When I started Wahooly back in 2011, I had just spent the last 5 years as an Advertising Director at a hobbyist publication who's core demographic were males who were nearing the age of retirement.
Myself, I was 35, and felt like a pup.
For the most part, in much of everything I had done up to that point, I always felt like the young guy.
That was, until I got into tech and startups.
Honestly, my age, future plans, retirement, etc. never really concerned or consumed me until recently.
I was never part of the first-wave of startups in the late 90′s. I was aware of it and I now have friends that were a part of it, but back then, it truly was an East and West coast movement. Those of us in the Midwest, watched it play out like coverage of a war being fought overseas.
Today, many of the people that were in the first startup wave are roughly the same age as me now and have years of startup battle wounds and stories to go along with them.
Not me. I was a late-comer. It wasn't until just four years ago that I got into the startup scene.
Truth be told, I didn't set out to get into startups, or even necessarily follow some predictable startup path. In fact, funding wasn't even something I considered until it was presented to me.
When Wahooly first started, there were four of us. Two older and two younger. The younger ones were in their early twenties and the older guys in their mid to late 30′s.
While it wasn't clear at the time, age difference was the source of many arguments. The older founders assuming the younger one's were too inexperienced to make decisions and the younger founders thinking that older one's had tired strategies and old logic.
We managed, but at times it felt like it was always young vs. old.
It still hadn't hit me yet though. It wasn't until I joined an accelerator that age smacked me in the proverbial face.
In 2013, we were down to two remaining founders--one old (me) and one young.
For reasons I won't go into, we were a year and a half into our business and looking to make some major changes. The right path at the time seemed to be for us to join an accelerator.
After taking a look at two different programs, we were invited to participate in AngelPad, which is a San Francisco-based accelerator run by investor and ex-Googler, Thomas Korte. We graciously accepted.
I often get asked how, at 35 years old, with three kids and a home in Minnesota, was I able to join an accelerator in San Francisco?
It wasn't easy--or ideal.
My cofounder and I rented a one-bedroom apartment for 4 months in SOMA. Each Sunday night, I would fly to San Francisco from Minneapolis. Every Thursday, I would return.
My wife was extremely supportive and quite frankly, I couldn't have done it without her.
So, there I was, living what felt like two lives. The one where I lived in California in a one-bedroom apartment with someone in their early twenties. And, the second, where I was a mid-thirties father of three living in suburbia.
At the accelerator, EVERY founder was younger than me. They didn't treat me any different, nor did we behave any different. We were all mature and working towards a common goal--to raise unicorns.
However, this was the first time that I saw that, while we were all at the same stage in our startup careers, I was miles behind in terms of age.
I started to regret some of the decisions I had made in my twenties. I was surrounded by extremely impressive 20-somethings that knew exactly what they wanted. And, to me, it felt like they had all of the time in the world to get it done.
But, not me. I could no longer afford to take the big risks, or go too long without an income. I had a family to consider. My decisions impacted multiple futures, not just my own.
It was a hard realization and one that took me some time to overcome.
I finally came to the conclusion that startup success isn't age discriminatory. It doesn't care if you're still in high school or you're a year past retirement. It doesn't care if you went to MIT or the school of hard knocks. And, it certainly doesn't care about the regretful decisions you made in your 20′s.
As I've mentioned in a previous post, success is a mindset. How you perceive yourself is part of that mindset.
Your users. Your customers. Your employees. The ones that will determine whether you succeed or not, could care less about your age. So, why should I?
We can't escape time, but we can choose to embrace it as an asset and just get shit done.