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.
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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