There is an almost obsessive fascination with young entrepreneurs. With the success of Mark Zuckerburg and other young geniuses, the depiction of an entrepreneur has shifted to that of a 20-something-year-old college dropout, with a brilliant tech idea, and a shabby sense of fashion.It
It is therefore no surprise that every 20 year old out there (myself included), is working themselves to the bone trying to achieve the same success that took Richard Branson 30+ years to attain.
The main misconception here is that youth has a direct impact on success. The belief that ‘if you don’t make it by 25 then you’ll never make it’ is hurting our society.
While success in enterprise is extremely possible for young entrepreneurs, success at an older age is more probable.
Generation Y and Shunning the 9 to 5
We live in a day and age where the 9-5 work week is scoffed at. I personally don’t want to be wasting away in a cubicle, and neither do a lot of the people I know.
But what we forget is that Generation X wasn’t thrilled about the monotonous work week either. The big difference is that my generation has been fed the false notion that success is guaranteed with a great idea and passion.
Let me be clear, young entrepreneurs have brilliant ideas, but enterprise is not about ideas, it’s about execution.
Unfortunately, the heavy focus on young entrepreneurs has come at the exclusion of older entrepreneurs.
You might be wondering whether my beliefs are hypocritical. After all, I’m a gen Y kid who is not too fond of the 9-5 work week. However, I recognize the importance of experience in enterprise (more on that below). I acknowledge the fact that any great success that I achieve will probably come at a much later date, once I’ve made my mistakes, learned my lessons, and applied my experiences.
The Danger of Ignoring Older Entrepreneurs
Everywhere you look, young entrepreneurs are being courted. This might be through government programs designed for them, or Venture Capitalists actively seeking their ideas.
By investing our time and money in the youth while simultaneously neglecting those advanced in years, we are losing out big time.
Revolutionary tech ideas started by college aged kids like Facebook are not the norm. Companies that are founded by, and which employ well educated and highly experienced entrepreneurs are more successful.
So what happens when we bend over backward for young entrepreneurs and shut the door at the sight of older entrepreneurs?
Well, we encourage creativity while fostering delusion among the young. With the high rates of failure among startups, many young entrepreneurs end up unemployed (sometimes without a degree).
Becoming an Older Entrepreneur
Youth definitely brings vitality, but age brings wisdom and patience. While young startup entrepreneurs such as myself need a foundation to build upon, older entrepreneurs already have that foundation.
Experience definitely gives older entrepreneurs an edge over young entrepreneurs. Older entrepreneurs have refined their skills over time, and will definitely be better at analyzing problems, coming up with solutions, building relationships with customers, and leading employees.
While I may be stuck looking for new and exciting ways to differentiate my venture, an older entrepreneur will be looking at proven strategies that offer value.
Thinking inside the box and paying attention to boring details like logistics and partnerships is a crucial skill that is learned over time.
Furthermore, older entrepreneurs tend to command more respect and legitimacy than their younger counterparts, and this allows them to conduct their business more efficiently.
There is also a belief that older entrepreneurs do not share the drive that young entrepreneurs have. After all, which 50 year old wants to be grinding out an 80 hour week on their startup when they can have a comfortable position in an established company?
However, I believe that entrepreneurial drive is permanent. If you have it at 20, you’ll probably have it at 60. Richard Branson has not stopped innovating, and neither has Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Vera Wang, Donald Trump and a thousand others.
Another advantage of starting up your company at an older age is networking. At the moment, my contacts are limited. If I’m tasked with hiring an accountant, where exactly do I start? This is not a problem that an older entrepreneur will experience.
Years of working in an industry will help you build a network of professionals, and it will also give you the ability to lead these professionals, and guide them towards realizing your business vision.
I can definitely learn how to achieve this business savvy, but it sure as hell will be tough.
“When you have a society of knowledge and experience and information, at this age is where you are at your best. It’s [foolish] to retire at this age. And you don’t have the physical work, and you have the intellectual work and you are in your best in your 60s.”- Carlos Slim, 73, billionaire
The Kaufmann Report
I recently came across the Kaufmann report. This report is the culmination of an assessment of 625 CEOs and product development heads born in the U.S.
The 625 people assessed worked for engineering and technology companies created between 1995 and 2005, each with $1+ million in sales and 20+ employees.
The report revealed one very interesting fact about tech entrepreneurs:
The average and median age of U.S.-born tech founders was thirty-nine when they started their companies. Twice as many were older than fifty as were younger than twenty-five.
So if you are under the impression that you are too old to start your own company, think again.
When Old and Young Come Together
I believe that the market has enough room for ambitious entrepreneurs of all ages.
As a 21-year-old who’s tried and failed at different small businesses, I don’t believe that I have to be old before I can succeed.
At the same time, when I look at a 51-year-old who has big dreams and an entrepreneurial drive, I don’t believe that they need to be young and spry to succeed.
That’s where balance comes in.
We should encourage young entrepreneurs to explore their passion, act on their curiosity, and share their ideas. We should also encourage older entrepreneurs to step out of their comfort zone and create ventures that have a realistic potential of succeeding.
Young entrepreneurs have the freedom of failing, while older entrepreneurs have the ability to avoid common mistakes that lead to failure.
So when older entrepreneurs mentor younger ones, and give them the platform to build their skills and test their ideas, we have a win-win situation.
If you do see an opportunity for success at 20 or 60, take it. But make sure your idea makes sense.
Entrepreneurs Who Started Up Successful Businesses Later On in Life
With experience on their side, older entrepreneurs tend to be more successful on average. Ignoring their ideas is therefore harmful to economic growth.
If you are a young entrepreneur who is struggling to come up with that ‘big’ idea, don’t worry, you have time. Similarly, if you are an older entrepreneur who’s afraid to compete with ambitious entrepreneurs in their 20s, don’t worry; you’re probably at an advantage.
Whatever age you are, you need to remember that smart ideas, persistence, commitment, passion, and experience will determine how successful you’ll be.
So don’t confine your success to your age bracket, you’re better than that.
If you found this helpful, remember to share it with your friends and colleagues. Also drop me a comment and let me know what your position is on the topic; does age impact success in entrepreneurship, or is my reasoning completely wrong?
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Have a great week, and I’ll see you back next Monday.