Written By: Kelly Bryant
I meet all kinds of founders. Old, young, female, male – everything from ivy-league graduates at the top of the corporate ladder to college dropouts that wouldn’t touch a 9-5 job with a ten foot pole.
So who is most likely to succeed? The energized twenty-something setting out to change the world or the middle-aged professional with years of experience and money in the bank?
The answer lies in the data…
A study by Harvard Business Review states that the top 0.1% of startups were founded by individuals who started their business when they were 45 years old. Furthermore, founders that successfully exited their startups through an acquisition or IPO were in their mid-forties, on average.
Why is 45 the magic number, you ask?
Well for one, older founders have more experience. In fact, startup founders with at least 3 years of experience in their industry (we love Founder Market Fit) were 85% more likely to launch a successful startup. Secondly, founders tend to ‘peak’ at mid-life. Even the greatest of ‘young’ founders like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs built their most famous products (the iPhone) and hit their highest market caps (Amazon) when they were middle-aged.
Ali Tamaseb, a partner at DCVC, spent thousands of hours over the course of 4 years doing research for his book ‘Super Founders: What Data Reveals About Billion-Dollar Startups’. He found that among startups valued at $1B+ or more created over the last 15 years, the median age of the founders when starting their businesses was 34. He did find a slight bias in valuation for younger founders, but nothing statistically significant.
What’s the bottom line?
Being a 20-something founder has its pros. VCs tend to like ideas that are shiny and new and younger founders inherently represent youth and the ‘next generation’ of tech. VCs do, however, bear a lot of execution risk taking bets on founders that have little to no experience operating a business or building teams.
Conversely, the data suggests that older founders will provide greater returns than their younger counterparts. Despite this clear financial advantage, when the State of Startups did research in 2018 they found that 88% of older tech founders felt discriminated against and 27% felt that discrimination started between the ages of just 36 and 40 followed shortly by the ages of 46-50.
Own your age. It never ceases to amaze me that whether I’m on a zoom call with a 25-year-old founder or a 45-year-old founder they both ask me the same thing: “is my age an obstacle?” My answer is the same to both: hell no.
Play to your strengths, hire people who can do the things you can’t and lead with confidence.
It’s never too early or too late to jump in and go for it. As Tamaseb said, when it comes to building a billion-dollar startup, “age doesn’t matter”.
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