Does a Founder’s Age Matter? A University Student’s Perspective

When thinking whether or not to found a company, “to do a startup”, age can be one of the (many) concerns a new founder might have.

Some people say that starting earlier is better, while others have the completely opposite opinion (eg, Casey, our CEO, wants to see a lot more older founders!) So does the founder’s age matter when starting a new company? Or is it unrelated to whether or not you will be a great entrepreneur.

In my opinion, age doesn’t matter! (I’m not an entrepreneur yet :))

Why do some people say the younger you are when founding a company the better chance you will have to succeed? When I say younger here, I mean  between 10’s and 20’s. People in this generation are likely to be more active, reckless even, because they don’t have as many things tying them down as older people. They often don’t have a family yet that they have to protect, so even if they fail, it’s not going to affect mouths to feed, or stability of a family. Younger people should be able to be bolder, in a good way, able to challenge something difficult, to more naturally follow their ambition. On the other hand, older people in their 30’s [Editor’s note: this is not old! Just old from the eyes of a university student!] or above, often have their families already. What if they just bought a new family home or still have mortgage payments, or what if their children are teenagers, the age that costs so much money? The hurdles for taking risks will be much higher than people who do not have as many life commitments. But on the other hand the responsibility for their family can be a good motivation, a motivation for them to live more purely and honestly for themselves, which will make them better at home. Or to make more money so they can send their young kids to college.

Younger people are still at a stage in life where they are learning, and the people around them are aware of that. How do you feel when you see someone in 10’s or 20’s or 40’s make the same mistake? Many people probably will be more forgiving to younger people, because they learn by making mistakes, and still have a huge possibility to grow.  

Similarly, not having too much information or institutional knowledge can sometimes work better in startup. The lack of common knowledge, or fixed concept of what is “normal,” can lead to greater outbreaks in business as you are thinking differently to everyone else. This also allows the founders to have flexibility. Since they do not have a fixed way of doing things, they can adopt new ways very quickly. And we know fast adaptation is important for entrepreneurs, since speed is the biggest competitive advantage that startups have. 

While a lack of common industry practices can lead to new and unique ideas, it’s also true that experience can lead us to more insightful ideas for startup. For example, many people find the ideas for their startup while they are working at a company from the problems people have there or complaints they hear. Whereas a college student will likely only be able to solve problems that college students have; they don’t have enough experience to really know the problems that company’s have. In this case, older people with deeper industry knowledge and work experience may be more advantaged than younger founders. 

Being a young founder does not mean it is always good. There are difficulties.  For instance, young people likely do not have as much credibility as older people. Some people may question the quality of younger people’s products because they are painting their bias of age and experience on to the quality of the product. Many business people think that experience is everything, and young people don’t have enough. This judgmental view still exists. Especially in Japan. Younger entrepreneurs will likely have to work harder, and struggle more to gain credibility. Even other older entrepreneurs may not treat them equally. According to the investigation done by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, only about 12% of the entrepreneurs in japan are under 29 [Editor’s note: this number is likely across all industries, within tech the % is much higher, at least anecdotally]. 

The other hurdle that young entrepreneurs face is that they do not have as large a network of people who can support them financially, and in other ways, as older people. I cannot say “generally,” but many older people already have a large network that they have established throughout their career. They can probably rely on a good amount of support from people who trust them, and their work. However, younger entrepreneurs have to start creating their network while they are creating their startup.

Coming back to the central question, does the age of a founder matter?

Both younger and older entrepreneurs have difficulties, both have advantages. The conclusion from my university age eyes is that age doesn’t matter in the success of an entrepreneur. Their isn’t a direct causal connection.

One of the founders of Intel Corporation, Gordon E. Moore, was 39 years old when he founded the company. Steve Jobs was 25 years old. Takafumi Horie, founder of Livedoor, was 27 years old when he founded his company. Son-san was young too!

There are great new founders from every generation. The most important thing is to be able to understand your competitive advantage, and utilize it effectively. 

If you’re thinking of founding your company, and thoughts about your age are holding you back, then don’t hesitate! You are not too young or old. Get stuck in!

By Mao Kameyama

References 
SUI@起業ギーク. “【最新版】あなたはどれ? 起業の年齢別「強みと弱み」.” ALTEA MEDIA. May 15, 2018. Accessed August 6, 2019. https://altea.in/blog/2018/05/15/age/.

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