Why Start-ups Need Grown-ups

We are living in exciting times where nearly 137,000 new start-up ventures are launched each day around the world.*  The U.S. certainly gets its fair share of the entrepreneurial pie. Among other factors, there have been debates over the right age to venture out into the start-up world and the specific markers or criteria for success. With 90% of start-ups expected to fail, are their any common denominators that fuel the 10% that make it?

A study funded by the Kauffman Foundation among 500 high growth founders, discovered that the typical successful founder was 40 years old and twice as many successful entrepreneurs are more than 50 as under 25.  So is the age of the founder a factor that can predict a successful start-up?  Likely not.


The characteristics of successful start-ups run the gamut from solid engineering breakthroughs and product ideas to market timing and the strength and vision of the CEO.  In the end, I continue to witness how strength in leadership seems to trump ideas.  This is partly due to the importance of insight, focus and a general driving passion for the work at hand.  An absolutely essential element of success is having the ‘fire in one’s belly’ and being a convincing storyteller to attract investors, team members and users in whatever form they may appear.


Today’s 20-year old digital natives are not only proficient at consuming new technologies but also unfettered by old ways of thinking.  They may have little more experience than using their mobile apps and pursuing their digital hobbies versus running and scaling a business than their experienced counterparts.


Experienced leaders tend to have deeper networks, greater experience managing teams, and better business related skills for delivering on their vision.  This may be a sufficient reason to believe that it generally takes some support from a grown-up to scale a start-up.  At least this has been my experience.


While some entrepreneurs may ensure they have board members and advisors from the grown-up ranks identified early on to serve as mentors and investors, other founders bring in seasoned members of their team during the formative stages to ensure some balance in the leadership mix.  And let us not forget the importance of women in the mix (which is a post for another time).


But in the end, while age is certainly no formula for success in any regard, there seems to be a case for having grown-ups involved in start-ups to bring perspective that only years of experience can ensure.


* Source: Dr. Paul D. Reynolds, Director, Research Institute, Global Entrepreneurship Center