When is the best time in life to start a business? There's no "right" answer to this question, of course — every entrepreneur's experience is different. But based on the seeming abundance of 20-something Silicon Valley startup founders, it's easy to think that the younger you are, the better off your business will be.
By that same logic, it's also easy to assume that entrepreneurs who are approaching retirement age may be too out-of-touch with current technology and culture to succeed in the business world. On the other hand, many founders who started their business after age 50 say their decades of experience have been their greatest advantage.
If you're an older aspiring business owner, don't assume you missed your chance at entrepreneurial success. Here's why it pays to jump into the startup game later, and what you can do to make your business flourish.
Why start a business later in life?
You're more experienced. Youth may equate to optimism, but younger entrepreneurs are more likely to be naïve about the realities of the business world. Because of the length of time they've spent in the workforce, older founders have a wide variety of life and business lessons to draw from when they launch their startups.
"When you start a business later in life, you have learned from both successes but, more importantly, from mistakes," said Sandra Carter, founder of mushroom-based nutritional supplement company Mushroom Matrix. "You have a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, [and] know the meaning of hard work and what it takes to be successful."
Bridget Coates, principal at protein powder company Kura, agreed, noting that older entrepreneurs can approach the volatile emotional roller coaster of starting a business with a clear and level head.
You're past the "growing family" stage. While this isn't necessarily true of all older entrepreneurs, most people in their 50s and 60s are not dealing with the same personal goals and obligations that many individuals in their 20s and 30s have — getting married, buying a house, starting and raising a family, etc. Carter noted that the distractions and responsibilities that come with early adulthood are gone (or at least significantly reduced), so they won't impact your ability to focus on your new business.
"Some younger people may have an advantage of not having much in the way of financial responsibilities. But usually, by age 50, your kids are [older], so some of your responsibilities have decreased," added Arthur Lasky, architect and founder of HearthCabinet Ventless Fireplaces.
You have your priorities in place. Instead of wasting their time bouncing around from idea to idea "just to try it," older entrepreneurs tend to know exactly what they want and what they need to do to achieve it.
"[You understand] that you're only as good as the team you build around you, [and] that you should only work on things that you are really interested in doing because life is too short to ... put yourself into a world of pain," Lasky told Business News Daily.
Advice for older entrepreneurs
If you think you're ready to leave the corporate world and start your business, here are a few tips to help you succeed.
Know your ability to take risks. No business venture comes without risk. Young entrepreneurs typically have less to lose when they go all in on their startups, but older founders have much more that they've saved and worked for over their lifetime. For these reasons, you have to be cautious with your financial resources.
"Understand your risk level and be conservative with overextending your personal financial situation to develop a business," Carter said. "There isn't as much time to make it back up if things don't go as planned."
Build a great team. Once you've found a passion to build a business around, you need to surround yourself with people whose strengths and weaknesses balance out your own, Carter said. This is especially true if your customers are younger and you're not sure how to reach them.
"A challenge I knew I might face was, understanding the younger demographic and developing our messaging for them," Coates said. "So our wider team consists of ... brilliant 30-somethings who make sure we are all totally up to speed."
Take care of yourself. Younger entrepreneurs have youth on their side: They can bounce back from all-nighters and round-the-clock work hours, ready to do it all again the next morning. As you get older, late nights and a lack of sleep take their toll much faster, so you'll need to make your health a priority if you want to keep up with the pace of the business world.
"It's crucial to take care of your health and well-being for the long haul, because you'll be tied to your business for a minimum of three to five years — more likely, closer to 10 years or beyond," said Bob Johnston, CEO and co-founder of SponsorHub, a sports and entertainment analytics company. "If you aren't healthy, your business won't be, either."
"Make sure you really have the energy and desire to follow through," Lasky added. "A good idea doesn't mean much if you don't have the dedication to execute it."