The two biggest reasons for people not giving wings to their entrepreneurial dreams are fear of failure and advancing age
Among other things, the two biggest reasons for people not giving wings to their entrepreneurial dreams are fear of failure and age. Fear of defeat doesn’t let people venture out of their comfort zone and try new, exciting and innovative ideas. In fact, failure and the lessons learnt from it can become an asset for an entrepreneur, as loss is a great teacher. This intrinsic ability of bouncing back from a debacle and a never-say-die attitude makes an entrepreneur successful. Similarly, with the advent of booming techpreneurs around the world, there is a notion that youth is must for entrepreneurial success.
However, a study by Kauffman Foundation discovered that the average age of successful start-up founders was 40, with at least six to ten years of industry experience. Also, start-ups are twice as likely to be launched by people over 55 years of age as by people in their 20s and 30s, busting all myths linking youth to entrepreneurship. Additionally, according to a recent survey by First Round, a seed-stage venture capital firm, almost one-third of start up founders are over 40.
Failure and success are the two sides of the same coin. So engrossed are we with the successes of entrepreneurs that we fail to notice their failures. Not many of us know that Bill Gates, one of the world’s wealthiest persons, tasted failure early in his entrepreneurial life with his first venture Traf-O-Data, which aimed to process and analyse data from traffic tapes. Although it was a non-starter, the debacle did not stop Gates from exploring new opportunities and a few years later, he created his first Microsoft product and forged a new path to success.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who recently surpassed Gates as the world’s richest man, had his share of losses. One of the most notable was an online auction site, which evolved into zShops, a brand that ultimately flopped. Still, Bezos repurposed the idea into the hugely successful Amazon Marketplace. Similarly, Walt Disney, one of the creative geniuses of the 20th century, was fired from a newspaper for apparently lacking creativity. Undaunted, he formed his first animation company called Laugh-O-Gram, which also failed. Disney achieved spectacular success later in Hollywood after facing similar criticisms and failures.
Closer home, NR Narayan Murthy, father of the Indian Information Technology (IT) industry is credited with building Infosys, one of most respected IT companies in the world with footprints all across the globe and the second-largest IT company in India in terms of revenue. But did you know that his first entrepreneurial venture, Softronics, failed to take off? Sunil Bharti Mittal is known for creating Airtel, India’s largest mobile network operator and third-largest in the world with 400 million subscribers but little do we know that he started by making crankshafts for local bicycle manufacturers and later started importing portable electric-power generators from Japan. He went out of business overnight due to Government regulations. Without losing hope and with lot of courage, he sensed an opportunity in the telecom business and started marketing telephones, answering and fax machines under the brand name Beetle and the rest, as they say, is history.
Thankfully, even in the Indian market, venture capitalists have been supportive of failed entrepreneurs. This is an extremely healthy and positive sign for innovation in India that the stigma attached with debacles has reduced and it is being accepted as a potential outcome of taking chances. While some pursue their passion for entrepreneurship undaunted by failures, others realise their calling late in life. There are numerous businessmen for whom age is just a number and one can find these examples in all industries.
One would imagine that LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional networking website, was founded by a 20-something, however, Reid Hoffman, co-founded it at the age of 35 and went public at the age of 43 after failing at his first networking site, SocialNet, and working for PayPal before leaving his position at the company in 2002.
Similarly, Colonel Harland Sanders, the man behind the world-famous KFC’s chicken recipe, is far from being an ideal entrepreneur. Having troubled early years, he lost several jobs due to his quarrelsome nature, even losing his job as a lawyer after a courtroom brawl with his own client! Sanders slowly gained popularity for his delicious chicken recipe while working at a local service station in Kentucky.
In 1952, at the age of 62, Sanders franchised his “Kentucky Fried Chicken” for the first time. Today, KFC has over 18,800 outlets in 118 different countries and territories. One of the pioneers of microchip industry, Robert Noyce, founded Intel at the age of 41, where he oversaw the invention of the microprocessor, an innovation that revolutionised computer technology and forms the foundation of the machines we still use today. His experience in several companies like Beckman Instruments and Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation helped him immensely in his technological journey. McDonald’s, which is hugely popular in India as well as around the world as one of the leading fast food outlets, was popularised by Ray Kroc using the franchise model who finally ended up buying the company from the McDonald family for $2.7 million at the age of 52. He wanted to create a brand, where repeat business was based on the name as opposed to one store’s reputation.
An older person has seen her share of failures and this is very imperative for an entrepreneur for two reasons. First, the most valuable part of each failure is the lessons one learns in the process. Each failure teaches the importance of being prepared, hard work and the need for a contingency plan. Second, the fear of failure is a lot less significant at this age than it was in the youth. Since being afraid to fail can result in an inability to make a decision, lack of confidence and inaction, having less to fear can be a powerful reason why older entrepreneurs have an easier start.
In entrepreneurship, information networks are inefficient, which provide opportunities to founders to use their unique prior knowledge to fill the existing gaps and experience plays a vital role in it, becoming the most common factor as to why people start business later in life, in addition to reasonable financial stability. Experience also helps founders to have deeper networks, team managing capabilities, and better business savvy skills for delivering on their vision. Even for young entrepreneurs, failure has the capacity to build valuable character traits for entrepreneurial success such as tenacity, perseverance and resilience, which are all vital for any kind of long-term success.
It develops an entrepreneur’s ability to push through failure where others quit and will lead you on the road to success. Failure can become a creative ally for developing a leadership perspective that emphasises learning from mistakes and poor performance instead of defending them. For entrepreneurs, the key to success is how quickly failure is converted into learnings and, ultimately, into lasting changes in management. An entrepreneur should not only learn from mistakes, reflect and accept failure, but revisit the business with passion and keep pursuing goals no matter what. Running a business isn’t easy and it takes a lot of hard work and discipline to reach success.
As a result, it should be unsurprising that many times, it’s the older and wiser among us who are better at navigating that road. So don’t count yourself out, no matter what your age. Success can come to anyone at any time. As Thomas Edison famously said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.” Failure should be used to bounce back and succeed.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, Amity University)