Older Entrepreneurs Do It Better

Fed up of reading articles about teenagers and 20-somethings who are building billion dollar businesses? 

So are we. And the facts show the number of successful entrepreneurs in their teens and 20s are almost as rare as unicorns.

In fact, most entrepreneurs are over 40 – gasp!

And they are typically much more successful in their business than their younger counterparts.

A study by staff at the U.S. Census Bureau and academics at MIT looked at an dataset and found the most successful entrepreneurs in the US are ‘middle-aged’.

This goes against the myth that most company founders become wildly successful when they are in their early 20s. While they achieve the most headlines – think of Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook or Evan Spiegel of Snapchat – the data proves that the average age of a company founder is 42.

And the researchers went one step further as the vast majority of these new businesses are likely small businesses with no intentions to grow much larger.

They focused on businesses which had high growth potential such as receiving VC investment, or operating in an industry which employs a high proportion of STEM workers.

But even after taking these and other factors into account, their main conclusion barely budged – the average age of high-tech founders falls in the early forties.

“People like unusual stories, and the fact that a very young person could be very successful is not the norm, as we show in our analysis, and therefore, perhaps, attracts outsized attention,” Benjamin Jones, Northwestern University professor and researcher on the study, was quoted as saying.

The data also demonstrated that older entrepreneurs were linked with better company performance. The findings show that the 1,700 founders of the fastest growing new ventures in the US firms had an average age of 45. In other words, the experience they brought appeared to be directly linked to a better company performance.

“Overall, we see that younger founders appear strongly disadvantaged in their tendency to produce the highest-growth companies,” the researchers wrote.

One reason, they argue, is that older founders tend to have more years of experience in their industries.

And despite the headlines given to young millionaires, history proves that you can build a successful business at any age.

  • Robert Noyce was a research engineer before leaving employment and co-founding Intel when he was 41. Considered the visionary of the company, he oversaw the invention of the microprocessor which revolutionised the computer industry.

  • David Duffield founded Workday in 2005 at the ripe age of 65. Workday went public in 2012 and today has a $26.68 billion market cap.

  • Colonel Harland Sanders became a professional chef when he was 40 but didn’t franchise Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was 62. He sold his company when he was 75.

  • Leo Goodwin founded insurance company GEICO along with his wife Lillian when he was 50. Told GEICO employs over 27,000 people.

  • Gary Burrell and Min Kao worked together at Allied Signals in the 1980s on military applications for satellite geo-positioning. When the government approved the technology for civilian use, they founded their own company, Garmin. At the time, they were, respectively, 52 and 40.

So the myth of the young entrepreneur has now been proven to be an age-old image – but perhaps one whose number is finally up.

Sarah Berney