I often get asked by aspiring entrepreneurs – am I too old or too young to become a successful entrepreneur? The simple answer is no. Starting a business requires a shrewdness and resilience that you are either born with or develop with age and experience. There are certain things that you can achieve with youthful energy and optimism that you can’t with an older experienced attitude, and vice-versa. It is often said that younger business owners channel their passion through innovative thinking and thrive in the face of adversity, while older entrepreneurs rely on experience to triumph during difficult times.
So what is the best age to start a business in Nigeria, or anywhere else in the world? That question is up for debate, and has been extensively researched. In an age of young millions, we expect the headlines to be dominated by young successful entrepreneurs such as – Mark Zuckerberg, Daniel Ek, Mark Shuttleworth and Daniel Karp to name a few. This is not the reality of the majority. The middle-aged professional with experience, knowledge and vision makes up the silent majority of the typical entrepreneur of the high growth business startup.
Nothing to Lose
Brocke Blake’s article in Forbes, Why 20-Somethings Are the Most Successful Entrepreneurs, suggests that your 20s are the best time to start a company due to having nothing to lose and no responsibilities. Please approach articles like this with caution. As Brocke mentions in this article “the grand slams of entrepreneurship come from the young and ill-experienced 20-somethings.” This suggests that young entrepreneurs are likely to approach the business world as if it is a game of poker or a roulette wheel. This can lead to risky gambles that can be boom or bust for the company. This strategy is not advisable if you’re planning to create a steadily growing, sustainable business, which is often what older entrepreneurs aim to achieve.
But contrary to my previous point, I believe that the energy, fresh and uninhibited mindset that someone in there 20s brings is invaluable. They aren’t bound by workplace or boardroom culture that they have picked up during their professional career. Free from the ways things should be, they unknowingly challenge the norm and can produce innovative and groundbreaking solutions to problems that in turn create businesses, and occasionally market altogether i.e. Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter and Microsoft. This is the theory of disruptive innovation.
Age Over Youth
Whitney Johnson’s article in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneurs Get Better with Age references work carried out by Duke University scholar Vivek Wadhwa, who studied 549 successful technology ventures. His work concludes, “The average age of a successful entrepreneur in high-growth industries such as computers, health care, and aerospace is 40. Twice as many successful entrepreneurs are over 50 as under 25. The vast majority — 75 percent — have more than six years of industry experience and half have more than 10 years when they create their startup”.
This success may be attributed to older entrepreneurs taking fewer risks, and carrying out extensive research to ensure that their new business ventures are viable. They will ensure that there is minimal risks and impact on their financial security, and personal commitments such as family. The more you have to lose, the more likely you are to rigorously plan, and think things through.
Age is not the Factor
Empirical data leans strongly towards the advantages of age and experience. But any experienced entrepreneur knows that age is not the determining factor. A good business idea can come about at any stage of life, and age will not determine whether or not your idea is successful. Success depends on a range of factors – the idea, industry, timing, talent, drive, commitment, finance, location, networking, social, legal and economic factors. An ideal scenario would be for a young and hungry up-starter to co-find a business with an experienced individual, or find a valuable mentor whose experience and knowledge can be beneficial. But even in this idealist scenario success is not guaranteed if luck is not on your side. The only way to find out is to stop procrastinating, start the planning, and go for it.