So I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline yesterday and saw posted pictures of you from ‘friends of friends’, all wishing you a happy fortieth birthday. Then I went to my notification window and confirmed that it was indeed that time of year. I decided to catch up on you a bit. You have a wife, five grownup children with white-collar jobs, three grandchildren in high school and two of those kids who are girls already have boyfriends.
They all came to celebrate with you, after which they got on the next flight back home, leaving the “old man” all alone again to live out the remainder of his years a happy person. Well, even though social media can be bogus sometimes, pictures hardly lie. You are indeed a happy man – living in a nice condo with your beautiful spouse, visiting waterparks almost every other weekend and having fancy meals in different posh restaurants isn’t exactly something regular folks do.
Now, to make things worse, the bartenders call you Pa, no thanks to your grey beard and receding hairline. There’s even the possibility that you may have knocked a couple of years off your age on Facebook. If I had the right numbers to call, I probably would find out you’re closing in on 60 already. But that’s none of my business. I am here to discuss something different.
What’s your perception of an entrepreneur? A George Matus kind of guy, someone in his mid-20s, a simple hoodie and jeans lover or a stickler for messy apartments and unkempt facial hair? If you think you are already too much of a Methuselah to start a business, here’s a slice of reality – you have an edge that most people don’t have; experience. Except you have been juggling unripe grapes for the most part of your adulthood, you would have had the time to learn, unlearn and relearn.
Some people don’t even think of becoming an entrepreneur until they are 50 – that sounds like someone I saw on Facebook (insert smug look here). The point is; while you would already have years of experience, there are still lots of reasons you can be someone’s husband, father, grandfather and the founder of a company – yes, it’s the multi-hat challenge.
There are stories of kids and teens who raked their first millions before they could learn how to drive, and this creates a false mindset where you feel like the business window has already closed by the time you clock 30. Chances are that by now you are already forgetting about it.
Hear this – young people have a lot of different ideas. Young minds are like oceans with shoals of fish-like ideas swimming around every hour. We tend to take every single idea that pops into our head as a multimillion-dollar opportunity, but these ideas are not always the best ones – no offence to the younger generation.
When you are young, the most valuable asset you have in hand is time. You have all the time in the world to learn a skill and bake new money-making ideas from it, taking as long as you like. Having a startup idea and building a website for it doesn’t necessarily start a ‘business’. When you become older, you will begin to see the big picture.
Harland Sanders, the Kentucky Fried Chicken colonel, didn’t kickstart his career as a restaurateur until he was 62. Yes, 62!. After working as a fireman, selling insurance and taking up a job at a fire station, he finally saw the road ahead when he started serving his beloved chicken dishes. He originally traded his kitchen skills for free rent, but that didn’t stop the news of his chicken bonne bouche from spreading. Today, Sanders is a golden entrepreneur, having worked and grown to understand the business concept, alongside its models and leverage.
Can you compare the calibre of people Wally Amos knows to the acquaintances of an entrepreneur in his mid-20s? The more you stay professional in your desired field, the more contacts you will be able to develop. As you go on to make meaningful connections with people, you will have an extensive network of successful professionals.
For the fact that young entrepreneurs are emerging, they will struggle a lot in this regard. While you take your time to do homework and build a whole army of like-minded individuals, it won’t be hard for you to raise your first seed round. The young entrepreneur may have to go tooth and nail to meet the smallest investor, but when you become a professional before becoming an entrepreneur, there will be hardly anything getting in your way.
Do you know Khanyia Dhlomo? She worked for years at one of Africa’s largest news station and served as an editor for a beloved women’s magazine, after which she launched Ndalo Media in 2007. Because Dhlomo has made her strides in the media and carved her place right after people’s hearts as a women’s magazine editor, she already knew so much people that would make her hub for lifestyle publications on South African Airways a jumbo strike. Not only that, but Dhlomo also managed a business in France and attended Harvard’s MBA program – talk about going places and meeting people – until she became an entrepreneur after 40.
Having A Rethink
Startups have raised as much as USD 350 Mn and still failed. African SMEs have tried to go global and called it quits – and all these may have happened because they didn’t stop to think again about what they are doing. Yes, Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook when he was just 19, but, Charles Flint began IBM when he was 62.
Today, which of them would you tag as a more experienced entrepreneur? This goes to say that what you lack in youthful energy, you make up for in your years of experience. In fact, you make up so substantially that you will never for one moment feel like you are being relegated. You have a business idea, and so you want to just go on and launch a startup. It doesn’t always work like that. You need to take a chill pill and hum your favourite hymn with your eyes closed and body motionless.
Most of all, you need to ask questions and find knowledge. An African adage thus supports: “What an old man will sit and see, a young one will climb the tallest tree and still not find”. The possibility of that business idea leading to a thriving company all depends on the kind of thought you have given it and the kind of advice you get. Not all ideas can start a company, and not every idea thinker is an entrepreneur – it’s the ones with patience to find out that often win.
Age’s But A Number
Granted, with age, we all become less svelte and suave. But as an entrepreneur, no one cares if you look like a poorly cooked turnip or an over-oiled meal. It is the innovation that matters. You’ve had years to study coding, participated in hackathons, attended tech events, mastered programming, and developed apps and even software. Innovation is hardly the problem. Rather than paying someone to do the neat tricks for you, you will be able to handle it all by yourself.
Still, age is just a number. Jim Butenschoen left the IT industry at the age of 65, after 22 years in corporate sales and marketing to start a hair-design academy. Now here’s the twist – even after he decided that he’s had enough, he still spent another five years researching for the perfect business to buy. Jim of Springdale, Ark, finally settled for a beauty school in Arkansas. Another example; Michael Grottola started his consulting business when he was 65, and today has served more than 165 small businesses across 20 different industries.
Age is something you cannot control, but the remote control of your success is in your hands. Your attitude, and not age, will determine the choices you make. You go for an entrepreneurship conference and feel like the elephant in the room? Why not use your experience to your advantage? You have seen way more than these young guns can imagine, so that should mean you have more to offer. In business, it is never too late.
When you are in your twenties, there’s no arguing that you will try many different things, venture into a number of fields and try several business ideas. A lot of them may eventually fail – if not all. But when you start-up in your 30s or 40s, you are not that young blood looking to use the gung-ho approach anymore, are you? The trial-and-error period is way past, and you have the potential to break barrier entries and score big in sales. Ray Kroc sold milkshake mixers before he founded McDonald’s at the age of 52. Mary Kay Kash sold home décor items before she started Mary Kay at 45. Lynn Brooks didn’t start her free welcome visitor service until she was 59. So, no. Don’t let anyone ask you what you’re still waiting for. Oldies can still go big.