If you think you're too old to start a successful business, you're probably wrong


Maybe its the Zuckerberg effect but when most of us think about entrepreneurs, we tend to think of the stereotypical 'Silicon Valley Wonderkid' - someone in their 20s or 30s with a lot of youthful zest. However, a recent study of 2.7 million company founders suggests that's not the norm.

After studying company founders that hired at least one employee between 2007 and 2014, researchers found that the average age of a company’s founder at the time of founding was 41.9 years. The study, which was conducted by the US Census Bureau and two MIT professors, found that the most successful entrepreneurs tend to be middle-aged - even in the tech sector.

50-year-old entrepreneurs are actually twice as likely to start an extremely successful company (or even a successful side hustle) than a 30 year old. 20 year old founders have the worst chance of all. For successful exits, either by getting acquired by another company or going public in an IPO, the average age was 46.7.

“There’s this idea that young people are just more likely to have more valuable ideas,” says Benjamin Jones, a professor of strategy at the Kellogg School. “If you look at age and great achievement in the sciences in general, it doesn’t peak in the twenties. One idea is that young people are especially likely to have transformative ideas—that they’re not beholden to the current paradigm. When you think of Mark Zuckerberg saying, ‘Move fast and break things,’ the early Facebook mantra, it’s very much this emphasis on transformation and disruption.”

While these results clearly indicate that middle-aged founders dominate among the highest-growth firms, it is also true that forty-somethings are much more likely to try to start a new company than twenty-somethings.

All these data leaves us with one big question - "why do entrepreneurs get better with age?" Is it greater financial resources? Better leadership skills? A more robust network of customers and suppliers? Or is it something else? The study does not give a definitive answers but it offers some interesting insight. The study suggests that founders with three or more years of experience in the same industry as their startup are twice as likely to have a one-in-1,000 fastest-growing company.

“Experience can bring substantial insight about specific markets and specific technologies, in addition to skills at running things. The longer you’ve been around, the better your odds,” Jones added.


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