Entrepreneurship can begin at any age— you never know when the bug will hit. Michael Dell started Dell Computers out of his college dorm room. Colonel Harland Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken with his Social Security check at the age of 65.
There are pros and cons to starting a business at any age, but those pros and cons do change over time. Let’s look at them:
Teens to early 20s: This is a common time to try out entrepreneurship because young people are full of energy, ideas and enthusiasm – all things needed to be successful in business. But there are downsides, too. Let me give you an example:
I once had an idea for a treasure hunt. I would bury some diamonds, create a trail of clues, hire actors to play parts and get people to pay big bucks to act out their very own, real-life adventure movie. Sort of like an “Amazing Race,” only without television. The problem was, I knew nothing about business and only had enough startup funds to get a nice brochure made, hire a few actors and run a couple of ads. Great idea, terrible execution.
This first big business idea of mine was a flop for many reasons, most of which were due to my age at the time. Young entrepreneurs usually do not have the resources or experience that can make or break a new business. This is not to say it can’t be done— Steve Jobs started Apple when he was in his 20s, and Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft. But the thing is most of us are not Jobs or Gates.
On the plus side, and this is significant, you have less to lose and you have more time to recover from failure when you start early. You have time to learn the things that you don’t yet know, and you have the creative wherewithal of someone who is not yet inhibited too much by past experiences. You are also more apt to try out and potentially adopt some shoestring startup business ideas.
Late 20s to late 40s: This is a very common time for a lot of people to start a business, for various reasons:
- They have learned what they like to do and know what they are good at
- They have learned skills that are transferable
- They have amassed assets and credit
- They are ready to be their own boss
Those are all significant reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason this age tends to be a very good time to become an entrepreneur is people in the so-called “prime of life” have the confidence and connections that can make a business a go.
Are there downsides? Yes, but they are less noticeable than at other times of life – you have the money, know-how and connections to make it work.
Early 50s and beyond: Most Baby Boomers who are now in their 50s and 60s have become what we call “accidental entrepreneurs.” They started a business either because they had no choice— they lost their jobs or nest egg in the economic downturn— or because they proactively wanted to open their own business.
The good news is that these older folks have the experience, business acumen and contacts to give their new venture a significant leg-up. They may also still have the resources to get it off the ground, and that is important.
But the bad news is that the risks are bigger too— much bigger. If you are older and you fail, you really don’t have time, and maybe not even the energy, to make up the lost money. And if you make the big mistake of using your retirement savings to fund the business and it goes south, you are really out of luck.
While there is no “ideal” time to start a business, you can increase your odds of success if you take the above considerations into account, mitigate the risks to the extent possible and give it your all.
Remember: Walt Disney and Henry Ford both went bankrupt before starting multi-million dollar enterprises. So don’t feel that you can’t overcome any obstruction to your success.
When did you start your small business? Was it a good time or a bad time? Share your story below.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.