Thursday, March 1, 2012

Young entrepreneurs - or not.

Media, as well as a lot of politically correct people, seem to believe that
- entrepreneurship is specially appropriate for young people to enter business life
- young people are the drivers of entrepreneuship,
so public policies should target young people as entrepreneurs. Previous cases like Microsoft, Apple, Google and now Facebook are usual mandatory cases presented as "proof".

But we know both ideas are plainly wrong, considering the strong empirical evidence available. Aged professionals have much better chances of success than inexperienced young people. Young age may be the worst time do it: no experience, no network, no financial resources and no credit or credibility, often no mentoring at all. Yes, young people can have a lot of energy and drive, and to work long hard hours, may be no family and children to worry with. But often it can be a disastrous or less successful experience - although also a good opportunity for hard learning about business life.
A recent post in Schumpeter blog in The Economist (25 february 2012) makes good reading about these points:
  • The rise of the infant entrepreneur is producing a rash of ageism, particularly among venture capitalists. Why finance a 40-year-old (with a family and mortgage) when you can back a 20-year-old who will work around the clock for peanuts and might be the next Mr Zuckerberg?
  • Research suggests that age may in fact be an advantage for entrepreneurs There were twice as many successful founders over 50 as under 25, and twice as many over 60 as under 20. ...
  • the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity (is) among people aged between 55 and 64—and the lowest rate (is) among the Google generation of 20- to 34-year-olds.
  • Experience continues to count for a great deal, in business as in other walks of life
  • It is one thing to invent a clever new product but quite another to hire employees or build a sales machine. 
  • Experience may be nothing if it is not linked to mould-breaking creativity. But there are plenty of older people who are capable of breaking moulds.
My personal advise for young people considering to become entrepreneur:
- first of all, make sure you understand the financial risks: not making a salary is not a big problem, but loosing the money lend by your family, friends or by banks can easily destroy your next decades of personal and business life (as well as destroy a lot of friendships). Remember: knowledge and hard work are important, but do not guarantee business success. Venture capital is much safer - but also much difficult to find in Portugal and Europe.
- second, try to learn business with others (mentoring, coaching,...), while maturing and improving your business ideas, before you adventure yourself alone.
Should public policies for entrepreneurship target young people first of all? I do not think so.
Aged gray people (yes, even after the 60's) may well be the next wave in entrepreneurship.

(Italics my responsability. Sources of research in the original post)


  1. Some examples of young entrepreneurs are Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg or Yuri Mintskovsky. They were passionate about their business, they worked hard and eventually they succeeded in their business and life. I really admire them!

  2. Yes. I agree. But be very careful before you consider yourself to have conditions to emulate them ... For non-non.normal people like must of us, they can be inspiring, but not a reasonable role model. Remember mortality of start ups, specially young people start ups: we rarely hear about the dead ones ...
    I am not suggesting young people should not give a chance to launch a start up, but, in general, first make your home work and learn with your errors (paid by others ...) and build your network and business model. Technology start ups are not a technical issue: they are a SOCIAL game.