What comes to your mind when we say the phrase ‘start-ups’?
Possibly, a young chap in denims and Cap’ American t-shirt, with a laptop tucked under his arms.
With Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and the likes, it is natural to imagine entrepreneurs as male 20-somethings. But that is only a part of the real picture.
The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurship will tell you that in the year 2014, only 15.74% of business owners were between the ages of 20 and 34, and more than 33% of entrepreneurs were female.
It is ironical that in spite of the fact that the very essence of entrepreneurship is to break stereotypes, and yet we manage to find some typecasts within the very concept.
THE LADY WHO PROVED THEM WRONG
Tech start-ups are supposed to be the domain of young brazen men, with a daredevil attitude and a nothing-to-lose situation, right?
While listening to her husband, Peter F. Drucker’s speeches, she realized that Mr. Drucker could not figure out whether he could be heard by the audience or not.
She would sit at the addressing and scream “louder” whenever Peter Drucker’s voice dropped. This gave her the idea to build a device that would allow speakers, especially those who were hard of hearing, a visual representation of how loudly they were speaking, through the use of multicolored light signals.
She named the device Visivox and commercialized it by forming a company called RSQ, LLC.
In her own words, “Why should starting a business at age 80 be different from starting one at any other age? All you really need is good health, some determination and huge amounts of energy. Fortunately, I seemed to have all three.”
Doris Drucker died at the age of 103, having lived her life as an entrepreneur, inventor, author, sportswoman and mountain climber.
Drucker was exactly opposite of what the start-up stereotype is – she was a woman entrepreneur and an inventor, who started her company as a senior citizen.
The good news is she was not the only one.
LATE START IN LIFE – THE SUCCESS STORIES
Some of the biggest companies today, were founded by people who were way past the oh-so-dreaded age of 40.
Asa Chandler was 41 when he launched Coca-Cola, Henry Royce was 43 when he founded Rolls Royce, Ray Croc was 52 when he started McDonald’s, Arianna Huffington was 55 when she established Huffington Post, and Colonel Harland Sanders founded KFC at the age of 62.
These people had not been particularly successful or extraordinary in any manner whatsoever before they launched their businesses, which changed the world as we know it.
It is not as if these establishments were an instant success; the founders struggled through the start-up phase of any entrepreneurship venture.
At the age of 62, when most dreamed of retiring, Colonel Sanders put up with 1009 rejections before he sold his first fried chicken. I’ll repeat that – more than 1000 rejections at the age of 62! It seemed as if Sanders had no idea what giving up was, and rest, as they say, is history.
WHAT DOES AGE BRING TO THE TABLE?
My father always tells me, “An old broom knows the dirty corners best”. That is exactly what age brings – experience.
It is not a mere coincidence that the majority of entrepreneurs are above the age of 50. Necessity is the mother of all invention, and nothing understands need better than experience.
It is a myth that a successful business is built around a groundbreaking idea; it is built around a need of the market.
Henry Ford recognized the need for affordable cars, the ‘Steve’s’ started Apple to design a computer for the people’s needs, Wales and Sanger launched Wikipedia to satisfy the growing demand for information on the Internet.
While the young are preferred because of their hunger and passion, the older entrepreneurs understand the market because of their experience.
They study what the prospective customers truly need, and develop a product around that want.
Let’s face it, you might be able to build the most innovative product since the invention of the wheel, but if nobody wants it, you might as well have re-invented the wheel, just at a much higher cost!
That’s not to say that the market will immediately accept your product, but if you believe in your idea and trust your proficiency, you are going to get there.
Some things, after all, do come with gray hair. In fact, Whitney Johnson of the Harvard Business Review vouches for the fact that entrepreneurs get better with age.
The concept is quite simple, yet interesting – people between the age group of 40 to 64 are looking to generate value not only for themselves but also people around them.
The question at this stage is not “how can I make more money” but “how can I contribute my best to society?”
Older entrepreneurs focus their energies on developing the best product or service for the future and end up creating legacies that continue to serve long after them.
COMING BACK TO THE REAL QUESTION – HOW OLD IS TOO OLD TO START?
As long as you have the zeal to start something new, the desire to contribute to the world and the patience to see it through, you are not too old.
The only time it is okay not to do something you want to, is when you are dead, and that will be one time you will not care!
Timothy Ferriss, the author of ‘The 4-Hour Work Week’, has answered this question in the best way possible –
“For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it ‘eventually’, just do it and correct course along the way.”