We all enjoy the stories of students dropping out of Stanford and creating the latest billion-dollar startup. The media promotes these rare stories which cause the endorphins and serotonin to flow through us capitalists, just as American Idol makes every former glee club member dream of the recording contract. To make these stories even more fantastic, we have labeled the billion-dollar startups unicorns!
Yet, the truth is the great percentage of dropouts remain just that, dropouts, while the successful entrepreneurs are more often the seasoned worker in their 40's, 50's, and even 60's and beyond. So, what's stopping you? This week I want you to dust off that great idea, stop moaning about what could have been, and seriously consider chasing your unicorn, or leprechaun, or that creepy gnome that runs around your backyard.
Only 4% of U.S. workers start their own company, so your field is wide open. The Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that Americans who are 35 or older are 50% more likely than their younger counterparts to start a business this year. The Kauffman Foundation released a study in 2009 which showed the average entrepreneur was 39.
Carl Shramm, a professor at Syracuse University, authored the book, "Burn the Business Plan," in which he tells the stories of seasoned entrepreneurs. For example, Gary Burrell and Min Kao worked together on satellite geo-positioning at Allied Signal before taking the leap to found Garmin (Gary & Min) at ages 52 and 40. Seasoned entrepreneurs will more likely have a little savings cushion, be free from student debt, and have a working spouse with health insurance. Mr. Schramm says that "local business incubators should be restyled from hip communal working spaces for young people to office arrangements more suited to midcareer entrepreneurs." Percolator Space is one adapting co-working space in downtown Norfolk, Virginia. Percolator - Coworking in downtown Norfolk, Virginia (percolatorspace.com)
This week I want to motivate our midcareer readers to take a chance. We all have heard that on our death beds we only regret the things we DID NOT do. C'mon man, everyone knows that 50 is the new 30! Medical researchers continue to produce study after study which prove we can proactively control our physical and mental ages by 10 and even up to 20 years, depending on our behavior and viewpoint. George and Amal Clooney are right now running after those small twins while you read this!
Before starting our own investment company, I sat out on the porch many a night with a Glenlivet and the golden retriever contemplating the opportunity. I was scared to death of messing up what was an already fortunate financial situation, and I had compiled a long list of reasons not to make the leap (fear excuses). Yet, even with our recent tremendous challenges, I still believe it was the best career decision I ever made. Normally the scariest ones are the right ones.
Our investment firm helped over 3,000 clients, created 100 high-paying jobs, and served an innumerable number of charities and communities. We then funded my lifelong friend, Dave's, startup company which allowed him to serve more clients, create more jobs, and serve his own community, along with providing a strong rate of return back to our clients. But I had to take that scary first step. We must lean into our fears. I love the U.S. Marines commercial, "Which way would you run?"
The columnist Amanda Foreman recently turned 50 and reminded us that so many great leaders got a later start on realizing their dreams. She refers to the power of reinvention and tells the story of the disabled Roman Emperor Claudius who spent most of his life victimized by his awful family. Yet when Caligula was done in by the Praetorian Guards, he grabbed his chance at age 50 and converted his bumbling persona into one of Rome's most forceful and innovative rulers. We all know the story of Winston Churchill's failed political life until, in his mid-60's, he seized the opportunity to save the world for democracy and freedom!
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) 20-Minute Manager Series stresses investors want more mature and experienced leaders for business startups, especially entrepreneurs with a few failures and mishaps in their history. These Harvard advisors claim "investors and other backers want to see a team that has a history of overcoming conflicts and external problems." HBR states the seasoned entrepreneurs "are capable of recognizing risks and responding to problems that arise." When evaluating business plans and management teams, they ask, "How much experience do they have?...Who are their contacts in their target or related industries? (and)...What have they accomplished?"
Dropping out of Stanford stories sound cool, but the smart money continues to bet on the midcareer entrepreneur. The time is now. Take the step. Regardless of the outcome, you won't regret your decision.
"I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul." - William Ernest Henley.