The singer Cher once said, "Some guy said to me: Don't you think you're too old to sing rock n roll? I said: You'd better check with Mick Jagger."
Back in 1980, there was a hit song by country singer Johny Lee called "Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places." The title pretty much summed up what the song was about. My question today is a riff on that song. Are we looking for the successful entrepreneur in all the wrong places? Do we actually have the entrepreneurial story wrong? The answer may surprise you.
Carl Schramm, University Professor at Syracuse, has a new book coming out called Burn the Business Plan. Per that book, he wrote an essay in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday titled "Older Entrepreneurs Do It Better." He writes,
We all know today's script for entrepreneurial success: A super-bright college student, impatient with classwork, drops out to pursue his big idea. Venture-capital funders chase after him, and he gathers smart pals around him to launch his startup. Sensational growth soon follows for the company--and riches for its founders--and the youth-driven innovation economy notches yet another success.
Wrong. Schramm goes on to point out that our focus on entrepreneurial youth is a mistake. In fact, Americans who are 35 or older are 50 percent more likely to start a business than their younger colleagues.
Notice this recent quote from The Kiplinger Report: "One growing sector in the U.S. job market: Baby boomer entrepreneurs. By 2020, those at or near retirement will launch 25% of businesses." And, in a recent study at Northwestern University, Benjamin Jones concludes that a 55-year-old and even a 65-year-old have significantly more innovation potential than a 25-year-old."
Furthermore, in his WSJ essay, Schramm points out that a major reason for the increasing prevalence of older entrepreneurs is that "it takes some time for people to recognize that their destiny is to start a company. Their inspiration usually comes not from a college program teaching them generic entrepreneurship skills but from what they've learned in previous jobs."
And older entrepreneurs have another advantage: self-financing. Crowdfunding company Fundable recently put out a study showing that most entrepreneurs finance themselves through personal savings, retirement accounts, and home equity. These are not options usually open to the young. Also, the older entrepreneur is much more likely to be debt-free.
But more than all this, older entrepreneurs are wise in life. They have had time to be knocked down hard several times. This brings a practical humility--the humility of all of us who have failed a time or two. Humility is a useful entrepreneurial skill that is learned only from living life itself.
Schramm suggests that we should exercise a new entrepreneurial strategy that recognizes our real demographic business reality. He warns "we shouldn't be carried away by glamorous (and inevitably rare) tales of youthful success in Silicon Valley." He feels that business incubators should be restyled from hip communal working spaces for the young to spaces more suited to the middle aged.
Perhaps 70 really is the new 40. With growing longevity and health consciousness, all of us are going to be productive longer.
As poet Maya Angelou once said, "The Fifties are everything you've been meaning to be." Thank you, Maya