Why you don't need to be young to be an entrepreneur

Photo: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for Westfield.

Wine gets better with age, but what about entrepreneurs?

All the media hoopla around young entrepreneurs working insane hours, sleeping under desks, and sacrificing relationships and personal hygiene for success is a well-loved cliché, and one that isn’t hugely attractive for those with established relationships and responsibilities. But does that matter? Is there really an age where starting a business is no longer viable?

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think so.

Evan Williams was 35 when he started Twitter and 40 when he started Medium. Mark Pincus of Zynga fame was 41 when he kicked it off, and Arianna Huffington was 54 when she started The Huffington Post. These are not fresh-faced millennials — these are people who have lived, and, more importantly, learned.

My co-founders James Moody, Sean Geoghegan and I have had our own journeys through high-performing organisations, with each of us bringing smarts and wisdom to the table. We’ve all given up big gigs to gain our autonomy and become the architects of our futures, and we’re doing it with family commitments and eight kids in tow.

In a nutshell: the experience gained from experience is enormous, and one that funnily enough, often comes with age.

Here are ways that experience can give you a competitive edge.

Being self aware

The more experience you have, the more you get to know yourself — including all your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing what you’re good at and where you need help is vital, because arrogance and ego are a bad combination and won’t get you far. It is much better to have the maturity to be humble, open-minded and empathetic.

Having a purpose that matters

Knowing yourself is also vital for understanding why you’re starting a business and commits you to solving a real problem. Your purpose is a source of energy for the long and challenging road ahead. If you don’t truly know why you’re doing it, you’re bound to run out of fuel.

Plus, starting a business to make money is always a bad idea. I would argue that more experienced entrepreneurs feel less of an urge to chase this particular pipe dream.

Finding the right fit

Product/market fit is the only thing that turns a wacky idea into a great business. The problem is, many founders (particularly inexperienced ones) often over-value their IP and try to bend the world to their will. There’s a huge difference between ideas that change the world and ideas that need the world to change in order to work.

Being able to work with great people

When I was in my early 20s, a very successful female entrepreneur told me to always work with the best people I could find. To this day, it’s the best advice I’ve ever received.

The idea that founders have to be the smartest people in the room will stifle growth. Surrounding yourself with people that are better than you can be intimidating, but it’s also a necessary learning path.

Today, too many startups and teams are homogeneous and find it hard to challenge each other’s assumptions. At Sendle, we use five filters for selecting the people we work with. We call them the 5 Hs — Humble, Honest, Happy, Hungry and High-achieving.

You’re already a master of the subtleties of business

Soft skills, like the abilities to develop empathy, compassion and healthy relationships are refined over time. There’s nothing like wisdom to give you the insight and tools you need to create a business that customers will thank you for and clever people will want to help you with.

Our culture celebrates youth and fixates on the shiny and new. But here’s the thing: being young and successful have little to do with each other except that more young people are prepared to back themselves and have a go.

Craig Davis is the Co-Founder and CMO at Sendle.

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