what is the best age to start a business

What Is the Best Age to Start a Business? The Answer from a Billionaire

Before jumping on the straight answer about the best age to start a business, some context.

Once I saw a CEO from a prestigious technology firm complaining how young professionals unrealistically expect dizzying ascents up the corporate ladder at the start of their careers. 

These are folks who have received two or three promotions in a row, either by luck or by exceptional performance, now believe that this is the standard.

This is resulting in swarms of inexperienced (albeit skilled) seniors. It creates gaps for misplaced expectations.

I agree with him. I also agree that the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s career and entrepreneurial timeline are preferable.

This is also the path I chose for my career. First as a student, then as a corporate employee, and finally as a business owner.

A lovely, spacious home must not be on shaky foundations. And you can’t start a solid company unless you know how to get your hands dirty.

What Is the Average Age to Start a Business VS What Is the Best Age to Start a Business

Some argue that being youthful is preferable to being older. You’re fresh and powerful, and you can handle a lot of sleep deprivation and yet keep going. You’re also less risk-averse.

Wisdom, however, comes with age. The older you are, the more you know about your sector or industry. You have extensive experience and good contacts.

So what is better?

The Average Age to Start a Business (with Success)

The facts plainly favor one side.

According to Duke University, the Kauffman Foundation, the Founder Institute, and Northwestern University researches, the typical entrepreneur is 40 years old when founding his or her first firm, while the average age of executives of high-growth companies is 45.

Tech newspapers are full of tales of crazy-rich 22-year-old entrepreneurs, but the reality is that 40-something are considerably more likely to start and grow businesses — like those that I presented in this article about successful companies with humble beginnings.

The study in consideration is not on a small scale. The Founder Institute collected data from 3,000 worldwide applications, 1,000 enrolled entrepreneurs, and 350 graduates.

What is the benefit of age? Adeo Ressi, founder of The Founder Institute explains:

Older individuals have generally completed more complex projects — from buying a house to raising a family. In addition, older people have developed greater vocational skills than their younger counterparts in many, but not all, cases. We theorize that the combination of successful project completion skills with real-world experience helps older entrepreneurs identify and address more realistic business opportunities.

If older is better, what to do until then? Here is the approach proposed by Jack Ma.

Picture to illustrate What Is the Best Age to Start a Business? The Answer from a Billionaire
What Is the Best Age to Start a Business? The Answer from a Billionaire

Be a student till your 20s and a follower until your 30s.

When you are 20 to 30 years old, you should follow a good boss [and] join a good company to learn how to do things. Jack Ma

Likewise, my father’s advice fits here. He offered me a job in his business when I was 16 years old.

Delivering promotional brochures. It wasn’t what I expected, since I expected to be a salesperson at the very least. But I was a clueless teenager.

Delivering promotional pamphlets helped me grasp consumer desires. After reading the flyers, they inquired about items. It was a learning experience and a great workout.

It is advisable to start in a small or family company. Jobs at gigantic businesses such as McDonald’s are not awful for beginners, however, your work will most likely comprise very specific activities. Tasks with no relevance to the rest of the company. You also should start to develop skills at home.

Small businesses generate more meaningful employment. There, you will learn complete procedures and be a part of important changes. Despite your youth, you will be closer to decision-making centers.

Do not worry if you get rejections; they are normal at this stage. Jack Ma applied for over 30 jobs and got only rejections. In one case, a company interviewed 24 candidates. They hired 23. He was the lone refusal. Use the negative responses to improve your reaction to disappointment.

The Chinese Billionaire idea of becoming a follower in the 30s does not mean to be a copycat, but to seek a mentor.

During your early years of experience, you will encounter talented and experienced individuals. Stick to them. Learn about their accomplishments and inquire about their missteps. This will aid you in your learning curve. 71% of the most successful American businesses use mentor programs (here is a creative way to find a business mentor). That’s because they work. A good example has extraordinary teaching potential.

It is a fantastic time to start a company in your 30s. Focus on what you do best between the ages of 40 and 50.

When you are 30 to 40 years old, if you want to do something yourself, just do it. You can still afford to lose, to fail. Jack Ma

I worked in corporate jobs across three different countries for ten years. After this period, I abandoned everything at 29 years old to start my company. Maybe it would be better if I waited one year more.

As the Chinese millionaire puts it, “you have time to fail at this age.”

My first business flopped. It didn’t go bankrupt, but we had to move because of a poor market decision — we overestimated the might of government bureaucracy. I have two enterprises at 34 (finished yesterday). If one of them, or both of them, fails, I start a new one.

Make tiny investments that are cyclical and anti-cyclical. Or, to put it another way, develop your barbell strategy and become antifragile. The Barbell Strategy (as well as Antifragility) is a concept from Nassim Taleb where you have two streams of income that are not dependent on the same market or economic conditions.

When you’re 40 to 50 years old, my suggestion is you should do things you are good at. Jack Ma

If you start in your 30s, you could find something you can be excellent at by 40. So focus on it. People miss out on chances to learn unusual and important abilities because they are always looking for a passion.

We often refer to this as the Passion Mindset. The Craftsman Mindset, coined by Cal Newport, is the polar opposite of it, in which you select a job you can be competent at and focus on improving your abilities until the skills ignite your love for perfection. (Cal Newport also developed another concept that deeply helps entrepreneurs, called deep work).

The 40s are ideal for cultivating a Craftsman Mindset and striving for perfection.

Should I retire at 62?

Short answer: Yes. 

The long answer starts with this: after 50, hire young people, and after 60, spend time on yourself.

While our expertise and understanding grow through time, it is not a linear process. Brain myelination slows down at the age of 50. As a result, learning new technology is more challenging for individuals of this age, while other skills, such as writing, are at their optimum.

Now is the moment to recruit young people, invest in them, and introduce new ideas to your company. It’s also time to train your successor.

When you reach your 60s, Jack Ma advises you to focus more on your own goals. It does not imply dumping all you’ve created and spending the rest of your day on the beach sipping mojitos.

In fact, if you spent decades honing key abilities, you will be able to explore your expertise in your 60s. According to the World Economic Forum, mature entrepreneurs’ businesses are more successful on average.

When you are over 60 years old, you better stay with your grandchildren. Jack Ma

Instead of insane work-journeys devoted to your company, the Chinese tycoon suggests that there are other triumphs to celebrate at this stage of life. They are significant enough to overshadow economic gains — just be aware of the retirement financial trap, something way common nowadays.

It means that strolling to the park with little Mike is a greater reward than reading business reports. It’s better for you and it’s better for him.

Conclusion about the best age to start a business

Be a student till your 20s and a follower until your 30s.

When you are 20 to 30 years old, follow a skilled professional, learn about their accomplishments and inquire about their missteps. Also, join a company that offers you the chance to develop and try multiple skills.

When you’re 40 to 50 years old, focus on the things that you are good at. As Jack Ma says, if you start in your 30s, you could find something you can be excellent at by 40.

After 50, hire young people, and after 60, spend time on yourself.

When you are over 60 years old, enjoy the company of your grandchildren. Yes, it may be cliché, but it is still a piece of advice we often ignore and regret later.

From your opinion and experience, what is the best age to start a business? I am curious to read some personal stories in the comments.

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Levi Borba is the founder of expatriateconsultancy.com, creator of the channel Small Business Hacks and the same website for Small Business Owners, and best-selling author. Subscribe to my articles (for free) and receive (also for free) the ebook “The Blueprint for First-Time Business Owners”.

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