It’s not harder for older entrepreneurs to succeed at building startups. It’s just harder to convince the entrepreneurs to take the risk. Startups don’t come with safety nets—or set hours or salaries or health care—and that’s a tough scenario for people with families to feed, mortgages to pay, and time that needs to be spent at home.
Being singularly focused on work and making sacrifices elsewhere is easier when you are younger. But it’s not just a more aggressive risk profile of the youth that lowers the average age of a founder. Many young people have an unbridled enthusiasm and passion, and this natural and unstoppable energy is a necessary ingredient to succeed at the difficult task of building a company. This energy goes far—it propelled Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, and Mark Zuckerberg and work they started in college profoundly changed the world today.
Perhaps that’s why the startup community pays so much attention to young entrepreneurs instead of older ones. But anyone who thinks of age as a limiting factor is missing an opportunity.
Youth is not the formula. It is just an enabler. For every great young entrepreneur, there are many more folks who started companies in their 20s and didn’t get it right. And there are many entrepreneurs in their 30s and older who did. (Consider Marc Benioff, who founded salesforce.com in his 30s.) Perhaps sick and tired of hearing about very young entrepreneurs, Founders Den, an invitation-only shared office space and private club serves “experienced entrepreneurs and their friends.”
After all, as the saying goes, age is relative. I was a company man my whole life, and then, in my late 50s, I helped create two startups. The years of experience and the network I build over the decades have been invaluable to both. On a related note, my investment network is filled with mentors of all ages. When I was starting WIN, I sought advice from seasoned industry veterans like legendary angel investor Ron Conway as well as several young entrepreneurs including Box founder Aaron Levie, who was particularly helpful.
Some might say I should be thinking about retirement, but I don’t see it that way. Neither does Richard Branson, Pierre Omidyar or Jeff Skoll. Some people think creativity expires, that it’s only for the young, but that’s false. Bob Dylan is still writing new songs, Steve Jobs’s inventions got even better as he got older, and the average age at which physicists do their Nobel Prize winning work is 48. Stats show that very little breakthrough work is done by physicists under 30.
There’s no expiration date on one’s ability to innovate. I’ve just celebrated another birthday, and as I reflected back on a very blessed life so far I couldn’t help but think that my best days are still ahead of me.