Debunking the Myth of the Young Entrepreneur

young male entrepreneur in suit leaning up against white wall

With so many high-profile young entrepreneurs in the public spotlight these days, it’s no wonder that many people assume you have to be a young entrepreneur if you want to be successful. They may mistakenly believe if you’re long in the tooth, then you’re past it. After all, famous entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve jobs were all in their twenties when they launched businesses that would become game-changing, multimillion companies. But is it true that you have to be young to be successful in business? Or does gaining experience over many years matter more in the founding of a successful company?

What is the average age of entrepreneurs who found startup companies?

If you’re an aspiring young entrepreneur, you may think your youth will go in your favor. Perhaps, as long as you take the right steps to launch a business, you could very well succeed. You will also need to work out your costs by calculating how much it will cost to start up a business. According to Foundr, creating an in-depth checklist is vital if you want your company to succeed. Yes, if you take the right steps and work hard, you may become successful. But you cannot just rely on your youth alone.

According to a study by the Harvard Business Review that analyzed the ages of all US business founders of recent years, the average age of entrepreneurs at the time of founding their firms is 42. This information certainly seems to indicate that the idea of successful entrepreneurs starting young is a myth. However, most of those companies are likely small businesses that aren’t intending to grow into major national firms. So, the researchers refined their criteria to be closer to a typical high-tech startup. The requirements involved factors like whether the company received a venture capital investment, and what the location of the business was. That streamlined criteria came up with the same results: average founders of high-tech startup companies are mostly in their forties.

What is the average age in different industries?

There are, of course, variations in the findings of the study. In software firms, the average age of a founder is still 40, but younger founders of startup software companies are still rife. In other industries, like energy companies and biotechnology firms, the average age of founders is closer to 47. So, it again appears that the popular imagination of successful young entrepreneurs isn’t accurate.

Are young entrepreneurs founders of the most successful startup companies?

Maybe there is a popular public conception of entrepreneurs being young because it’s true among the very most successful companies. The research study put the idea to the test. It found that among the top 0.1% of successful startup companies, the founders were, on average, 45 years of age. Based on criteria like employment growth, fastest sales growth, and exit strategies through an IPO or acquisition, the results of the study came up with the same findings again and again. These founders are, on average, in their forties. The age of the most successful entrepreneurs goes up, not down when you look at the most successful firms.

Why are older people more successful entrepreneurs?

Middle-aged people have had more shots at business than the younger generation. They have accumulated a wealth of experience over the years, and have learned from their mistakes. They could also have more money to invest too. So, although people tend to be less successful after they are in their late fifties, it often takes years of experience to become very successful. If you have dreams of beginning a startup in your twenties, you might have to wait a couple of decades actually to create a very successful business.

Why do people believe you have to be young to be successful in business?

So, why do people have this idea that most highly-successful entrepreneurs make a fortune when they’re young? Perhaps it’s because the media reports success stories of young people more than older successful business people. Also, in this digital day and age, almost everyone associates Silicon Valley with young entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg. Many well-known names like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Steve Jobs started young.

Does that not then show there are notable exceptions to the rule that older entrepreneurs are generally more successful? Well, if you look at the those businessmen’s companies in terms of growth rates for when their market capitalization peaked, you’ll discover all of those founders were middle-aged. For example, when Apple first launched the iPhone, Steve Jobs was already 52 years of age.

And for instance, Phil Knight launched his first company Blue Ribbon at the age of 24 which sounds pretty cool, but for clarity, he turned 33 when Nike accumulated its first $1 million in sales. And even after that, his road was a roller coaster with the culmination in 1980 when he was 42 and Nike IPO’d. Before that, Phil began his journey as an accountant, even getting his CPA license and working as a teacher at the local college.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s just important how much you are willing to get there and your ability to sacrifice. As Phil Knight says “If you’re going through hell, keep going”.

For more great career tips, check out the other blogs on Career Geek.

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