Extremes of age means nothing
The late Colonel Harland Sanders – the founder of the most famous and most successful fried chicken business in the world: Kentucky Fried Chicken – was 62 years old when he founded his company. Warren Buffett – one of the most successful investors in the world – started his first business ventures when he was in high school, after having bought his first shares at the age of 11. They had their first successful business ventures at drastically different times of their lives, but they are both household names today because of their success. If you type in the phrase “Average age of a successful entrepreneur”, you would be surprised at the result you will get: The average age at which an entrepreneur first launches a successful business is 45. You may have decades to go to get to 45 or you may remember your 45th birthday as that thing that happened decades ago, but you have to keep in mind that no matter your age, your success as an entrepreneur should not be pegged to that one number that describes how many trips around the sun our planet has taken since you arrived here.
Age is just a number
Age is a strange concept; some parts of society give people of different ages different roles. When you are young, you are expected to do things other young people do – play, have fun, go to school, be obedient to your elders, and try not to annoy grown-ups too much. On the flip-side, if you are advanced in age, you are supposed to get plenty of rest, move to a warm place, and spend the winter of your life staring at nothing in general on a rocking chair, complaining about how life used to be better when you were young. There is a window in between when you are middle-aged, when you are expected to do one or more jobs to somehow earn a living, and provide for yourself and your family. For most of us human beings, this is the life society wants you to have.
Entrepreneurs – a Breed Apart
Then there’s you, the budding entrepreneur. You are put on earth to buck that trend. You are a different breed. You don’t care about things such as your age. Let statisticians worry about your statistics. Your supposed role in society is not what you choose for yourself. You are in charge of your own destiny. You may fail once, twice, or many times along the way, but you know that success is inevitable, because you know how to dust yourself off and get back on your feet. Let us take a deep dive into being an entrepreneur at different ages, including what opportunities and challenges you may face at different times in your life.
The Young Entrepreneur
Less than 30 years old
- Have a lot of time and energy
- More tolerant to failure
- Faster and better learners
- Fewer commitments
- More adept to technology
- Natural risk-takers
- Lack of business and life experience
- Low recognition among peers
- Smaller network of contacts
- Have to work harder to show your abilities
Playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote “Youth is the most precious thing in life; it is too bad it has to be wasted on young folks.” In the modern world, this is as true as ever in most cases, but your “precious” youth can be used to your advantage when you enter the world of business. Being young means you have more time and more energy to get your business running. Young minds are naturally better learners than older ones, and with all the learning you need for your business to succeed, this is a big advantage. Younger people, if they are single and without children, generally have fewer commitments, which means they can immerse themselves in their business and give it more time and effort.
One of the main disadvantages of being a young entrepreneur is that you have to work harder to convince your investors and other business partners of your business model and how you plan to achieve your goals. You may not have the advantage of experience, but you have to make up for it in enthusiasm to learn and in the willingness to take risks. Younger entrepreneurs are natural risk-takers, but they come with the added advantage of being more tolerant to failure. They will have time to fall back, learn the lessons from their failures and try again.
The main challenge in general for a young entrepreneur is that those they get in business with, from investors to suppliers to clients might underestimate their skills or undermine them without giving them a chance. This ageism is not always intentional, but is an inherent bias that is held about younger people by almost everyone. To combat this, a young entrepreneur must work that much harder to prove their worth – in terms of their own skills and their product or service.
When you are young, everything seems to be stacked against you, and statistics prove that young entrepreneurs fail at a higher rate than those who are older, but some of the most successful entrepreneurs ever – Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs, for example – were all in their late teens or early 20s when they started.
The Older Entrepreneur
60 years and older
- More experience
- More recognition
- Better network of contacts
- More funds at one’s disposal
- Less energy
- Can be perceived as beyond one’s years
- Tend to not take risks
- Learning is more difficult
- Might struggle with technology
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the older entrepreneur, who we will classify as 60 years and older. Although the level of energy that you have depends on your physical fitness, it’s inevitable that you will most likely have less energy than anyone several decades younger.
The biggest strength an older entrepreneur has is experience. This includes not just business experience, but life experience as well. You may have worked a steady job for most of your life, or hopped from one job to another or even one career to another. All these experiences would have given you a skill set that you would be able to use when starting up and running a business. You do not have to come from a business background. What works to your advantage is your network. You would have made contacts during your life that can get you places and can let you get in touch with important parties, such as investors, shareholders, suppliers, and potential clients.
