The Experienced Entrepreneur: What The Data Says
In my post on Monday (Are You Too Old?), I argued that, as an experienced professional, you had to lean into your age and experience instead of trying to downplay or avoid it. As such, you either look for those who value your experience and work with them, or take matters into your own hands, and do something for yourself. In other words, take it as a Call To Action and do what you want.
The interesting thing is that in trying to do what we want, many of us are hounded - constrained - by the same conventional wisdom that drove us to this point in the first place.
That is, the perception that the entrepreneurial playground is the arena of the young. That the most successful enterprises are started by the twenty-something toiling away on ramen and diet cokes. That, at our age, we have neither the stamina nor the fortitude to withstand the rigors of a new enterprise.
Well, it turns out that the data doesn’t bear that out:
The average age of high-tech founders falls in the early forties. These averages, however, hide a large amount of variation across industries. In software startups, the average age is 40, and younger founders aren’t uncommon. However, young people are less common in other industries such as oil and gas or biotechnology, where the average age is closer to 47. The preeminent place of young founders in the popular imagination may therefore reflect disproportionate exposure to a handful of consumer-facing IT industries, such as social media, rather than equally consequential pursuits in heavy industry or business-to-business sectors.
Among the top 0.1% of startups based on growth in their first five years, we find that the founders started their companies, on average, when they were 45 years old. These highest-performing firms were identified based on employment growth. The age finding is similar using firms with the fastest sales growth instead, and founder age is similarly high for those startups that successfully exit through an IPO or acquisition. In other words, when you look at most successful firms, the average founder age goes up, not down.
It’s worth reiterating that last point: When you look at most successful firms, the average founder age goes up, not down.
And when you step out of the bubble of the popular press (and social chatter) and really think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense that the experienced professional (who I will broadly label as someone with at least a decade worth of professional experience) is the perfect candidate to start a highly successful business (lifestyle-focused or otherwise):
More practical experience. Deeper industry knowledge. Knowledge across multiple sectors. Stronger personal networks. An ability to read people more thoughtfully. Greater compassion for human performance. An understanding and affinity for strong teamwork. A greater propensity for financial thoughtfulness. A tendency towards managed risk. Better sense of who they are (and are not). A stronger focus on values-alignment.
You can probably add many more. And that’s the point. Once you attune yourself to the idea, you really can add many more. It’s actually completely and totally logical.
So, it’s not just feel good thinking, or an attempt at positive affirmation, or a belief in the human spirit and ability. It’s certainly all of those things, but it’s also what the data tells us. It’s just the facts.