The Major Advantage of Founding a Company in Your 50s
This is how your decision-making ability, leadership skills and life experience position you for success as an "older" founder.
I left my successful 30-year advertising career in 2018 to become an entrepreneur (at the time I was CEO of J. Walter Thompson NY, one of the largest agencies, and the oldest in the world). In February 2020, I launched MASAMI, a clean premium haircare company, with my co-founder James Hammett, and in September 2020, I launched Isle de Nature, luxury bee-powered home fragrance. I was 53 at the time.
Being an entrepreneur is really, really hard. One of the things that's kept me sane is my connection to other founders who are going through similar things as me. As we've all experienced, there are days that are really rough, so having a network is really important to get you through those down days. But one of the things I've noticed is that there is a big difference between younger founders (in their 20s and 30s) and me. The business challenges are different. The life stage is different. The personal issues they may be dealing with are different.
For example, I was part of a founder meet-up group with six other founders who met virtually once a week during Covid. I was the oldest by at least a decade, likely more. When we talked about business challenges, most of their challenges were related to leadership and management: how to give feedback, how to hire the right person, how to motivate your team, finding a co-founder. For me, these things are second nature, so I found myself the old "wise one" dispensing a bunch of advice, but not necessarily getting it back. Of course, when it came to personal life, many were single, so the idea of pulling all-nighters and grinding it out was perfectly fine for them (not for me). Two of them had young kids, so they were dealing with juggling online school and childcare (my kids are 20 and 18).
But what I've found is that while there are times when I feel out of place as an older founder, there is a lot of upside.
"'Softer skills' related to leadership and management are already ingrained"
First, there are many studies now showing that older founders are more successful. A study by Wharton from 2019 established the average age of a successful founder as 45. Not bad.
That makes sense to me. I find that I can make very fast business, creative and talent decisions based on my years of experience making similar decisions for my clients, which shortcuts many time-consuming steps in business. I don't have a lot of angst, and if there is a decision that doesn't work out, I just pivot and move on.
Second, many of those "softer skills" related to leadership and management are already ingrained in us older founders and don't need to be learned. This is also super helpful for not just team building, but also knowing intuitively how to go about bringing in the right people in the first place.
"Life perspective also helps"
Building trust is also critical, which is easier when you're older. You have credibility. You know how to access talent. You work with people who have proven track records. Many times you can build your team with familiar faces — people you've worked with or are connected to already (and many of us have built up large networks over the years). On my team, one of my high school friends manages our partnerships and content. I met my co-founder through my husband. And my brother oversees all of our fulfillment.
Life perspective also helps. Knowing that your business isn't all emcompassing is super helpful, especially when you're having a down day. Seeing your peers have successes and failures also motivates me to see what is possible and not stress as much about the failures. Things have a tendency to seem much more dramatic when you're going through them the first time versus having already weathered the storm.
I have now built a network of other "older" founders (we even have a Founders Over 50 club on Clubhouse), and this has allowed me to find people who understand what it's like to lose a parent, how to engage your teenagers in your business or how to deal with your own creaky body as you age — all subjects lost on most younger founders, but critical to our wellbeing and sanity.
I encourage anyone who is thinking about a career pivot later in life to take the leap. Of course, do your homework and make sure you have a viable business proposition, but I think you'll find it's not as scary as you think. Many of the skills you've learned along the way will certainly serve you in your new venture. And chances are, you'll be a success.
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