact is that the iconic products for which the company is known—the iMac, the iPhone, the iPad—were introduced under his leadership after he was 45. Indeed, Time reports that high-growth start-ups are near twice as likely to be launched by older entrepreneurs as those aged 20 to 34.
What characteristics do over-40 entrepreneurs have that their younger counterparts might not yet have fully developed?
A Less Bloated Ego
While there’s something to be said for the arrogance of knowing what is right regardless of anyone else’s opinion (see Steve Jobs), unbridled ego takes it toll on employees and investors. It can also lead to poor business decisions, Dave Lavinsky explains for Growthink:
The foundation of a good business is a good business opportunity. As an entrepreneur, you want to fill a need in the marketplace. Unfortunately, many businesses are started solely to fulfill an entrepreneur’s ego (or, to put it less harshly, to satisfy one of the entrepreneur’s interests). This can often be seen in the restaurant & bar industry, where too many entrepreneurs open shop because it’s a ‘cool’ thing to do. Such businesses rarely succeed.
Older entrepreneurs know the ropes, they have had their failures and have learned from them. Younger entrepreneurs still have their failures ahead of them.
An Established Network
More people know you, more people trust you (especially with their money). When you need help opening a door to whatever your business needs, there are more resources willing to open theirs for you.
Sure, it’s fun to party while at work. But, when you get older, you realize the partying oftentimes gets in the way of the work you want to do. Older entrepreneurs focus on what needs to get done, then get it done, without distractions.
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So, if you’re thinking of starting a company and are maybe worried that you might be too old for this sort of thing, well, think again.