Credit: Sean O’Neill

How Old Is “Too Old” to Be an Entrepreneur?

Philip Dhingra

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It’s been interesting working at Capital Factory, my new co-working space. Everyone seems like they’re 27. It’s the center of the startup scene in Austin, and since startups are the stereotypical employer for Millenials, it’s been a great place to people-watch and form opinions about the zeitgeist. Sometimes daydreaming gets me into trouble, though. If I spend too much time thinking about age, I start to lament that I’m no longer 27. (I’m 35.) One time, on one of the regular tours at Captial Factory, I overheard a woman in her 40s tell someone, “I’m too old for this.” The comment struck a chord with me. When I see older people working in the space, I sometimes have an unwanted, judgmental thought: “What are you still doing here?” But is this thought about them or is it about me?

I think this ill-feeling comes from a classic misunderstanding between surface and substance when it comes to entrepreneurship. I sense that the average age for an entrepreneur to get their first “hit” is 35. Here we define a hit as having a year where you independently create wealth that could have replaced a year of earning a middle-class salary, or $75,000-$100,000 depending on where you live and your benchmark. If you run a food truck, this would be the equivalent of having lines out the wazoo for a year. If you’re an iOS app developer, this would be having a bunch of people purchase your app. Note: I exclude consultants from the definition of “entrepreneur” unless you have a staff.

I also imagine that the average age for an entrepreneur to have a sustainable success is 45. This is the kind of success where you can lean back and still have your business produce a replacement salary for multiple years. Going with the food truck example, this would be the equivalent of expanding into storefronts and building a local chain. Going with the iOS example, this would be the equivalent of either having evergreen apps that people keep buying or having a studio with a track record of delivering hits. A third example would be that you didn’t just score a hit, but rather a “home run,” where you build something and sell it for f-u money to some company. i.e., You become “made” as an entrepreneur.

The people who are in either camp are few at Capital Factory. The ones who’ve had their first hit tend to be older. And the ones who’ve had home runs are typically the mentors that have office hours in a designated area. That’s it. Everybody, for the most part, is still trying to make it, no matter what their age. It’s easy to meet a startup founder and think, “This person could be the next Zuckerberg.” Startup founders have lots of passion and excel at selling themselves. If you were to take a tour, it would be easy to survey a room of young, beaming founders and think, “How the hell are all these 27-year-olds kicking so much ass!” They’re not. They’re all forgoing salaries for a chance at more money later. Maybe risk-taking is only age-appropriate for twentysomethings. But if you’re a grown-up who’s bored at work and whose kids just left for college, I don’t see why you wouldn’t have as much angst as a Millenial to start something on your own.

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Philip Dhingra

Author of Dear Hannah, a cautionary tale about self-improvement. Learn more: philipkd.com