A quick look at the most prominent entrepreneurs in the startup game and you would be forgiven for making the assumption that it’s a young person’s game. Some of the most well-known entrepreneurs started young. Bill Gates: 20, Steve Jobs: 21, Michael Dell: 18, Mark Zuckerberg: 19, Larry Page: 25 and the list goes on. But believe it or not, these are outliers. They are big names because they have done amazing things but they are not representative of the whole pool of entrepreneurs. This is a great infographic that lets you click on the age ranges of some well-known entrepreneurs when they started their companies. You’ll be surprised how much older the ages skew. Jeff Bezos: 30, Jack Ma: 35, Amancio Ortega: 39.
And don’t think it stops below 40. Robert Noyce co-founded Intel at 41, Bob Parsons started GoDaddy at 47 and Charles Ranlett Flint was 61 when he started a small computer company you might have heard of, IBM.
All of this is backed up by some rather compelling data, The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity: 1996-2013 shows that the largest segment of new startup founders was between the ages of 45-53. The group represented 30% of all new startup founded in 2013. The second largest group was ages 35-44 which made up 24%. What’s even more interesting though is that ages 55-64 made up a larger segment of new entrepreneurs than 20-34 did, by a slim margin of 23.4% to 22.7% but the trend is clear, entrepreneurship is trending older than it is younger.
So why is this? There’s no real definitive answer, but I think there are a number of factors that make entrepreneurship attractive for older founder as well as some reasons that they might find more success.
Modern workplaces tend to force older workers out or make it uncomfortable for them. When I was an engineer for a major telecom provider in the US I saw this very thing happen several times to friends of mine. Despite their experience and depth of knowledge, they offered in their position older workers were regularly forced out in favor of younger and cheaper replacements.
This video from Vox highlights the very same practice of culling older employees from their workforce.
Being forced out of the job market leaves older workers with little option as the trend of eliminating them from the workforce continues to grow they are left to fend for themselves and many times that means striking out on their own.
Another factor that makes it easier for older entrepreneurs to start businesses is that they have, or at least should have more disposable income. This war chest could come from any number of sources. Perhaps just savings, or even taping a retirement account.
No matter where the cash comes from, it means they can run longer bootstrapping the venture, especially if they are running lean. Having a longer natural runway pair that with their experience and you have a very nice foundation for success.
While experience and cash play a big role in starting any business, we can’t overlook one other massive advantage that older entrepreneurs have. They have a vastly more developed and robust network of connections who they can reach out to. I’m sure we have all heard it thousands of times, but business is about who you know. If you have been in the game for a long time you are going to know a lot more people then someone who is fresh out of college.
Not only do you have more connections as an older entrepreneur, but you also have had longer relationships where you have developed trust. That trust will often open doors for an older entrepreneur into meetings and deals they might not otherwise have access to.
While there is surely something to be said about having the energy and vigor of a 20 something who can look at the world in an untainted way and imagine new solutions to massive problems, there is also something of great value in being an older, more seasoned entrepreneur.
Both offer value and neither of them is better than the other. The one things we know for sure is that anyone can be an entrepreneur at any time and add value to the world, and that’s the beautiful thing about entrepreneurship.