Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel are the poster children for young billionaire entrepreneurs. They are young business leaders, aged 34, 40, and 28, respectively, who have changed how the world communicates. They are the new faces of entrepreneurship—the new benchmark for success—who show that valuable ideas and global innovations come from young minds. And this consequently takes away some of the spotlight and credibility from middle-aged entrepreneurs or older, who can be seen as out of touch and not worth the investment.
“Young people are just smarter,” said famously by Zuckerberg, who suggests hiring only young people with technical expertise. People have the impression that young entrepreneurs, or generally millennials, are digital natives who have a better grasp of technology for consumers. Because of this, they have transformative ideas with practical applications. They are not easily bound by the norm so their ideas are disruptive. But the likelihood of success does not hinge on a person’s youth—youth is hardly a determinant of nor a guarantee for success.
The Edge of Age
Being older does not necessarily mean lacking every characteristic the young entrepreneurs have. Older or middle-aged entrepreneurs have a handful of substantial advantages over younger ones. They have had decades of experience and industry know-how to build the business. They have more wisdom having gone through progressing responsibilities, and therefore have a better sense of leadership. Older entrepreneurs also have more realistic problem-solving capabilities to actually sustain a startup.
They may not be aware of the latest trends in technology, but they are more adept to finding business opportunities. Older business leaders have considerable insights about markets, and specific technologies, apart from the skills to manage people.
Benjamin Jones, a professor of management and strategy at the Kellogg School of Management published research relating age and great achievements. He said great achievements in science do not peak at innovators in their twenties, but rather a little later in life. The average age for Nobel Prize Laureates is actually 60 to 64 years old.
In a new research collaboration, Jones sought the help of Javier Miranda of the US Census Bureau, and Pierre Azoulay and J. Daniel Kim from MIT. They discovered that contrary to popular thinking, the best entrepreneurs were actually middle-aged. Their dataset had 2.7 million founders who hired at least one employee between 2007 and 2014. They determined that the average age of a company’s founder at the time their business was established was 41.9 years-old. Paring the dataset specifically to just tech companies, and the average age becomes 45.
As an alternative measure of success, the researchers also looked into companies that exited the market, either through getting acquired by another firm or going public in an IPO. The average founder age for this group is 46.7.
These findings show that (1), middle-aged entrepreneurs dominate in this area. And (2), people in their forties are more than capable to create and grow their own companies.
There are serious implications to these findings. Aspiring entrepreneurs may be over or underestimating their odds of success based on their age. If venture capitalists are hesitant to invest in middle-aged entrepreneurs, countless startups with high potential may never see the light of day. On a macro level, if there is not enough money being allocated to the right entrepreneurs, there will be considerable losses toward socioeconomic prosperity.
7 Tips for Entrepreneurs of Any Age
Success in business is not determined by age. Success can be achieved by anyone who has the right attitude and acts on their goals. While success comes in many different forms, the following tips will help an entrepreneur at any age build the foundation for their new ventures.
1. Turn Your Passion into a Profession
Passion is the great innovator. When you let your passion fuel you, you don’t think of it as a job or a burden. You continue doing it because you don’t see yourself doing anything else. And when you have this attitude toward one particular thing, it’s worth pursuing. An impassioned person is happy to take on new challenges because they fiercely believe in a worthwhile cause.
2. Cultivate a Vast Network
Success isn’t born out of talent and hard work alone. It is also contingent on the people you know. There is great value in building strong relationships. A strong network can help you find investors, suppliers, and other business partners. Reach out to experts and mentors who can guide you to make better decisions, and open doors for you.
3. Leverage Your Accrued Business Experience
Experience gives your project traction so it can progress to bigger things. No matter your age, knowledge, and expertise you gain from relevant experiences can help you make informed decisions. Investors also prefer entrepreneurs who have “been there, done that,” as they have more reliable know-how to drive a business to success.
4. Own Your Age
Age is not a liability—they are assets that help you gain a granular understanding of your market. Remember that age is just a number. Take advantage of what and who you know.
5. Be an Explorer
The end of any enterprise is when its people think they are successful and stop learning. Always ask new questions and seek answers outside your comfort zone. Learn about emerging trends and see how you can further improve yourself and your company. Do not remain stagnant in your business; keep finding new ways to innovate, change, and progress.
6. Build a Reliable Team
Whatever your goal may be, it is wise to assume that it has many moving parts that you alone cannot fulfill. Learn to trust others and delegate work so you don’t drown in the nitty-gritty of everyday operations. Doing so can free up time so you can focus on managing the business through better strategies, partnerships, and other innovations.
7. Create Your Own Brand
A company’s success is also dependent on the strength of its brand. Your brand solidifies your identity and increases your recognition in the market. If your image, products, and services resonate with your market, you create an emotional reaction that sticks. This magnifies your value, generates more customers, and inspires your own employees to keep doing good, honest work.
No one is ever really too old to launch a company. There are so many business leaders who made mistakes before finding success later in life. Vera Wang didn’t begin her career as a designer until she turned 40. Henry Ford was 45 when he invented the Model T. Momofuku Ando invented ramen when he was 48. Charles Flint launched IBM when he was 61. There are so many other success stories of people innovating in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. As long as you have the drive, the right tools, connections, and attitude, you have the making of a successful entrepreneur. When you sustain this entrepreneurial spirit, there is nothing you can’t achieve.