Can You Become Too Old To Be An Entrepreneur?

Published by 25 Comments

Last night I attended the Silicon Beach Brisbane event.

This is the fourth such event I have attended. They are definitely a highlight on the Brisbane tech scene, attracting 100 to 200 entrepreneurs and people involved with or interested in launching a startup company.

Brisbane isn’t exactly known as a tech hub globally, but it’s great to see so much interest in technology and business in our big country town.

Silicon Beach Brisbane

After the event I went to James Street, a trendy area near the inner city of Brisbane to have dinner with Walter, my partner in Crankyads.com.

As we sat down to dinner we were talking about our current project and some of the past projects we had worked on.

Walter is 31, so just a couple of years younger than I am. He’s worked as an employee, a contractor/consultant and as an entrepreneur during the past ten years or so since he graduated university, so he knows what it’s like at each different level of involvement in a business.

We reflected on what our mindset towards entrepreneurship was like when we were in our early twenties, compared to now. It has definitely changed over the years.

Wow, You Are So Old

I told Walter a story about a girl I used to date who started modelling relatively late in her life, at least in model years.

I think she started around 23 or 24, towards her mid twenties, what you might call the twilight years for many models.

She told me how she went to a fashion shoot once with these other models, many of whom were in the 16 to 20 years old bracket. The younger girls looked up to her because of her “advancing” age.

One of the girls even made a comment like this -

Wow, you must have so much life experience because of how old you are, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be that old.

Not the exact words, but you get the gist.

Only in the eyes of an 18 year old can 24 look “old”.

Walter and I had a chuckle at this, but we also remember what we were like at 20 years old.

I can remember looking up at 25 years old as a major milestone, thinking I would be so confident and established by then. I didn’t even think about turning 30, that was in the far distant future.

Different Attitudes

My younger self looked at my future life when it comes to business very differently than I do today.

I had so many ideas back then, projects that I wanted to launch. At that age I saw every idea as a realistic opportunity, something I could start and would have the time to do.

This is me when I was about 23 years old in Tasmania, approximately ten years ago.

This is me when I was about 23 years old in Tasmania, approximately ten years ago.

Many times I did start projects on a whim, especially after I gained the skills to make websites.

If I had something I was interested in, like activism at one stage, and MP3 music at another when the format was new and hard to find in the pre-napster days, I’d spend a few weeks making a website about it.

I loved the creation part, though I really didn’t think about much more than what the website would look like and what content I could put in it.

The underlying comfort I had back then was that there was time.

I had time to create things just for fun. I had time to “mess up” and “feel lost” and I could waste time too, because I could always start something new.

I was hopeful that something would take off. Like everyone I wanted to make money.

Some projects did work, but I was always distracted by other interests, so rarely focused all my energy on just one thing.

As I grew older I started to see the big picture, learning that a project takes more than just a website that I throw together in a week of late night coding sessions.

I began to understand concepts like leverage, and to see what business models I liked, and which I didn’t.

Many of these realisations came about because of the different businesses I managed over the years.

Starting an English school taught me that I didn’t want a business that required I show up at an office. My proofreading business taught me that I didn’t want to be involved in a business that was about a subject I didn’t care about.

As I eventually reached 25 and then sped towards my thirties, I became more focused. I started to eliminate projects and spend time on what I enjoyed the most and saw the potential for leverage. As a result I made more money in those five years than I had in my entire life before that, several times over.

Your Use By Date

Now at 33 years old I do not think the same as I did in my early twenties. I don’t start and stop projects so quickly, yet I don’t seem to think of as many new projects as I used to either.

I’ve become settled in some ways. I’m much clearer about what I enjoy doing, and I don’t have the pressure to prove to myself that I can do certain things, because I have done them.

They say that by the time you hit your mid-thirties your chances of making a million dollars drops significantly (I’m not sure who “they” are). It’s like 35 is old in “entrepreneur years”, with your business fertility decreasing just like a woman’s ability to fall pregnant at the same age.

Of course there are many people who buck the trend, and unlike models, our fading looks as entrepreneurs don’t matter. Our ability to innovate is what counts.

However it does appear, especially after watching a documentary like The Startup Kids, that high stakes startups are more for the young.

The young can handle failing, the young can spend a few years on something that may not work, the young can eat noodles, work all day and forget about things like “life balance”, all in the hope of creating business success.