One of the struggles for an older entrepreneur in today’s world is the proliferation of technology through all aspects of business. Email and instant messaging have replaced the traditional methods of everyday communication. Video Conferencing software, once considered to be in the realm of science fiction, is commonplace. Formal meetings can now be held without having to commute hours to one location where everyone meets physically. It’s a common stereotype that the older generation has been left behind, but remember that it was the older generation that laid the groundwork for this technology to be made possible today. The most important thing for an entrepreneur of any age is to keep learning, and an older entrepreneur will benefit a great deal if they immerse themselves in technology and embrace it rather than shun it. Your business might not have anything to do with modern technology, but remember that modern technology is a part of modern life that you cannot escape.
All new business ventures carry with them a certain amount of risk. As an older entrepreneur, you will be much more risk averse than someone much younger than you. This might work to your advantage such that you end up venturing only into business propositions that are highly likely to succeed. It might also work to your detriment, as higher risks usually come with higher rewards. What level of risk you want to take is your decision – no matter your age – but you need to keep in mind that you have to account for added expenses of being older when making these determinations.
It is a scientific fact that it gets harder to learn things when one gets older. This is caused by physical changes to the brain as well as psychological factors, including disillusionment. It is understood that older people are several magnitudes more prone to have forms of dementia etc., but that is beyond the scope of this article. There are techniques one can use to combat the slowing-down process of the brain. One of the most commonly used techniques is to perform activities that keep your mind working at a higher level. Depending on your tastes, this can be playing or listening to music, reading books, drawing, solving puzzles, or even playing video games. Your enthusiasm to learn also helps a great deal. Learning is one of the most important parts of being an entrepreneur, and anything that impedes that should be mitigated, if not eliminated. A technique to help you remember things is to keep a small notebook handy and scribble down notes whenever necessary. You can refer to your notes at any given time and refresh your memory.
The Middle-Aged Entrepreneur
30 to 60 years old
- Work and Life Experience
- More recognition
- Network of current contacts
- More technologically proficient
- More commitments
- Less tolerant of failure
- Risk averse
The common definitions of middle age generally have a lower bound of 35 and an upper bound of 65, and it is not uncommon to define it as 40 to 60, 40 to 65, etc. For the purposes of this article, middle age is defined as the age range 30 to 60 years. As stated in the introduction, the average age at which an entrepreneur has their first successful business venture is 45 – right in the middle of this age range. The youngest and oldest members of this group are a generation apart, but there are some characteristics of this age group that are common.
The most advantageous position that the middle aged entrepreneur will have is that they would have a bit of work experience coupled with a good network of contacts in the industry. This leads to more recognition among peers as well as being able to make better deals with investors, suppliers, clients, and any other parties that have a stake in the business.
This group will have the necessary soft skills well-tuned due to their exposure to business in their day-to-day activities. These include interpersonal communication, presentation skills, and the ability to learn and teach skills. They will also be more technologically proficient than older entrepreneurs and would have dealt with a larger range of technology than the younger group.
One of the main disadvantages that the middle-aged group has is the low tolerance of failure. Most people in this age group have commitments that take priority over business, such as children, spouses, and the need to have a steady income through a career by doing one or more jobs. This leads to middle-aged entrepreneurs having less time to commit to a business. If they put their savings into the business, there is a good chance that business failure would diminish them. Only entrepreneurs who are willing to take the risk despite their commitments will engage in a business venture. This can be mitigated to a great deal by paying themselves a salary to work on the business full time, but the risk of failure would still keep some potential entrepreneurs in this age range out.
One would, however, never succeed in anything if they don’t take the first step. The budding entrepreneurs of this group still have the best chance at success because their advantages eclipse the downsides.
What New Entrepreneurs of All Ages Should Do
The best advice for any new entrepreneur of any age is to familiarise themselves with what’s needed to convince others of your potential. Specifically,
- Learn how to devise business models and business plans that will let you convince investors and that will help you throughout your business. You don’t need formal academic training; the Internet has a plethora of information that is freely available.
- Be knowledgeable about the tools any entrepreneur has that enable them to analyse the environment around them and to formulate a winning strategy.
- Learn how to pitch your product to a wide range of investor types. Not all investor types are the same. Some will be willing to give you more time than others.
- Learn as much as possible about the industry in which you will start your business and never stop learning. Use whatever techniques you have at your disposal.
- Build your network of contacts and never be afraid to use it to gain a competitive advantage. There are many organisations around the world that get entrepreneurs of different industries together. It is advisable to find what’s available in your area – geographically and industry-wise – and join their meetings, discussions, forums, etc.
- Look for the investors you need. Equitymatch.co can help you find the ideal investors for your business venture, as we can match you with one or more of our wide network of investors. We will also help you with your pitches and facilitate your meetings with potential investors.