Wisdom comes with age, but if you've got the right ideas and the ability to execute it well, then age is just a proverbial number.
My parents became first-time entrepreneurs at the age of 31. And while most startups struggle past year number five or six, they’re still going strong.
While that age seems far too young to take on such an endeavor, new research shows that startup success for thirty-something-year-olds isn’t totally outrageous. According to a recent study by Walter Frick and his associates at HBR, those under the age of 35 represent a significant proportion of founders in the Wall Street Journal’s billion-dollar club, with the average age coming in at 31.
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This makes sense. Some of the wealthiest men in the world became entrepreneurs before their 30th birthday. Bill Gates formed Microsoft at the age of 20. Carlos Slim Helu, the Mexican telecommunication magnate, founded a brokerage firm just out of college. Larry Page partnered with Sergey Brin to launch Google when he was only 26. All are listed among the world’s richest. But can these outlier anecdotes, along with HBR’s recent research, paint an accurate picture of your average entrepreneur?
Not quite. First of all, the HBR study can’t be generalized outside the boundaries of the billionaires analyzed. The study, as they note, has “several caveats”. For one, their “participants” were taken from a list of the extremely successful- hence the “billion dollar club”. Since the sample wasn’t gathered at random, the study can’t be simplified across industries or business size.
Nonetheless, they discovered that fledgling adults were still able to become crazy wealthy. And in today’s digital world, logic may favor the success of the youth. They have more wide-eyed passion and fewer personal responsibilities. They’re digital natives. And they grew up in an era where Silicon Valley reigns supreme.
Even Venture Capitalists favor the fledgling. The average age of entrepreneurs funded by Y Combinator, an elite seed accelerator, is 26. Even Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital, firmly believes that entrepreneurs in their mid- to late 20s “see no boundaries, see no limits, see no obstacle that they can’t hurdle.” But does this prove young people should embrace entrepreneurship before grey hairs start sprouting? Not exactly.
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Other studies reveal that the more accurate age of an entrepreneurship is much older than 31. In conjunction with the Kauffman Foundation, academic and tech entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa discovered that the average age of prosperous startup founders across 12 high-growth industries is actually 40. To further cement her conclusions, she found that these companies are nearly twice as likely to be launched by those over 55 than those in the 20-34-age bracket.
These seasoned entrepreneurs are growing in numbers too. According to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, the share of entrepreneurs between 55-64 grew from 14.3 percent in 1996 to 30 percent in 2013. Conversely, the share of entrepreneurs in the youngest age group of 20-34-year-olds decreased from 34.8 percent in 1996 to 22.7 percent in 2013. When it comes to entrepreneurship, it looks like older age and treachery is beating youth and exuberance.
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So why do these two studies favor the mature? According to Wadhwa, older entrepreneurs realize it’s time they leave the corporate world to become their own boss. They don’t want to rely on social security alone, desiring to build wealth for themselves. And most importantly, they’ve acquired years of (post-college) experience that allows them to solve real-life problems.
So what do these studies mean for you? Wisdom clearly comes with age, but if you’ve got the right idea, and you can execute it well, then age is just a proverbial number.