Motivation

Better late than never: Begin your startup career at 40 (and above) years.

This special article is written by Mister.in’s co-founder Gaurav Gupta, who began his entrepreneurial career at the age of 40. Today Gaurav Gupta isn’t sulking about starting his entrepreneurial career so late. On the contrary, Gupta is immensely proud about following his dream at an age when most people are battling with mid-life crises.        

Mister.in is India’s first direct-to-customer men’s health and wellness brand. Last year, the startup raised INR 3.5 crore in a series B round.         

“The answer to the ultimate question of life, of universe and everything is 42” is a memorable line from Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Since this legendary book was first published in 1979, readers and tech geeks have been trying to figure out the significance of 42.

Type “what is the significance of 42” on Google, and you will get more than 236 million answers! But the first two pages of Google results shows that most of the answers are in the domain of trivia, conspiracy theories, and some bit of math. Surprisingly, no one appears to be looking at 42 (or any number above 40) using life’s lens.

Mister.in’s co-founder Gaurav Gupta

We love to look at life in terms of decades and feel a tad sad when we enter a new decade. “Oh no! I have entered my 30s”, “You have entered 40s; You are officially retro now” are some of the not-so-welcome jibes we get when we reach these age-related milestones.

In 2016, at the doorstep of entering my 40s, I plunged into the world of entrepreneurship with my bite-sized learning venture. Then in January 2019, I went back to a full-time job because my venture generated a lot of engagement but very little revenue. By Oct 2019, I was back into entrepreneurship, having co-founded misters.in

The quintessential start-up founder is in his or her 20s, freshly minted (or dropped out) from college. They have no liabilities, no family pressure, probably no loans…free bird as they say. High on life and energy, they have nothing much to lose, except a few years in the corporate world, and probably a decent bank balance.

However, at 40+, there’s a career to worry about, there’s an angst-ridden teenage kid, parents who are leaning on you more and more, and a few EMIs. You need to be out of your mind to leave your job and invest yourself in a start-up, right? And twice over? Absolutely crazy!

But here I am, 40+ age, and a co-founder at Misters.in, a male health and wellness company, or as we describe ourselves on our Linkedin page, we are a men’s confidence company. In fact, all three founders at misters.in are in their 40s.

So are we different in that we have embraced entrepreneurship in our 40s? Does it make sense to begin your entrepreneurship in your 40s? In research quoted in the Harvard Business Review, the conclusion was that the average age of a successful startup founder is 45. The researchers cite in the HBR write-up that their detailed analysis of US-based companies shows that when you look at more successful firms, the average founder age goes up, not down. 30% of the total startups included in this research had founders in the age band of 40-49. More importantly, more than 30% of the cohort of top 1% fastest growing startups were founded by entrepreneurs in the age band of 40-49.

Does this mean that plunging into entrepreneurship has higher chances of success if the founder(s) are 40+ in age? Why might this be?

The HBR article mentions that work experience plays a critical role in the success of firms or start-ups with middle-aged founders. What is “work experience”? This is not the oft-quoted “more than 15 years of demonstrable experience in so and so” in resumes. In fact, the number of years is the wrong filter to define work experience. Instead, work experience is about acquiring life-skills and execution ability. Life skills like networking, working in teams, and managing expectations are skills that are acquired with “work experience”, and not via lectures in classrooms. The other factor that favours advancing age founders is execution ability- the raw and dreary ability to convert ideas into action…project by project, day after day.

The same research paper quoted in HBR goes on to conclude that skills critical for being successful in entrepreneurship are accumulative. The ability to manage human capital, emotions, networking to build financial capital are honed because you have spent years acquiring these skills at work.

The good news, then, is that 40 is probably the best age to plunge into entrepreneurship. Your chances of success are far higher. But wait, was Bill Gates 40 when he started Microsoft? Was Steve Jobs 40 when he kickstarted Apple? Surely not. But what is often overlooked is that both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs reached the pinnacle of their success in their late 30s onwards. The iPhone was launched when Jobs was 52.

So it will not be wrong to say that in entrepreneurship, you are better placed to succeed when you begin in your 40s.

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