The Next Step: Ignore your Age, and just start!

Don’t let age – no matter if you’re young or not so young anymore – stop you from pursuing your business plans

Two years ago, while complaining about my job over lunch with a friend, she burst out words that would stick with me forever: „What are you waiting for? You're not getting any younger”, she said as she tried to push me into finally starting my own business. It was at that moment that it suddenly dawned on me that indeed I wouldn’t be one of those up-and-coming, 30 under 30 founders that I’ve been reading and writing about in the past decade. Would that make things harder for a founder? Being in my mid-30s, I certainly don’t feel like it’s too late. But I am conscious about my age, which has certainly slowed down the process for me. 

When talking to others about starting their own business, „I’m too old“ is a common sentence I hear. So it begs the question, can you be too old – or too young – to be an entrepreneur? A study by the MIT and Northwestern University published last year has found that the average founder age of high-growth companies is 45 years. The research further concludes that startups founded by middle-aged people are more successful than those by younger entrepreneurs: „Prior experience in the specific industry predicts much greater rates of entrepreneurial success. These findings strongly reject common hypotheses that emphasize youth as a key trait of successful entrepreneurs.“ 

So why do we believe that most successful entrepreneurs got started straight out of college? Because for some high-profile founders, that has been true. Take Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel for example. The media often portrays the image of a young and fearless startup culture, think HBO’s tv show Silicon Valley. Dan Lyons, writer on the show, shared his experience with ageism in his book „Disrupted“. „I wanted to write a book about what it’s like to be 50 and trying to reinvent yourself – that struggle”, he says about his experience. 

This makes me think that feelings of doubt surrounding our age in the startup community are somewhat valid. The aforementioned study also found that VCs are more likely to invest in younger founders. Why? „Many VCs may operate under a mistaken belief that youth is the elixir of successful entrepreneurship — in other words, VCs are simply wrong”, the study says. A serial entrepreneur in her 40s once told me that investors rejected her, claiming she’s too old (and female). Fortunately, she didn’t let that experience stop her from launching her startup. Ageism works both ways, though. Young people might feel self-conscious about their lack of experience, too. Some might even decide not to go to college and rather start a business right away. And that is as admirable as starting a business later in life. You’ve got lots of time to fail and try again if you’re young. 

In these uncertain times, don’t let age – no matter if you’re young or not so young anymore – stop you from pursuing your business plans. What has made middle-aged entrepreneurs successful is mostly experience. What I admire about startup founders who are barely out of college is their hunger and drive to change the world. When you’ve experienced a lot, you tend to get disillusioned and risk-averse. No matter which age, it all has advantages and disadvantages.