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At what age should you found a start-up?

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 19 November 2019, 7:28 am

There is a mythology that surrounds the successful start-up. They are begun in dorm rooms and garages by smart young people who have a brilliant idea and work every hour of every day to make it happen.

Central to this idea is that youth matters. Unencumbered by grown up things like mortgages and propelled by a naïve vision that they really can change the world, they create amazing new tech.

But is this really true? An article in The Wired suggests that the ideal age in which to found a start-up may actually be when you are in your forties (or even fifties) and not your twenties after all.

"Consider the recent findings of a group of academics from MIT, Northwestern University, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the US Census Bureau who examined the success rates of startups," Clive Thompson writes in the article.

"When they homed in on elite "high-growth" tech firms, they discovered the average age of the founders was 45. What's more, their chance of success didn't decrease with age. It increased."

Thompson also notes that while Steve Jobs may have founded Apple in his twenties, the company only became massive when it invented the iPhone - and that was when Jobs was 51 years old.

Apparently, the middle-aged founder is more likely to understand what customers want, has developed superior people skills and is in a better position to tackle hard tech challenges such as clean energy, curing disease and climate adaptation.

This is hugely good news for those of us well past our twenties - previously the most well-known role model for aging start-up founders was Colonel Sanders.

It might also be good for New Zealand, where instead of spending our youth in our parent's garage toiling away on the next big thing in tech, a huge proportion of us squander it on an OE. This theory was once shared with me and I've often wondered if there wasn't some truth in it - that because travel is a rite of passage for many New Zealanders they invest in backpacking around the world, rather starting business ventures. What would happen if they re-prioritised?

It would be interesting to see if the mature vs youth argument stands up in New Zealand. Unfortunately the TIN Report doesn't give the age of tech company founders. And I feel like it would be impolite to guess.

Suffice to say, that if you have a good idea, feel very passionate about it, then the best time to start your start-up is, well, when it suits you.


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