By Ryan Holmes
Quick — picture a successful tech entrepreneur. In your mind’s eye, how old are they?
Maybe you instinctively default to an image of someone in their twenties — young, digitally native, ready to shake things up. You’re not alone. No less an authority than Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, has noted that, “The cutoff in investors’ heads is 32 … After 32, they start to be a little skeptical.”
Turns out, this is dead wrong. Surprising (some would say shocking) preliminary research shared last year suggests that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who have a successful exit have an average founding age of 47. And this pattern extends well beyond the world of tech. The average entrepreneur is a ripe old 39 when starting a company, according to the Kaufman Foundation. Overall, their research shows mid-career entrepreneurs are five times more likely to still be in business five years later than those starting a business out of college.
To me, this is an important wake up call. Even though I’m in my 40s myself, I still often think of entrepreneurship as a young person’s game. In fact, throughout my career I’ve been a fierce advocate of clearing away hurdles for youth entrepreneurs. I founded a charity called League of Innovators expressly to build entrepreneurial acumen for 15 to 25 year olds.
To be clear, there are plenty of reasons why young entrepreneurs need a boost — from lack of resources to challenges finding a support network. But, as these stats make abundantly clear, innovation and entrepreneurship are by no means the exclusive domain of the young. Considering the enormous potential that lies in older entrepreneurs, a logical question arises: Why aren’t we doing more to encourage their efforts? Likewise, how can companies harness this energy and experience?
Getting better with age
Among my own colleagues, it’s the serial entrepreneurs — those who have been around the block more than once — who are most successful. Famous examples aren’t hard to find either. Reid Hoffman, the consummate Silicon Valley insider, worked at Apple and Fujitsu before founding LinkedIn at age 36. Chip Wilson started lululemon at 42, after taking his first yoga class. Bernie Marcus…