Is there a ’right age’ to start your own business? The headlines tend to be dominated by entrepreneurs who are at one end of the age spectrum - often those who start their businesses young, and go on to achieve career successes beyond our wildest dreams before their are in their fourth decade.
But not all of us can become a CEO.
For us mere mortals, our twenties tend to be taken up with study and that elusive task of ’finding ourselves’, following passions and figuring out what works well.
And then - perhaps - the business of life takes over. You find yourself settled and with responsibilities. We all know that a startup CEO sleeps like a baby (by which I mean, they wake up every three hours crying) - which is hardly a smart idea if you have a real life family to sustain at the same time.
So how about in later years? Maybe the better time to get started as an entrepreneur is just as others are winding down? Apply the learnings accumulated over a lifetime to have a better chance of scoring big in business, and financing a champagne and caviar retirement.
There are advantages to getting started with your own business at different ages - and for each of us, the journey will be different. Here are some pros and cons of setting out as an entrepreneur at different life stages and ages.
Start Young - Even if You Have to Drop Out of College
Starting young seems like a great option. You’re full of energy and ideas, and without the responsibilities at home which mean earning a steady income right away is essential. You can always couch surf a while to get you started. But what about finishing your university or schooling?
Mark Zuckerberg famously started Facebook from a college dorm aged only 19. And things seem to have worked out OK for him, so far.
And as for studies - dropping out of college does not seem to have done him any harm at all. Not to mention Steve Jobs, who dropped out of Reed College before founding Apple, and Bill Gates who left Harvard to get started building Microsoft. So, if you have the drive to get started in business, then putting it off to finish your studies might not necessarily be the right choice. But don’t forget, for this to work out, you’re not just abandoning your studies; you need to tune what you learn and how you apply it in the business world. Zuckerberg was already coding by the time he was in middle school, setting him on the path to become a millionaire at a very young age.
The one thing that the listings of successful people under 30 tend to have in common is that if they’re not sports stars, singers and actors, then they’re involved in tech. So starting young might be the right route if you’re a coding whizz, or have a startup or product idea that could be a hit. If your plans are more of a slow burn, or a more traditional route, then sticking out with your studies, might be a better choice.
Aim For Your Mid Thirties
The reasoning for starting your business a little later is that by your mid thirties, you have gathered a better balance of reflection and self awareness, but still retain some of the energy and courage of youth. Also, that mid life crisis might have something to do with it.
Whatever the cause, 35 is apparently the most common time to start a new successful business, as calculated from the Forbes founders list. If you discount those who make the list because of inherited business interests, then it looks like your mid thirties is a productive time for entrepreneurs.
The names of the business superstars who were setting out at this age come from more varied fields than just tech. FMCG global giant Procter and Gamble was founded by a 35 year old called, William Procter. At the ripe old age of 35, William Boeing set up the Boeing aerospace company. A little older, Reid Hoffman was 36 when he started LinkedIn, and Hugo Boss was 38 when he started up his own business, too.
And back in the world of tech, it looks like 35 might still be a magic number, with Wikipedia, started by Jimmy Wales when he was 35, as well as TechCrunch founded by a 35 year old Michael Arrington. Jan Koum was 35 when he founded Whatsapp, just to prove that you’re not over the hill if you’re thinking of starting out a new business venture in your mid thirties.
So, what is it about this age group that encourages people to take a gamble and start a new company? By your mid thirties you have some experience and financial security behind you, not to mention more confidence in your personal abilities and the all important network to back up your ideas. It’s not surprising that it’s the perfect moment for many of us to start our own business.
Give it a Blast Past Retirement Age
Of course, for every entrepreneur that is starting out when their kids are in short pants, there is another, making a go of it when they’re already grandparents. And why not? After all, one of the great advantages of growing older is that the older you get, the younger you feel.
According to research from the US, 25% of the under 30s surveyed felt older than they actually were, whereas only a tiny 3% of the over 65s did. In fact, 30% of the respondents who were aged between 65 and 75 felt between 10 and 19 years younger than they actually were, and one in six felt more than 20 years younger. That’s something to look forward to, anyway!
For many, advancing years bring a confidence and determination to make the most out of life. So why not try your hand at starting a new business in your later years? Youth, after all, is wasted on the young.
So in the older entrepreneur camp, we have Coca Cola, which was invented by a 55 year old, Colonel Sanders who was 65 when he set up KFC, and MacDonalds which was started by a 52 year old. It certainly looks like one thing the older entrepreneur knows is crowd pleasing, artery clogging menu choices.
It’s not really surprising that many entrepreneurs don’t get started with their own businesses until later in life. Everyone deals with a whole load of twists, turns and curve balls in their careers, and many people who ultimately become successful business owners have to go through failures first to find the idea that works for them.
What do You Think is the Right Age to Start a New Business?
The good news appears to be that you’re never too late to be successful, as long as you have an idea that sells and the determination to follow through with it. The reality for most of us will be that our working life will in fact be made up of several mini careers, spanning different types of roles, locations and industries. Given that working models are changing, with more people looking to work flexibly as freelance contractors or through owning their own enterprise, it has never been more likely that your career path will include a spell of being self-employed.
See Also: 8 Top Tips For Changing Career at Age 26
So maybe there is no ’right age’ to do it, but only a ’right attitude’, to handle the inevitable setbacks and challenges, and embrace the opportunity to be in the driving seat.
What about you? What do you think is the ideal age to start your own company? Let us know below...