Of course anyone can do these things, and I’m sure there are many people reading this who are currently in their 40s or 50s or 60s or older thinking that your 30s are still young, there’s plenty of time left.

A Young Mindset

Perhaps it’s more important to highlight mindset rather than age. It usually is.

We can’t deny physiological things like your metabolism starting a slow decline once you reach 30. Your testorone also starts to go down from that age too. In general, your body isn’t going to be as forgiving when you treat it badly as you get older.

That being said, the young have the challenge of an underdeveloped frontal lobe until turning 25, which makes rational decision making harder. This can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the choices you make. I certainly felt that things were a lot better in my mind after I crossed the quarter century milestone.

Regardless of the physical limitations you have, mindset almost always trumps reality.

What I mean by that is you can decide your attitude towards everything.

The ability to reframe your world gives you the power to ignore any group consensus about what you can or can’t do at certain ages. You pick what you want to do and do it because you want to, even if it is not normal behaviour (of course I know you have the sense to follow some group rules, like not murdering people).

I’ve been a late bloomer most of my life. I’ve watched friends from high school, then university follow traditional paths, get jobs, meet partners, marry and have children. I suspect divorces to come next, followed shortly by mid-life crises.

I’ve done none of these things. I made the choice to be an outlier, as most entrepreneurs, and did what I wanted with my time, usually playing with the internet.

This mis-fitism (I think I just made up a word), also led to leading a mis-fit social life, hence I feel (and act) like I’m ten years younger than I am when it comes to things like dating, partying and meeting people.

Don’t Let Age Stop You

As a concluding point I shall state the obvious: Age really doesn’t matter.

This is especially important because age, like life itself, is something you can’t control (unless you are like my 100 year old grandmother who conveniently forgot her age along the way so we don’t really know how old she is).

What is more important is not how old you are, but what you do with your time.

What you choose to do with your time, is dictated by your choices.

Your choices are heavily influenced by your attitude, and your attitude is very susceptible to the world around you.

Therein lies the most important insight. Right now you are strongly influenced by two forces -

  1. Your immediate circle of friends and peers (the micro influence)
  2. The cultural story of the society you live – all the expectations of what is considered normal behaviour for people in your nation (the macro influence)

It’s impossible to not be influenced by these two groups. People are influenced by other people, that is how we work unless you run off into a cave and shun all human contact.

I for one like living in a place with running water, toilets and mrs fields cookies, hence I will choose to exist with all you other smelly people.

The key is to become aware of the influence, the expectations, and see them as what they are – the attitudes of other people.

If you open your eyes to this you gain the power to pick and choose what influences and groups you belong to and how you live your life.

As entrepreneurs that mis-fit label is hard to avoid. It’s not a “normal” thing to do, to start a business and not get a job. You are going to be in the minority and thus you are going to face many opinions and attitudes that don’t agree with what you are doing.

This is especially challenging because most people won’t even be able to understand why you are making the choices you do. They will see you as foolish, making a mistake and may even become angry that you are not living life with the same conditions they are.

It might be hard at first, but once you become comfortable, and then confident in your choice to be an entrepreneur, you will never be bothered by expectations.

Things like what you can or cannot do at a certain age will be nothing more than a fun topic of conversation, rather than an actual restriction placed on your life.

Remember, it’s all in the mind.

Yaro Starak
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25 Comments

  • Alborz Fallah

    Yaro, I think there’s a monumental difference between being an Outlier-type entrepreneur and choosing to remain single – a case you are making in your post.

    There are so many average 9-5 workers that remain to be single, for many reasons, including an inability to form long lasting relationships. This does not make them entrepreneurs, nor does it make them non-entrepreneurs. It’s an invalid argument to suggest these are linked, and those that follow the path of relationships are not outliers in another sense.

    In fact, many of the world’s best known entrepreneurs are married with children. There’s no “you must be single to be an entrepreneur” path, nor is it the opposite.

    Anyway, in regards to age. I think, as you pointed out, when you’re younger, you take on more tasks and more business ideas to see what works. I started 16 websites and one retail business before the 18th business worked. If I was older, I might have given up earlier – however, I would argue strongly that the ‘desire’ and ‘hunger’ that comes with being an entrepreneur is mainly imbedded in your genes and personality.

