I’m just north of 30 (I’m 32) and I just started a business. So being 30 can’t be too old, right?
Valleywag examined the age of some superstar entrepreneurs and found that most of them were under 30. But this is a relatively small sampling.
Fred Wilson looked at the companies in his venture capital portfolio and found that 9 out of 11 companies are founded by people in their 30s. He writes, “That says to me that prime time entrepreneurship is 30s. And its possibly getting younger as web technology meets youth culture.”
Clay Shirky steps in to support Fred’s original thoughts on the matter by arguing that young entrepreneurs have less (if anything at all) to unlearn, which makes them more likely to do something “out there” and succeed with it.
So now the debate rages. What is the best age to be an entrepreneur?
I completely understand where Fred, Clay and others are coming from, particularly when they look at “Web 2.0” companies. Those are going to be started almost exclusively by young entrepreneurs in their 20s-30s. That age group lives and breathes Web 2.0 so it’s logical to see them start companies in that space.
If you’re a VC or follower of that world you would easily assume 20-30 is the perfect age for starting a company.
Younger people also carry less risk and responsibility, which makes it easier to start a company. They may have some debt from school, but otherwise their financial burden should be low. There’s most certainly a “now or never” mentality that exists; start a business before you get married, have kids, settle down, add responsibilities, etc.
But as Paul Kedrosky notes, statistically, there’s tons of entrepreneurship going on outside the 20-30 age boundary. His point is simple: it’s more a question of the type of entrepreneurship you’re looking at, rather than what is the ideal age.
I don’t have any numbers to prove this, and it may be because I live inside the entrepreneurial bubble, but I feel like there’s more going on now than there ever has been. More opportunities for young entrepreneurs, more ways of finding financing, more solid businesses. My expectation is that people who have started businesses in the last few years, in their 20s-30s, will probably take a few more shots at it in the Web 2.0 space before evolving into other things (be it VC/angel investing, supporting younger entrepreneurs, different types of companies.) If someone who is 25 is going to start 2-4 businesses, it’ll take that person 10 years or so and the average age of Web 2.0 founders will start to creep up.
Perhaps in 5-10 years we’ll re-examine the age issue and see that Web 3.0 (it won’t still be Web 2.0 right?) companies are founded by people in their mid-30s+.
Clay Shirky’s thoughts still bug me. He feels it’s better for entrepreneurs to start young because they haven’t already learned a bunch of things that make them rigid. This gives younger entrepreneurs the chance to come up with wild, game changing ideas. Maybe…but all I can think about is what I didn’t know when I started over 10 years ago (which was a lot!) and how much value it would have been to know what I know now. Some of what I know does “lock me in” to a certain way of thinking, but so much more of what I’ve learned has helped me approach things in a more successful way.
And I’m still learning. A lot. But that’s also a function of being older, a bit more mature and able to handle it, and knowing what questions to ask.
Getting stuck in a rigid way of thinking is extremely dangerous for entrepreneurs. I would argue that entrepreneurs in general are very open-minded, very willing to learn and take new approaches, regardless of their past experience. That’s part of being an entrepreneur.
So the most successful entrepreneurs are willing and capable of using past experience to their benefit, but not relying on it to the point of being stuck.
Rob Hyndman has some great thoughts and points of contention with the idea that knowing nothing is the best place to be when you start a company.
Regardless of your age, you can be a very successful entrepreneur. At each stage in life you can succeed (and fail.) I believe there are clear benefits to having started businesses in the past and gaining from that experience. I also believe you should start young. At the end of the day, there’s no time like the present…