There’s a strange fascination with age in the entrepreneurial world, at both ends of the spectrum. And at both life stages, there are distractors who try to tell upstarts that they are too old or too young to be doing what they’re doing.
The thing about entrepreneurs is, they love to buck a trend.
In our latest episode of The Hatch podcast, we looked at whether age was a barrier in starting a business (*spoiler* — it’s not). In chatting to lots of entrepreneurs and people who work with entrepreneurs, we discovered a thing or two about age in business.
There is less risk starting a business when you’re young…
“The advantage of being young is that you have less risk in your personal life, so you have this opportunity to try things and see what happens. If you fail maybe the worst thing is you get sued and you lose your laptop. As an older person you have a house, people depending on you, if things don’t work out there is a higher risk.”
It’s something echoed by Jost Stollmann, a serial entrepreneur who is the former CEO and current non-Executive Director of Tyro Payments. Jost has launched multiple businesses and failed multiple times (he has launched seven start ups, with two being major successes). He started his first successful venture at the age of 29, and is now in his 60s.
“The risk profile changes with age, that’s obvious when you are in your 20s. There is hardly anything that you can imagine that you wouldn’t be willing to lose to grab something which is unbelievable,” he comments.
“Now if you have family, you have some assets, you have a reputation; there is obviously the feeling you wouldn’t want to lose all that.”
So if you are older, how do you manage that risk? Jost says it’s about creating diverse teams.
“If you found companies at a later stage in life then the art is to attract the young, the restless and the think-out-of-the-box talent, and to create the environment where they can thrive… you can put teams together where you have different risk appetites around the table.”
…but there are different benefits to starting when you’re older
It all depends on the type of business you are trying to start, though. If you’re helping to build a financial institution that is trying to challenge Australia’s banks, well maybe you need a bit of experience under your belt.
“If you have a more complicated business model with counter dependencies [and] counterparty risks you need a lot of credence.
“Would I have been able to start Tyro [at] 29? Maybe. Did the company benefit from the technical founders being experienced people and me being experienced? I would think yes.”
In saying that, young entrepreneurs do have a different type of wisdom that allows them to tackle big problems. Tida Tippapart, the Hatchery Community Manager, notes:
“After working with young people directly, they have this incredible way of viewing the world that you might not get when you’re a bit older. You might be a bit jaded, you’ve gone through the work system and you think the system is messed up and that you can’t do anything about it.
“I think there is a certain amount of ignorance or fresh eyes to a problem and that’s really exciting when you see young people work on problems in different ways.”
It doesn’t matter if you are 18 or 84, people will say you’re bonkers
Carolyn Hartz started SweetLife at the age of 55. She’s now 70, and slowing down is not an option. She says:
“A lot of people were negative, they thought 55 was the time I should relax and take it easy. I was asked by so many people why are you doing it, why aren’t you playing golf, why aren’t you playing bridge, why aren’t you doing all these other things.”
Carolyn is a seniorpreneur — supposedly Australia’s fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs.
Although the obsession with entrepreneurs still skews young — Google ‘young entrepreneurs’ and you get almost seven million results. Search ‘grey entrepreneurs’ and you get 2.5 million results, ‘seniorpreneurs’ nets you 70,000.
Despite the hype around young entrepreneurs, they still struggle to be taken seriously. Ashkan Tashvir started his first business at 14. Now 28, he’s the founder and CEO of Engenesis.
“It is harder when you are young, you need to prove yourself. For example when we wanted to get projects people would say, ‘Oh he’s quite young.’ It makes it hard for them to accept [you],” he says.
Age is just a number
But some age specific advice isn’t a bad idea. For young people, it’s making sure they reach out and get support and mentorship.
“My advice for young people is give it a shot, if there’s not a huge risk just do it. If you are looking for support reach out and find it. There is so much out there today the ecosystem is so different, best thing you can do is get out there,” says the Hatchery+’s Joe Allen.
And for older entrepreneurs, Joe recommends making a few savvy business decisions before going all in.
“Make sure you register your business as a company so there is some liability gap between you and your house, and so your partner or kids don’t distance themselves if it fails. But get out there and talk to people and give it a shot!”
There’s never been a better time to get out there and have a go, says Tyro’s Jost Stollmann.
“Try to learn, try to connect the dots, try to innovate, try new things. Who cares about the failures? The one who really fails is the one who doesn’t try.”