I was 29 when I started my last company. This time I'm 42. Things are different.
Last time, my spare time got filled up with indie rock shows and small batch tequila tastings. This time, it's more kid's soccer, kid's things besides soccer, and the occasional colonoscopy.
My workouts used to include tackle football and full-court hoops. Now I get injured doing pilates.
My big concern back then was a ponderous, "What do I do with my life?" This time, it's a frantic, "Ack! I'm gonna die. What do I do with my life?"
Starting a company at this age has a lot of stark differences as well. First off, you're no longer as interesting. At least here in Silicon Valley, where youth reigns. At this point, the VC's seem to be honing in on 6th graders.
And there's a reason for that focus on youth: unbridled optimism and energy, "beginner's mind," lots of free time and a connection to what's new and cool.
As a 40-something, you're supposedly stuck in your ways, not hungry, time-crunched and too focused on why something won't work rather than why it will.
But my experience has been different. Besides "working smart" as opposed to just "working hard," there are a lot of advantages I didn't see coming.
1. "Dialed-down" ego
I meet with a lot of young entrepreneurs and (while there are amazing exceptions) it's painful to watch the vacillation between blimp-sized confidence and utter defeat, where every event, good or bad, is taken personally. I know, I was there. Now I can separate myself from the outcomes and just keep the company moving.
2. Strong network
Being an older entrepreneur with some success and experience means that it's a lot easier to open doors and get access to what I need. Plus if you're selling to the enterprise like me, age can be a boon in terms of gaining trust. I used to have to wear glasses to look older. Now I can "bring the gray" with no assistance.
3. Improved focus
Like the aforementioned urgency that comes with thoughts of mortality, your approach to business takes on a shark-like efficiency. No more playing foosball till 10pm--you're in early, you hit goals, and you (hopefully) make dinner.
4. Clear motivations
At this age, you better enjoy the process because it's a lot of work and you know what to expect. Hopefully you know by now that you're in your happy place when you're creating something in the world.
5. Thicker skin
This time, I don't get overwhelmed by the little things. I feel more in control of the overall situation, even when bad news hits. It's not a "roller coaster" anymore but more like power-hiking in the hills (assuming you're not still injured from pilates).
6. Deeper passion
The passion that came from youth drew from a more self-driven place ("what will make me successful and look good?"). As you age that often gives way to a passion for helping the "other" and strong desire to do well by your customers and employees.
I recognize that the Facebooks, Googles, Apples and Microsofts of the world have their youthful creation myths, and I loved being a young entrepreneur. But while the world likes stories of youthful startups, older entrepreneurs are statistically more successful. We're also a lot more prevalent than the media would suggest--even in tech, the average age of founders is 39. And I would argue, we have a more enjoyable ride.
So the next time you're in the waiting room for your physical therapy appointment, and you read an article about a 16 year-old entrepreneurial wunderkind, don't get your reading glasses in a fog. That stuff may sell magazines, but you're at the top of your game statistically and mentally now. So get out there and leave it all on the field--in this game, you're less injury-prone than the young guys.