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Why Arguing about an Entrepreneur’s age misses the point



Last week, Brock Blake made the case for why 20-somethings are the most successful entrepreneurs. He makes a valid argument describing several age-related factors that influence entrepreneurial behavior. Yet, he overlooks relevant research on the topic.

In 2009, Kauffman published a report by a team of researchers who surveyed 549 company founders of successful businesses in high-growth industries, including aerospace, defense, computing, electronics, and health care. I’ve excerpted some of their findings:

  • The average age of company founders when they started their current companies was 40 (previous research found the average age of tech company founders to be 39)
  • Majority of respondents (75%) had worked as employees at other companies for more than six years before launching their own companies
  • Nearly half (48%) launched their first companies with 10+ years of work experience


The data suggest that founders span a wide age-range, although I’d be interested in stratifying the research based on financial returns. For example, does the age of founders skew younger among companies that are astronomically successful?

Revisiting the respondents in a few years as part of a longitudinal study could ultimately support Brock’s thesis.

But by focusing on the age of successful entrepreneurs, we miss an important point about human nature: we tend to gravitate to one of two creative methods.

A research examining the work of famous artists identified two distinct approaches.

First is the conceptual innovator. Generally, he conceives his ideas in their entirety before beginning production. The process is complete when the execution resembles the initial idea. They boldly break away from accepted standards, but after their early breakthroughs, tend to fade away, or at least their later work never attains the height of their early success.

Take Picasso. He completed his most important work — and the biggest innovation since the early Renaissance — by the age of 26. He lived to be 91, but his later work never eclipsed the importance of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, which Newsweek named the most influential work of art of the last 100 years.


Experimental innovators create in a different manner. It takes time for them to hone their craft. They return to familiar ideas, trying to perfect them. While conceptual innovators are more deductive in their approach, experimental innovators are inductive and use their observational powers to infer and concoct hypothesize.

They use trial-and-error, and it’s this process, not the final product, that fascinates them the most.

They devote their life to learning, seeking answers to their unsolved questions. In our society, we tend to glorify young prodigies at the expense of late bloomers.

As it turns out, Galenson has published a preliminary paper applying his universal theory of creative lifecycles to scientists and entrepreneurs. He profiles Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Muhammad Yunus, and Steve Jobs, and in his analysis finds that experimental scientists and entrepreneurs resemble their artistic counterparts, who immerse themselves in their subjects of interest in search of answers.

Janet Rowley’s discovery of the genetic basis for cancer made today’s treatments for leukemia possible. But Rowley’s careful observation wouldn’t be funded today. Current policies support conceptual, not experimental, creativity.

Imagine our world without the contributions of experimental innovators like Rowley. Here’s a list to consider:

  • Auguste Rodin (sculptor)
  • Jackson Pollock (painter)
  • Mark Twain (novelist)
  • Alfred Hitchcock (filmmaker)
  • Abraham Lincoln (politician)
  • Muhammad Yunus (social entrepreneur)
  • Charles Darwin (scientist)


Examples of middle age success abound. Martha Stewart hit it big in her forties. Dietrich Mateschitz founded Red Bull at age 43. Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce were respectively 39 and 41 when they founded Intel. Even Jeff Bezos worked at several Wall Street firms before launching Amazon when he was 30.

It’s possible that industry dynamics favor one approach over another. Perhaps consumer web startups are well suited for young prodigies.

Let’s encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to discover the style that works for them.

Make your unique contribution to the world and forget what works for someone else.

 Let’s share our learning’s folks


About the author: K S Ahluwalia

KSA has over 30+ years of business experience across sales, operations, logistic and retail, publishing, consulting and management roles. Experienced in organization development consultant with primary expertise in leadership assessment, skills enhancement and performance management.

Has a unique ability to partner with senior leadership, adapt well to change, and collaborate with people throughout an organization allows to build productive relationships and solutions that have had a positive impact on the bottom line for numerous corporations.

D 138 sector 36, Noida. 210303. India.

Cell 91-98188 12102

Email ks.ahluwalia@yahoo.com



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