The average age of a successful startup founder isn’t what you think

Adele Barlow
3 min readOct 26, 2020

I recently watched the first episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Kendall and Kylie didn’t even wear makeup, Scott looked 14, smartphones weren’t a thing. It felt like an ancient record of people who have now morphed into completely different beings.

Then I watched the most recent episode. Kim turned 40. And that made me like time was passing by way quicker than I’d expected.

It’s easy to feel in your mid-thirties that life is past the opening act, especially when Bieber was discovered at 13; Zuck was 19 when he started Facebook; Kim was 27 when KUTWK first aired.

What most people don’t know about is this Harvard Business Review study about the average age of successful startup founders.

You might assume that the stereotypical successful founder is someone in their twenties fresh form completing (or dropping out of) their degree.

And yet, the average age of successful founders is 45 years old.

To be precise: “Among the top 0.1% of startups based on growth in their first five years, we find that the founders started their companies, on average, when they were 45 years old… Overall, the empirical evidence shows that successful entrepreneurs tend to be middle-aged, not young.”

It makes sense. Your twenties are often spent establishing your career; your thirties building a family. In your forties, you’ve had decades of work experience and professional networks, found your partner, bought your house, had kids if you wanted them, and are generally financially established.

Maybe because a lot of the searching has been completed and a lot of foundations are stable, it’s the perfect time to invite adventure into your professional life.

At least that’s what I’ve seen. Obviously, everyone’s path is different.

But I’ve noticed that starting a new successful chapter in your forties can also extend beyond the entrepreneurial realm.

At Makers, we see a lot of career changers. It reminds me that even when an entire professional chapter is over, it might just be the foundation for whatever you go on to do next.

Kate Morris is a single mother-of-four and successful kitchen designer of 18 years. She decided to return to tech — yet her online applications were met with delayed generic rejections. She got accepted to the Makers course and then accepted a job with Deloitte and works there as a software developer.

It reminds me of this quote by Jonathan Harris:

“All we have in life is our time. People struggle after success. They hunger for fame, fortune, and power. But in all of these things, the same question exists — what will you do with your time? How do you want to spend your days?”

So for anyone who thinks it’s “too late” for exciting dreams, remember that it could be in your forties that you have the life experience to provide a different, richer answer to that question.