It drives me a little bit crazy. Ever since Mark Zuckerberg knocked it out of the park with Facebook, you know, like “Hi. I’m 18 and I’m a billionaire” type of home run, it seems all that media covers is the new teenage, college dropout who is crushing it with the newest Web portal, iPhone app or electric car.
Now don't get me wrong, these teen guys and gals are impressive. I applaud them. I really do. But what about us old farts? I put myself in that category now that I am officially (barely) in my 40s. It seems that if you are in your 40s—or God forbid—50s, 60s, or 70s, that you are ignored by the media. Truth be told, maybe us older entrepreneurs don't seek media attention as much.
But the media morphs our perception. With all the media attention on young people, it seems that success is not just contingent on ability but on age, too. The media spin is far from the truth. In fact, with age come some significant advantages. This is why the “old” guys rule (By the way, I am from New Jersey and “guys” means both men and women. It’s a Jersey thing.):
1. Personal network. Older entrepreneurs almost always have a much broader and deeper network of contacts than do their younger contemporaries, thanks to years and years of building friendships.
2. Influential friends. Take the 50 closest friends of a college student, and take the 50 closest friends of a 60-year-old. Which one do you think has more friends who are wealthy, and/or have political influence and are leaders at their places of work. Yep, the 60-year-old wins by a long shot. Influential connections are very important. After all, it's all about who you know.
3. Experience. Wisdom. Bumps and bruises. School of hard knocks. Call it what you want, entrepreneurs who have been around the block more than a few times make smarter decisions. The old entrepreneur wins!
4. Controlled personal expenses. Generally someone in his 50s or 60s isn't having children (then again, nowadays you never know). That means all those associated expenses of new babies—like a bigger house, pending college tuition, you name it—are likely to be leveled off or fading away. On the other hand, the young entrepreneur often needs to raise a business while simultaneously raising a family. That can be a big drain on cash.
5. Giveback mode. It may not seem like an advantage at face value, but older entrepreneurs are typically more community driven. Many grow out of the need to simply “get rich quick” and shift to a mode of “getting rich right.” This means their goal is to accumulate wealth for themselves and their community. This natural tendency puts the older entrepreneur in more win-win situations, and that is very good for long-term business.
6. Better work force. Older entrepreneurs can not only pull from their larger personal network, but they also have the advantage of watching other people's work ethics from afar. They can potentially watch the tendencies of others over years or even decades, and then cherry pick the best employees to surround themselves with. What a beneficial skill!
7. One last shot. When you have one last shot at something, you take more care to get it right. Now I'm not saying that every older entrepreneur gets this, but many understand that this is their final shot at making their business into not only a financial win, but also a legacy. This brings commitment and confidence naturally to the older entrepreneur. The young entrepreneur knows deep down inside if they mess it up, they will still get a second shot.
The final lesson? One of my “old” entrepreneur friends told me a few years back, “Entrepreneurs spend their first 40 years trying to get into the media, and the next forty years trying to stay out.” Those old entrepreneurs sure are wise.
Michael Michalowicz is the author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur and has built three multi-million companies over the past 15 years. He writes a weekly column for OPEN Forum.