Yeah, But I’m Too Old to Start Now

Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m at a bit of a weird age right now. As a kid, like so many other kids, I figured that the adults in my life mostly had their acts together. They went to school, they got a job, and now they’re firmly planted in the height of their careers. By your mid-30s, you should probably be at least somewhere in middle management with a growing retirement fund. Maybe you’ve put some cash aside for your kids’ college funds too.

Except now that I’m here — and most of my friends are roughly around the same age as I am — I’ve come to realize that most people don’t know what they’re doing. They’re treading water with the rest of us, figuring it out as we go along. On the one hand, retirement feels like it’s still a long way away, even if you’re thinking about how you can retire early. On the other hand, we also feel like we’re so far removed from our youth and our college years that we can’t “pivot” or start all over again at this point, right?

It’s too late for us, right? We’ve already wasted the best years of our lives on whatever it is that we’re doing, so there’s no point in turning back and starting something new.

And if we haven’t experienced our “big break” by now, we’re probably never going to get there either. Meanwhile, we watch as these 20-something YouTubers rake in millions of dollars. Heck, some of the most successful are barely even teenagers at this point, having already “made it” as an elementary school kid.

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Good Things Come to Those Who Wait?

Then, in between ads for mobility devices and posts about people’s teenage children getting ready for college, we come across “uplifting” stories about people who found success later in life. These are the kind of people who are relative legends in their respective careers, highly lauded and revered for their immense talent and influence.

We’re told Stan Lee didn’t create his first comic until he was 39.

Rodney Dangerfield didn’t get his big break on Ed Sullivan until he was 46.

McDonald’s founder Ray Croc didn’t buy the legendary franchise until he was 52.

“But technology and the Internet are entirely different things,” you might say. If you want to make it big in tech, particularly online, you’ve got to be young. Legendary success stories like those of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg all start somewhere in their 20s.

This gives you the impression that the typical successful startup founder is probably also in his 20s, right? Even Y Combinator cofounder Paul Graham says his “cutoff” is 32. So, if you’re already well into your mid-30s or beyond, you’re too old. It’s too late.

Except it’s not.

The Average Startup Entrepreneur Is…

The research team at Harvard Business Review “analyzed the age of all business founders in the U.S. in recent years by leveraging confidential administrative data sets from the U.S. Census Bureau.” And based on this data that they scoured their way through? “The average age of entrepreneurs at the time they founded their companies is 42.”

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Forty-two. This applies not only to small businesses with no intention to scale up, like a mom-and-pop coffee shop, just as much as it applies to high-tech companies seeking plenty of VC investment for exponential growth. And remember that 42 is the average.

What this means is that, statistically speaking, there should be just as many people finding success launching a startup at age 52 as there are at age 32. And indeed, the average age of startup founders among the highest-growth startups are in the 40-49 range.

The old adage may have told us that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But this data clearly reveals that dogs of all ages, including middle-aged and beyond, can still find remarkable success starting their own businesses. What’s holding you back? No more excuses.

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