Recently the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) and AARP announced they are teaming up to train entrepreneurs over the age of 50 who want to start a business. This got me thinking about the youth vs. old guy experience debate and how, after twenty years in entrepreneurship, my view on business, money and worth has changed. Old entrepreneurs are in fact the winners.
When I was a young upstart, I worked toward one goal: to become wealthy. It was as if I had a little ticker tape running through my brain that repeated, “make money, get rich; make money, get rich; make money, get rich” over and over again.
I started my first business when most people are just wrapping up their glory days in college, and to say I was driven would be, in retrospect, an understatement. Convinced that achieving wealth was the key to happiness, I pushed on like Freddy Krueger was after me.
A New Perception of Wealth
When I started making “real money” I developed an arrogant persona (ironically becoming the catalyst for my own neophyte immutable laws), subscribing to the belief that money makes the man. I spent money on things I didn’t need—sports cars, a country club membership I never used, a personal chef—to show, to prove that I had money. (My friend Tommy calls this a “f—k around f—k.” And if that means something else on Urban Dictionary —which I wouldn’t know, because I’m an old fart—trust me, it’s not the good kind.)
Okay, so I’m still a couple of decades away from “old fart” status (I’m in my early 40s), but the benefit of age is that I have a new understanding of what money is and why we need it. The key to happiness is not to have more money (surprise), but to use money to fuel your passion and help you become more of who you really are. Disclaimer: This is the “now” me speaking. When I am sixty, a new discovery may be revealed…. like Viagra.
Whoever you are today, money will only amplify that. When I first hit it big in my early 30s, the money amplified my arrogance and my misunderstanding about the purpose of money. Look at lottery winners. How many times have we heard stories about people who won millions and then lost it—or ended up divorced, or were estranged from family
members, or committed suicide? Money amplifies who you are in that moment. It does not make you better; it makes you more. More of the good, or the bad, or the ugly.
On the flip side we have the example of Mother Teresa. She was one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time, and controlled billions of dollars. Her “wealth” only amplified who she was – her heart, her soul, her mission.
Us old(er) guys? We get it. We’ve been around long enough to understand that it’s not about making money; it’s about making an impact on society. On our community. On our
family. On ourselves.
Old Entrepreneurs Rule
(For the record, when I use the term “guys,” I’m including both men and women. Why? Because I’m from Jersey. That’s why. You gotta problem wit dat?)
I wrote an article for American Express Open Forum outlining the 7 Advantages of an Old Entrepreneur. Here is a brief summary of the reasons why old entrepreneur guys rule:
- A broad and deep personal network of contacts.
- A whole heap of influential friends who can get stuff done.
- Experience. Enough said.
- Controlled personal expenses. Most older entrepreneurs are not growing a family while they grow a business, so they have fewer commitments and more cash.
- A real understanding of impact vs. money (see above).
- A better work force.
- A “one last shot” spirit, which emboldens them and inspires them to get it right so they can leave a legacy.
It’s not just (getting) older me who believes old fogies got it goin’ on. In the article ”The Case for Old Entrepreneurs”, Stanford professor and Washington Post columnist Vivek Wadhwa shared a 2008 study researching the backgrounds of nearly 700 U.S. – born CEOs and heads of product development at successful companies, and learned that the average age of successful founders was 39. (Can I get a whoop-whoop?)
I encourage you to read the entire article, but especially this excerpt:
Do people stop being creative as they reach middle age? Ben Franklin certainly didn’t. He invented the lightning rod when he was 44. He discovered electricity at 46. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence at 70, and he invented bifocals after that. Henry Ford introduced the Model T when he was 45. Sam Walton built Walmart in his mid-40s. Ray Kroc built McDonald’s in his early 50s. Some of the most creative people of the century were also not young. Ray Kurzweil published The Singularity Is Near in his 50s; Alfred Hitchcock directed Vertigo when he was 59; Frank Lloyd Wright built his architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater, when he was 68. And let’s not forget the greatest innovator of recent times: Steve Jobs. His most significant innovations—iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad—came after he was 45.
In summary, older entrepreneurs do it better and not just because they have the stuff only age can provide: more and better contacts, more experience, healthier finances, etc. Older entrepreneurs do it better because they understand that it ain’t about the money, it’s about the impact.
So if you’re an older entrepreneur looking to start a new business, jump in. Turns out, you’re in a prime position to make it happen, old guy.