    Look at some of the world’s best entrepreneurs, they started young, but did their best work in the late part of their life. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Arina Huffington, Branson, Jeff Bezos etc etc… (may I add, all are/were married)

    • That’s not the link I was making Alborz, it is a case of being a mis-fit in traditional areas of life, which can include relationships, or any other areas like having a career, or choosing to buy a house and get a mortgage or attend university.

      In my case for relationships it has a lot more to do with my personality than being an entrepreneur, though as you said because of personality I am an entrepreneur too.

      Of course many entrepreneurs “ruin” or forgo relationships because they prefer to work on their business than their relationship, and of course there are just as many happily married entrepreneurs too.

      The point is about conformity to social norms and being okay with going against them, especially as you age and you are not following the traditional path.

  • Hi Yaro, I strongly agree with you that age factor cannot stop you from being a good entrepreneur. And in the same context I would like to share a story:

    Asa Griggs Candler was a drugstore owner in US. His business was going well, but he wasn’t rich by any means. At age 37 he came across a medicine that was sold for five cents a glass and that was supposed to help with several diseases. He purchased the formula for $500, and decided that he would sell it as a soft drink at restaurants and vending machines. The name of the drink is Coca-Cola.

  • Dan

    Completely agree Yaro! I can relate because when I first started my journey into entrepreneurship I had so many ideas and thought I could follow through on all of them.

    I also think that if you have the ability to adapt to emerging trends, actually not only adapt but innovate, then your age will definitely NOT hold you back! Nor should you let it.

  • Hi Yaro

    Jim Clarke founded Netscape when he was 50 years old, you are never too old to be an entrepreneur.

    Steve

  • I used to drive for a living, with a lot of 12 hour days, of course this meant not much time for being an entrepreneur. I have just retired and am 63 years old and just starting to promote online.

    I never thought or felt i was too old to start on something completely new, so your article certainly caught my eye. Hey, Colonel Sanders never made it until his 60′s, the point is that I now have the time to do this and can only agree with what you said “What is more important is not how old you are, but what you do with your time”.

  • I believe you are never too old to become an entrepreneur. Whether you have worked a 9 to 5 your whole life or you have been a blue collar worker, an idea or passion to be an entrepreneur can be sparked by anything. Just look at Kickstarter, who recently had an 80 year old women get her entrepreneurial venture funded. It is never too late to take a chance, and you will only be that much wiser.

    - AD

  • I was about to make the Jim Clarke/Netscape comment but someone beat me to it. I don’t believe anyone is too old for this industry as long as they are prepared to move with the times. :)

  • “Our ability to innovate is what counts.” — Well put.

    Shipping ideas is a habit, and entrepreneurism is a muscle anyone can flex.

    How’s the story go with Colonel Sanders, the entrepreneur behind Kentucky Fried Chicken? …

    Something like he started when he got is first Social Security check for $100 and decided it was not enough to live on. And, then he got 1,000 “NO”s before he got is first “YES” for somebody who would buy his famous recipe, and Kentucky Fried Chicken was born.

    Sylvia Lieberman found her entrepreneurial spirit at 90, when she published her first children’s book, Archibald”s Swiss Cheese Mountain (a book, she had written 25 years ago, while taking a college course called “Writing for the Juvenile Reader.”)

    Entrepreneurism can be a latent thing.

    It’s a reminder that sometimes the best is yet to come, and sometimes, like in the Wizard of Oz, it was there all along and we just needed somebody or something to bring it out in us.

  • I absolutely also think that there is no risk to be too old to be an entrepreneur, as the 86 year old entrepreneur Burt Goldman says “retirement is like hitting yourself with a hammer”

  • Lee

    Hi
    I think age is not an issue. I think the point is that as you get older you learn as you go on so as you learn you grow your abilities and you learn to have more patience for what you re doing to flourish you don’t have so many ideas as you are concentrating more on the projects that you are already engaged in. Also you learn that the grass is not always greener on the other side so you look more inwardly at what you are doing and less outwardly at what you think you should be doing and what others are doing.

    Great post thanks lee

  • Well, I got started working at entrepreneurial companies and startups back in 1984 (at a research spinoff from RCA) when I was just a wee hacker lad, programming computers for data acquisition and process control.
    All my career has been with startups (with the exception of a 1 yr stint at Carnegie Mellon University), largely because I live in continual learning mode. “Normal” companies don’t want deep generalists, but serious startups always need one or two JoATs (Jacks-of-All-Trades), who can go from programming applications and creating databases to designing electronics and soldering boards to covering IT functions and customer service to participating in technical sales and marketing events and coordinating dinners through liaisoning with foreign customers and investors to flipping burgers at the office BBQ’s and keeping the Jacuzzi running.

