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The Secret to Start-Up Success? Don't Act Your Age

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ENTREPRENEUR
Alamy

Entrepreneurs are getting older. Or so says the Kauffman Foundation, the world's largest foundation devoted to the subject of entrepreneurship.

In a recent study, the think tank has calculated that the average age of those founding their own businesses is 39 - and that those between the age of 55 and 64 represent the fastest growing tranche of entrepreneurs in the US.

The new study makes surprising reading. Starting a business is usually considered a young man's game - and it's not hard to see why.

Commenting on the numbers, Jonathan Ortmans, a director at the Kauffman Foundation, said: "what young people often provide is the core energy in a tech start-up. It is very hard to imagine someone older being willing to put in the hours and hours of work for very little reward that is needed to create a new technology business."

That's certainly been my experience. When I founded my current software company WANdisco seven years ago I was in my mid-thirties and had already started (and exited) a few other businesses. I was hardly a novice by any stretch.

The biggest anxiety my co-founders and I shared when starting out at our age was the knowledge that it would lay waste to the security we had come to expect - a regular salary, predictable hours, a company car, regular holidays.

It's fair to say that twenty-somethings care rather less about this security than those even just ten years their senior - largely because they don't have it to lose. Most don't have high paid jobs. And forget kids - most don't even have spouses.

Independent, unattached and poor, it seems only natural that those in their twenties would more readily embark on their own business journeys, worrying little that it will probably be two years at least before they earn any money from it.

For us, then, the hardest part of starting a business was the decision to start in the first place - to say 'let's do it'.

That's not to say the rest has been easy. Particularly as we made a conscious effort to start our business without funding, relying instead on good old-fashioned sales to see us through.

We did this because, at the end of the day, the old cliché is true: necessity is indeed the mother of invention. When you create a business without funding, there is simply no option but to sell your products or else go bust. And so from our first day of trading we set about hunting customers, reinvesting every penny we made back into the business.

Our whole mind-set, then, was geared towards what customers want. It might be an old-fashioned philosophy - Steve Jobs for one used to maintain that 'you can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them'. But though this might be true for a computer giant that can afford the odd failure, it's hardly a great discipline for a start-up. If we failed, we would have been homeless.

The key to our growth has been building products that we knew would suit the market - that we knew would sell. The rest has taken care of itself.

In some ways then, our success lies in the fact that we acted like a group of twenty year olds might. Rather than relying on funding to make up for the security that we had been used to, we decided instead to 'rough it'.

And judging by Kauffman's calculation, we're not alone. Those with greater years and experience seem in ever increasing numbers to be turning away from the comfort of middle age, in favour of the tumult of starting a business.

Armed with a wisdom that only age can bring and the bravado of their former selves, these individuals are proving that the secret of success is not age but temperament. It's not about being young, but acting it.

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