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Businessman holding red rocket

By Charlene Brown

There is mounting evidence that entrepreneurs over the age of 40 may be more successful at building high-growth businesses than their younger, more visible counterparts. According to the authors of the study Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship, “the average age of the people who founded the highest-growth startups is 45″ and “successful entrepreneurs tend to be middle-aged, not young.”

When I started my company, I was a physician working full-time as a Medical Officer at USAID. I loved my global public health career; I did meaningful work that took me to countries all around the world. Yet I was hungry to make a difference outside of my governmental public health career. So I quit my job and founded a tech startup in my forties.

As the research points to the success of middle-aged entrepreneurs, I feel it’s important for those of us who have started businesses in our forties to share the lessons we’ve learned. I hope that by sharing these lessons I will help other non-technical founders who want to pursue their dream of founding a technology company.

1. Develop an expertise in product management

I joined the Halcyon Incubator with an engineering colleague whom I met through Founder Dating, a matching site for potential co-founders. We were ready to conquer the world with our tech startup. Yet I didn’t understand the importance of product management to translate my vision into a technology product—and I also didn’t know I didn’t know this.

To be frank, I had not heard the words “product” and “management” together in a sentence before. The truth was I did not effectively manage product development in the early days of our company. I believe that a limited understanding of how to translate my vision into product management slowed our business progress by at least 12 months.

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The core competencies of the best product managers include interviews, user testing, feature prioritization, road map planning, business-to-technical requirements, and more. I didn’t know how to effectively translate business requirements into small user stories or how to integrate them into a product road map. As you may have guessed, this posed a serious roadblock to getting our product built.

Please learn from my experience. Take a class in product management as soon as possible. As your company’s CEO, you need to know how to translate your vision into a product, and you need to know this even if you have a technical co-founder. Ultimately, you are the one responsible for your company and its product.

The good news is product management is a learnable skill, even for big-picture thinkers like me. You can train yourself to become a truly great product manager. There are online courses available through Coursera, Udemy, and other websites. Or you can take a classroom-based course at General Assembly or many other schools.

Regardless of how you learn, find a mentor and just learn. Again, learn about product management before you quit your job. In my opinion, product management skills may be more important than coding skills for non-technical founders.



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