Mark Zuckerberg aside, the average age of successful entrepreneurs is 42. That gives Y and Z millennials a great decade to gain start-up experience, save money, and absorb key industry lessons.
Entrepreneur age statistics from Duke University, the Kauffman Foundation, The Founder Institute, and Northwestern unveiled that the average entrepreneur is 40 years old when launching his or her first startup and the average age of leaders of high-growth startups is 45 years old.
These stats should not come as a total surprise. For one, people in their forties have the experience and fortitude to run a business and not make common mistakes twenty-year-old’s make like hiring their friends, failing to focus, and being paranoid that someone will steal their ideas. Sam Walton was 44 years old when he started Walmart. Lynda Weinman co-founded Lynda at 40 and then sold it to LinkedIn for $1.5 billion. Ray Kroc was 52 years old when he launched McDonald’s into a multi-billion-dollar national chain.
While we make movies about twenty-year-old Mark Zuckerberg writing Facebook algorithms on his dorm dry-erase board and tend to mythologize him, it’s worth realizing that most business magnates have stories of invisible failure upon failure before finally reaching a breakthrough of success. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos’s businesses all peaked when the founders were middle-aged. Sure, Steve Jobs developed Apple in his twenties in his parent’s basement. However, Steve Jobs was 52 when he introduced the iPhone, the landmark success of Apple’s reign and apparent legacy. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos started Amazon as an online bookseller and broadened to e-commerce items of all types. He achieved his highest growth when he was 45.
Besides being in their forties and accustomed to failure and setbacks, young entrepreneurs also have a few other characteristics in common. Surprisingly, they are not people who aspired to start a business while in school or the sons and daughters of entrepreneurial parents. According to Duke University researcher, Vivek Wadhwa, “They simply got tired of working for others, had a great idea they wanted to commercialize or woke up one day with an urgent desire to build wealth before they retired. So, they took the big leap.” There’s increased legacy thinking once you hit your forties because you’re not thinking about mere money, fame, and attention like you might at age twenty. Instead, you’re thinking about a legacy for your family, a legacy for your life’s accomplishment, and mostly broader scope themes beyond virility.
Interestingly, young people who pursued business courses in college and MBA grad school degrees are often encouraged to start a business during or after completing their coursework. While it sounds like a typical cliché that their academic bubble, but minimal industry experience led to failure, it’s worth considering in this discussion of age. Young MBA graduate developing business ideas and strategies in a controlled school environment and evaluated by other business peers doesn’t replicate the environment of start-ups. Even interning at several start-ups per week may serve business student better than ego strokes and wax poetic about business theory in classes.
Business school teachers and culture tend to instill the mindset that they must start their own business right away, and if they don’t, it’ll be too late. Business students feel a kind of immediacy and pressure that is not conducive to the success story of a patient, persistent entrepreneur, who learns that it’s the forties that the fruits of his continual, consistent labor may hit a breakthrough. Business schools that emphasize the average age of successful entrepreneurs will probably yield more successful alumnus who won’t give up as readily and have what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur for the long haul!