During a speaking gig -- back when gatherings of more than a handful of people were still a thing -- I asked the audience who was better positioned to start a successful business: A twentysomething entrepreneur or a fiftysomething entrepreneur.
Turns out they were right.
And also wrong: New research shows the rate of success for people who launch a business in their 20s is the same as for those who become entrepreneurs in their 50s.
According to the research, there's a balance at play. While younger startup founders tend to be more tech savvy and less risk-averse, older startup founders benefit from greater experience, business skill, connections, and access to capital (if only their own.)
Unfortunately, founders in their 30s and 40s are significantly less likely to enjoy startup success. The researchers theorize that "midlife," and all that comes with it -- family responsibilities, increased risk aversion, etc. -- create significant hurdles. (Not that there's ever an easy path to entrepreneurial success.)
Those findings run somewhat counter to an earlier study indicating most successful
entrepreneurs tend to be middle-aged, even in the tech sector. The average founder age of the most successful tech companies was 45.
Generally speaking, the study showed that a 50-year-old entrepreneur was almost twice as likely to start an extremely successful company as a 30-year-old, and a 40-year-old entrepreneur was more than twice as likely to found a successful startup as a 25-five-year-old, and a 60-year-old founder was three times as likely to start a successful company as a 30-year-old.
While that study didn't include a focus on gender, the more recent research found that older female entrepreneurs tend to be significantly more successful at launching a company than younger ones.
"Our findings suggest women should not give up too readily," Zhao says, "because their chance of success increases as they move to later life stages, and their perseverance ultimately tends to pay off."
Of course, that's true for men and women, especially since willpower and perseverance are traits that can be developed. Grit can counterbalance a lack of youthful enthusiasm, and so can experience.
Which is the real point.
What research can't determine, at least in this case, is what is right for you.
The more data points studied, the more likely the law of large numbers will apply. As Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) says in Ozark:
"As individuals, people are completely unpredictable... one person making one bet, I couldn't possibly tell you what they're going to do. But the law of large numbers tells me that a million people making a million bets: That is completely predictable, completely ordered."
Thousands of people starting companies? Studied in aggregate, the results will be reasonably predictable.
But if one person starts a business? If you start a business?
No statistical analysis can predict whether you will succeed.
Which is all that really matters.
If you're in your 20s and believe in yourself, go for it. If you're in your 50s and believe in yourself, go for it. If you're in your 30s or 40s and believe in yourself, forget the U-shaped curve and go for it.
Because your ideas, your drive, your skills, your creativity, your determination, who you are and how hard you're willing to work, will always matter more than your age.