I was talking about this with a friend of mine who’s a Gen Xer and we both agreed that reality will be a hard pill to swallow for either age group. When both generations enter the work force, they’ll realize they’ll have to work for someone – even if it’s for each other – and fame is fleeting and takes a lot of work to achieve, even in the digital age.
What’s fueling the belief in entrepreneurship as a career path is more than likely the plethora of stories related to app, tech and related companies founded by young 20-somethings. Consequently, it wouldn’t take much to conclude that being a Millennial is the key to being a successful entrepreneur. So I decided to look into whether or not this is true. Is youth the key to successful startups today? My search led me to this article in Forbes that challenges that idea without discounting Millennial entrepreneurs who have been successful.
In the article, (Why Great Entrepreneurs Are Older Than You Think), the author (Krisztina Holly) points out that research actually debunks the notion that youth is the key to entrepreneurial success. In a joint study between Forbes and the Kauffman Foundation that surveyed 500 successful high growth founders, “…the typical successful founder was 40 years old, with at least 6-10 years of industry experience. Twice as many successful entrepreneurs are more than 50 as under 25.”
Even when the study looked at the idea that the really disruptive billion-dollar companies like Facebook must have all been started by 20-somethings, the conclusion was that these “unicorns” were actually outliers. In fact, most such companies were started by entrepreneurs whose average age was 34 with the third most valuable company on the list, Workday, founded by a 52-year old.
The reason that more successful start-ups aren’t run by 20-somethings isn’t that 20-somethings are bound to fail. The study and Holly concluded that it’s because they don’t yet have the deep networks or experience to help them succeed. As the Forbes article points out, not everyone can be a successful founder, despite current prevailing thought that maybe everyone can if you have youth on your side. The truth is most start-ups fail, and the entrepreneurs who are successful today no doubt worked for one or more of those failed attempts.
The idea that youth trumps wisdom when starting a company could give us a generation of disenchanted young business leaders who will be ill-equipped to handle failure because no one told them that was a possibility. Or they drank the entrepreneurial Kool-Aid and surrounded themselves with other youthful compadres, as opposed to more experienced cohorts.
I know there are Millennial entrepreneurs out there who seek the advice of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. I’m working with a few. But they are not the majority and that's not necessarily something that is specific to today. Every generation when they hit their 20s thinks they know more than the generation before them. Unfortunately, we have to all go through our 30s and maybe even our 40s to find out we don’t.
In the meantime, there’s always the possibility of becoming famous.