Young Entrepreneurs Get the Glory, But Boomers Start More Tech Ventures
If you went to the movies last weekend, you might have seen the trailer (shown below) for The Social Network, a fictionalized account of how Mark Zuckerberg and a couple of friends started Facebook while still Harvard undergrads.
What do you think the chances are that Hollywood would have green-lighted that movie, which opens October 1, if Zuckerberg had started Facebook when he was 49 instead of 19?
I'd say not very good.
Stories about the fresh faces behind tech startups have been a staple of movies, books, TV shows, trade magazines and the popular press ever since Bill Hewlett and David Packard started their eponymous electronics manufacturing company in a Silicon Valley garage.
Yet according the latest research, people over 50 start more small businesses--tech or otherwise--than any other age group, including Gen Y entrepreneurs such as Zuckerberg or Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both 23 when they started Google.
An August 20 Newsweek magazine article,"The Golden Age of Innovation," notes that the average age of high-tech startup founders is 40. Vivek Wadhwa, a senior research associate with the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, came up with that number by studying 549 successful technology ventures. Wadhwa found that older entrepreneurs have higher success rates due to their experience, familiarity with customers' needs and well-established supplier networks.
As Newsweek notes, "In fact, America's fastest-growing tech startup, according to Forbes Magazine's Fast Tech 500, is First Solar, founded by a 68-year-old serial inventor in 1984. The founders of No. 2 on the Forbes list, Riverbed Technology, were 51 and 33 when they started their networking company... Zynga, the company behind Farmville and other infectiously popular games, will likely pass a billion dollars in revenue next year. Its founder and CEO, Mark Pincus, is a stereotype-defying 44."
The trend of people over 40 starting businesses is so strong, the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation, a nonprofit group that studies U.S. startups, predicts an entrepreneurship boom not in spite of the country's aging work force, but because of it.
Over the years, there have been plenty of notable tech entrepreneurs who launched startups in midlife or later. One of biggest was Thomas Watson. The New York farm boy turned consummate salesman was 40 when he took over a $9 million company that made office scales and punch card equipment, changed its name to International Business Machines and turned it into such a dominant force in the computer business that the federal government sued for violating antitrust laws in 1952.
The phenomenon isn't limited to tech entrepreneurs, of course. Ray Kroc was in his 50s when he hit on the winning formula behind McDonald's Corp., and Sam Walton was 44 when he opened the first Walmart in 1962.
Mike Michalowicz, who runs the Toilet Paper Entrepreneur blog, lists a number of famous and not-so-famous entrepreneurs who got their start after 40. His list includes Colonel Harland Sanders, who started Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65, and Jack Weil, who opened a Denver-based Western-wear retailer at 45 and went on to be known as the Henry Ford of the cowboy shirt. Weil worked until he passed away in 2008 at 107.
Think Zuckerberg will stick around at Facebook until he's that old?
Read more: Boomers Lead With Business Startups.
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