Starting Young or Old? Which is better?
People are often shocked when my answer to the question “how long have you been in business,” is that it’s been 10+ years.
I am still fairly young (born in 1982, which makes me one of the older GenY/Millennials) even though I look even younger.
When I tell them I started the business back in my college apartment, it’s usually met with a smile, a vacant look while they flash back to their life as a college senior, and then a comment along the lines of, “Wow, I wish I would have gotten started as young as you did. It took me a lot longer to figure it all out.” Small (business) talk ensues, we walk away from each other, and my decision 10+ years ago is reaffirmed.
…but what if I was wrong?
What if in fact they are the ones I should be envious of?
Like most things in life, there are multiple sides to every story, and this one is no exception.
Between goBRANDgo!, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, supporting many community entrepreneurial organizations, speaking engagements, and coffee/lunches, I meet with several hundred successful and aspiring entrepreneurs every year.
Every entrepreneur’s story is unique and filled with amazing twists and turns that can really only be appreciated in the rear-view mirror. By aggregating this large data-set of all of these acquired stories, I’ve started to recognize patterns, one of which is the effect of starting age.
Advantages of Starting Young:
Very Little Risk: typically, expenses and family obligations are low; without dependents to support, salary is an aspiration, not something that is depended upon.
Boundless Energy: working 18+ hours following a night after going out for drinks with customers, multiple times per week…no problem.
Cutting Edge: it’s not hard to imagine what early adopters are wanting when you are part of that demographic; most innovations come from the dreams and desires of restless young minds.
Father Time: entrepreneurship is a long-term game and the earlier you start, the more years you’ve got to build your business and wealth.
Advantages of Starting Old(er):
Learn on Someone Else’s Dime: being an entrepreneur is all about failing forward and learning what does/doesn’t work, then tweaking & repeating. As sexy as “fail-fast, fail-often” is, all education comes at a price. The “tuition dollars” spent on failure are made of real dollars, time, and sometimes even relationships…which is why OPM (other people’s money) is often a good investment for many of these learning curves.
6Degrees of Kevin Bacon: building a great business network takes time, and by holding out, you have the benefit of a pre-built network within your industry and community to leverage for contacts, support, and referrals.
Perception of Legitimacy: gray hairs and battle scars (wrinkles), rightly or not, lead to a perception of gravity and wisdom. It’s often easier to walk into a customer’s office and command trust and confidence when you have a decade of experience in the industry.
Know Thyself: the emotional roller coaster of entrepreneurship is made more tolerable when you’re purpose-driven, which typically comes from the wisdom of self-awareness, which often comes with experience. Don’t get me wrong, “10 years of experience” sometimes is really just 1 year of experience repeated 10 times, but the opportunities for experience definitely increase as the years do.
So, when should you start your business? When you’re young and energetic with nothing to lose or when you older and wiser but more established?
You should start your business when you can offer a service better than what’s out there and people are willing to pay you for it.
When it comes to the viability of a company, it doesn’t matter if you are 15 or 50. The advantages and disadvantages of starting age are pretty much a wash.
One thing that does make a huge difference is your ability to overcome the fear of starting. The longer you wait, the more the law of diminishing intent will paralyze you, and the less likely you will ever do anything but annoy people with this “great idea” you always talk about.