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Can You Be an Older Tech Entrepreneur?

There is a persistent belief about Silicon Valley that most technology entrepreneurs skew young. In fact, as a recent Forbes pointed out, the average age of a founder funded by seed venture capital firm Y-Combinator is just 26. Combine that fact with influential articles comparing successful technology business founders to successful athletes, who go downhill in ability from the age of 25 on, and it’s easy to see why this belief is so prevalent.

Successful entrepreneurs are in their 30s or older.

More Experience = More Success

But in fact, successful tech entrepreneurs are often older than the Y-Combinator data might imply. A survey of 500 company founders of high growth firms indicated that successful founders were an average of 40 years old. They had up to a decade of experience in their industry. Even more compellingly, twice as many of the successful founders were over 50 as were under 25 years old.

Still think that tech business strategy has to be the province of young digital natives? Well, a study of U.S.-based tech software startups indicated that the most successful founders were in their 30s, not their 20s. Not only that, but they had worked previously with co-founders, and thus did not become solo entrepreneurs. The average age was 34.

The reason is relatively simple. More experience can give would-be entrepreneurs a solid idea for a business. People with a background in a particular sector may see, during their first decade of employment, a need for a particular product or service, and make that their innovative idea.

Older people are often better at leading teams and providing management skill.

Older People Are More Likely to Have the Factors Needed for Success

Plus, of course, there are many factors that contribute to success. Successful entrepreneurs need a viable idea, of course, but they also need to be able to execute the idea. That often means expanding and hiring the right team of people, tasks that can be complex and difficult to do. People with decades of experience might be much better at identifying key needs and managing teams of people.

They also need either deep pockets or successful funding until the business is in the black. An older entrepreneur may have deeper pockets or more access to funding, and is highly likely to have a larger, stronger network of advice. In fact, one over-65 tech entrepreneur, Charles Morgan, put a great deal of money into a company he founded after his retirement, First Orion. As he points out in a discussion with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, tech companies often need to fork – to establish new ways to sell their products. First Orion’s products ended up being sold to telecom companies, which was not the initial plan.

Finally, many observers feel that the next hotbed of tech disruption will be in the older fields of manufacturing rather than in tech itself. Long-established and less trendy sectors are ripe for disruption, without a huge number of competitors.

So the final answer is yes, you can be an older tech entrepreneur. In fact, you are likely to be more successful if you have the savvy, networks, and managerial know-how that comes from experience than a younger person without any of these qualities would.