For years, people have tried to correlate an entrepreneur’s age when they launched their startup, with the ultimate success of that startup. Many studies have been done on the topic, including reports by the Kauffman Foundation, Duke University and the Founder Institute, to name a few.
The collective summary of their learnings is: the average entrepreneur is 40 when they launch their startup. People over 55 are twice as likely as people under 35 to launch a high-growth startup. The average age of a successful startup with over $1 million in revenues was 39. Age was less of a driver to entrepreneurial success than previous startup and industry experience.
Examing the age of a few successful entrepreneurs when they launched their companies shows it runs the gamut. The ages, from youngest to oldest: Facebook (20), Microsoft (20), Apple (21), Google (25), Twitter (30), Amazon (30), Tesla (34), Oracle (35), Netflix (37), Zynga (41), Walmart (44) and McDonald’s (53). Experience is a key driver for many of these entrepreneurs but is not required, as seen in the success of Facebook, Microsoft and Apple.
I founded an odd jobs business at age 18, a collectible comic books business at age 20, an adventure travel website at age 29, a growth consulting firm at age 41 and a startup excubator at age 44. Success was correlated with how many hours I invested in the business and how passionate I was.
Success is how you define it. Each of the businesses accomplished the goals I set, regardless of how big they got. My largest revenue business was one where I had no past industry or CEO experience, counter to the logic described above. I consider myself more experienced and worthy of making a startup bet today at age 45, with 15 years of CEO experience under my belt and tons of lessons learned along the way.
One of my old venture capital investors said he would never invest in a first time CEO. They make too many mistakes along the way. There is some truth in that, given the learnings gathered from first hand experience, but that has nothing to do with age. There are plenty of examples of entrepreneurs who have achieved success at very early ages, including Emerson Spartz who, at the ripe old age of 12, launched Mugglenet, the largest Harry Potter fan site with more than 10 million unique visitors per month.
My appetite for risk is clearly different at age 45 than it was at age 29. You start thinking about things like not risking the kids’ college funds with your capital. Most of the best entrepreneurs are not afraid to throw all their chips onto the table, bet big on their idea, regardless of other concerns. Also, my energy is clearly a lot less. I am no longer burning the midnight oil but I am materially more efficient today. I know how best to invest my working hours to get an even higher return on that investment.
So, does age matter for entrepreneurial success? No, but experience does and that comes with age. Smart entrepreneurs who lack experience can offset that by surrounding themselves with experienced mentors.