    Now I’m 48, been a consultant (self employed) for 15 of my 30 career years, and about to launch *my* first startup here with Alphalabs (hopefully) with MyQualityProgcess.com where we’ll help companies in highly-regulated industries (medical device manufacturing, aerospace, etc.) profitably and proficiently manage and resolve their production problems.
    I’ve sat at the feet of greats and not-so-greats, learned all I can from them, watched for the *right* opportunity that is inventive, innovative, scalable, and monetizable.
    I’m 48. I’ve been watching, learning and doing, and I’m finally ready.
    It’s time to make my move.

    Thanks Yarak for the excellent Netcasts, and I’d also like to encourage everyone to listen and watch the Guest Speaker Entrepreneurial Netcasts from Stanford University at http://ecorner.stanford.edu/podcasts.html with speakers ranging from Tim O’Reilly and Tim Draper to Drew Houston (DropBox), Jack Dorsey (Square), Jonathan Boutelle (SlideShare) and Marc Andreessen. These are excellent, great for jogging, long trips and commutes, and you can learn so much from them and Yaro’s blog and Netcasts as well.

    Now get off your duffs and do it!

    • Following up on my comment…
      Well, I went and did it! I’ve gotten my application in at Alphalab, a startup incubator here in Pittsburgh, PA, USA.
      Wish me good providence!

  • Yes to answer your question Yaro you can become TOO OLD to be an entrepreneur.

    Especially online.

    Making money is like an athletic sport it’s a “young mans game”.

    By the time you’re old you should have already made all of your money or you’re screwed.

    This is why it’s important to help people with your life so when you are old there are plenty of people willing to help out your sorry butt. :)

  • Lovely! thanks for this article, I am 25 and from Paraguay, and sometimes I feel realy OLD when I see guys in USA that are already realy sucessful and I still here in my country where everything is maybe harder than in others countries, but anyway! this post was realy intersting, and the links too! can’t wait to read the post about “The Startup kids”

  • There is no age or age can not stop you earning good income while sitting on your computer as there are always be a room which is only for you. Now a days many of entrepreneur are giving some ideas which have no age limits I have one of them for me also they found a business for you according to your limits and needs.

  • Hi Yaro,
    Just loved your article! I totally agree that age factor should never come in the way for any entrepreneur. One should always work with the same zeal and enthusiasm and keep progressing with continuous efforts.

  • I agree with the mindset thing Yaro. As long your capable and you believe you can do it then there’s no age that can tell you to stop dreaming and doing business. This is a very inspiring article. :)

  • Well hello, mindset is definitely king, as someone who has past 40 whatever that implies, I feel younger now than I have in ages. This is most likely because as you point out with age comes a certain clarity. We cannot fight every battle and thus we begin to focus on doing less but doing it better and finally clarifying what that means for us regardless of whatever those around us think,

  • you are never too late to be an entrepreneur. As gary Vee says, in his book crush it, that if you recognize your passion at the age of 40. you have made it at right time.
    cheers

  • Hi Yaro!
    I agree that different people have different mindsets, their opinions differ on many matters. But according to me , it is never too late to become an entrepreneur. If you has the potentiality, the skills and can expertise then all you need to do is to JUST GO FOR IT!

  • it is never too late to do business, for example Colonel Sanders with his KFC and a lot. He start KFC when his age around 60. Age is not a problem, in fact we have to keep the spirit goes on.

    Thank for influencing and motivate.

  • Great points on being influenced by the people around you. I need to start surrounding me with like minded successful people. I am looking at launching more products this year and want make them more successful than our last ebook. We love to meet you in Sydney over the next couple of weeks.

  • I think it’s a mindset. If as you age your mindset changes and you become less inclined to take risks and leaps of faith then yes, you are too old to be an entrepreneur.
    However, If you go through life looking for ideas and opportunities that other think are risky or foolish and you still take a calculated risk then just like all those young start up kids you’ll probably fail more times than you succeed but, you can still call yourself an entrepreneur.

  • David A.

    Shucks my dream of owning an Aston drop 50%.
    Im 35.

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