Why age in entrepreneurship is just a number

Henry Ford established Ford Motors at the age of 40 while Harland David Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, sold his first franchise in his sixties

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While spending time with an elderly aunt 50 years my senior, she asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was dumbfounded by the question as I thought I was well ahead in my life not to be asked such a question. I hadn’t been asked anything similar since I was a teenager.

I explained I’m doing what I want. My aunt laughed and said there’s room to do other things and explore other options. “You only live once, and when you reach my age, you want to leave no room for regrets,” she said.

Past her retirement age, my aunt expressed an interest to work in a bank and take some flying lessons if it were possible. Her zest for life is admirable and left me asking why many of us do not think along the same lines.

A case in point is a friend who recently turned 25 and was concerned she had not achieved half of what she and her family wanted. She was in-between jobs, had yet to launch a successful start-up, and had no marriage prospects in the horizon. Concerned about what she considered shortcomings, she said there was no time left for her to be in a so called “30 under 30” list, akin to the list of entrepreneurs released by Forbes.

But my friend isn’t the only one who feels that way. Young achievers are glamourised by the media. Lists such as “40 under 40” and “30 under 30” though motivating, can make some feel as underachievers and deter aspiring entrepreneurs from starting a venture.

While entrepreneurs such as Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Microsoft’s Bill Gates, have achieved tremendous success in their early 20s, there are so many entrepreneurs who peaked later in life and we need to remember that.

Henry Ford, for instance, established Ford Motors at the age of 40. Harland David Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, sold his first franchise in his sixties.

Age can be an advantage when it comes to entrepreneurial success. Middle-aged entrepreneurs in the US are more successful than their younger peers, according to a report by the US National Bureau of Economic Research. Entrepreneurs under the age of 25 tend to perform poorly in general, while the success rate jumps after the age of 35, and again after the age of 46, according to the study. Industry experience, as well as financial security tend to be important factors behind their success.

The conversation with my aunt opened my eyes to new possibilities. Like many of my generation, I believed career paths in some ways are set early on and finalised in people’s twenties. During my time at university, I struggled with trying to figure out my future and ensuring my decisions would sustain me in the long run.

What I realise now it is that though I am blessed to be doing something I love, that should not stop me from exploring my options, and there’s nothing wrong with changing course during one’s career.

Midway through her successful career in the finance industry, a friend discovered her true passion was helping others. She took a break from her job and pursued a degree in psychology. Fast-forward and she has established an organisation that advocates mental wellbeing and helps individuals through a variety of services.

At a time, where we are pushed to be successful before we reach 30, we need to remind ourselves that everyone peaks at a different age. We shouldn’t compare our journey to others and luckily in entrepreneurship, age is just a number.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi.