Whizz kids and Start-ups – the Urban myth

As Gen X entrepreneurs, my business partner and I sometimes feel a little, well, uncool.

You see, we have a start-up and, in our eyes, its going pretty well. In 18 months since launch, nearly 650 organisations have signed up to our online product and revenue is growing at a very healthy rate. Things are going to plan.

But we both suffer something of the, “Imposter Syndrome” where we both doubt our accomplishments and wait to be exposed as complete frauds – why?

Well, because we are, how can I say this kindly – not your stereotypical start up Entrepreneurs.

Business news around the world is littered with articles about uber cool Gen Y’s and Millennials at the helm of the latest Unicorns ($1b valuation). Mark Zuckerberg (facebook), Evan Spiegel (Snapchat) and our own Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar (Atlassian).

In my mind, when I think of a successful start-up entrepreneur they are young, male, scary smart in the tech field and probably has a smattering of facial hair. Of course, there are great exceptions to the rule, (Go Melanie Perkins!) but hey, the mind does what the mind does.

Imagine my delight when I read an article citing a 2018 paper, “Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship” by academics at Northwestern University who indicate that the mean founder age for the fastest growing new ventures is……45 years old. At last – we’re “in”.
45 years old??? Really???

It’s a great paper and I encourage you to read it.

There is legendary bias in VC firms (Thank Vinod Khosla who stated that, “people under 35 are the people who make changes happen”) and certainly I have seen some bias myself, but this paper gave us a bit of a confidence boost that, as “older’ entrepreneurs – we have as good a chance at success, if not better, than our younger counterparts.

After all, IBM was started by a 61yo Charles Flint, who, at 74 established a business model which remains in place today and has seen IBM dominate the tech space nearly a century and Ray Kroc met the McDonalds brothers as a 52yo and went on to establish the McDonalds franchise behemoth.
So, if you have a good idea and a few grey hairs – go for it, those knocks in life give you a great view of the potholes to avoid.