Are you ever too old to start a startup?
We tend to think of startups as the territory of the youthful. Probably because the world in which we live has quite literally been designed by disruptive entrepreneurs like Steve, Bill, Elon, and Mark — all of whom founded their empires before the age of 30. (Some before they even hit 20.) Of course, many of us have entrepreneurial dreams, but if you’re, say, 35, is it already too late for you to make your mark? How about when you’re 45, 55, or 65? The answers may surprise you.
Young folks are well suited to become successful entrepreneurs for a handful of reasons — not least among which is their exceptional risk tolerance. As Wil Schroter writes for Startups.com, “Every year that goes by is another year we can't get back. When we're in our 20s and starting a company, we have our entire adult life to make up for the risk of failure. In many cases, we may not have a family or even a mortgage to worry about. At most, our failure may result in some lost years and a shitty make-up job afterward. It's not awesome, but it's very survivable.”
In addition to this resilience, it is thought that young people are more inclined to produce revolutionary ideas — and they have the vitality to see them through.
“They’re less beholden to existing paradigms or ways of doing things. As a result, they might be better positioned to come up with new, groundbreaking ideas,” Wharton Management Professor J. Daniel Kim told the [email protected] podcast. “[Another] idea is that young people just have more time and energy. Because starting a venture is a really taxing journey, that might put them at an advantage.”
But Kim’s study, “Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship,” discovered that the average age of the most successful entrepreneurs is actually 45. Beyond that, the study, which was co-authored by Kim, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Javier Miranda, Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern University) Professor Benjamin Jones, and Sloan School of Management (MIT) Professor Pierre Azoulay, who is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, shed light on some even more surprising statistics:
“Your chance of hitting a home run only goes up as you get older,” Jones told The Indicator from Planet Money. “So, in fact, 55-year-olds who start companies have a higher chance of hitting a home run than a 45-year-old who starts a company, which is higher than a 35-year-old who starts a company, which is a lot higher than a 25-year-old who starts a company.”
When it comes to founding a company, the benefits of age and experience are as readily apparent as the benefits of youth. With age comes a more expansive network, greater perspective and empathy, sounder financial footing, and even better credit.
“There’s no ‘right’ time to start a business, as we can never predict when inspiration will strike, or how opportunities in the market might resonate on a personal level,” Schmidt’s Naturals Founder Jaime Schmidt tells Drawn. Schmidt, an investor at Color Capital and author of Supermaker: Crafting Business on Your Own Terms, continues, “I think there are competitive advantages to starting at different stages of our lives. Later in life, we’re more inclined to think methodically and have a breadth of experience we can tap into. We come to know ourselves better with age and have the support of more sophisticated coping and relationship-building skills.”
Caddis Founder and CEO Tim Parr agrees. He began building the company, which makes hip reading glasses and bills itself as “The anti anti-aging brand,” when he was 45. “This is my third startup, and I can say that they just keep getting better,” he tells us. “The wisdom and networks that come with age are valuable assets that my younger self wasn’t even aware of.”
And hey, George Lucas didn’t become a billionaire until he was 52, so there’s hope for us yet.