I am in my late 40s, left my corporate job in early 30s and since then then have been a part of start-up ecosystem donning different hats – an entrepreneur, prop investor and now an early stage fund manager.
My peer group, who passed their IITs in late 80s – 90s and are now C-level executives with top corporates while some have reinvented their careers to become film makers, writers, chefs and journalists giving vent to their creativity. But I’m often asked a question – is it too late to become an entrepreneur? After all, we only hear of success story of folks who are in their 20s and some born after we passed out. The stories are being written about young and raring to go entrepreneurs raising funds one round after the other and are regarded as the ones who have put India on the start-up world map. So where does this leave entrepreneurs with over two decades of experience?
Nobody can take away the credit from the young generation to show us the way in launching a business, running it successfully and raising funds from some of the biggest foreign funds. These two set of professionals have only one thing in common – fire to launch a business and make it a success – but beyond this, there are stark differences in how they execute their vision.
The older entrepreneurs who are beginning to give startups a serious thought should play to their strengths, like their experience, domain expertise, their ability to finance their business, use their professional network to recruit the right talent. If you are 40 plus and looking to start up, launch a business idea you understand and don’t attempt to merely ape and compete with high energy and daring younger entrepreneurs.
For a 20 something, they have no family pressure or equated monthly installments to pay. What they lack in experience, they more than make up for it in their energy and hard-to-control enthusiasm. The younger generation has grown seeing what technology can do to address many problems of our lives and is thus inclined towards launching more consumer facing tech-enabled businesses. In India, these folks while in college replicate international business models and build minimum viable products and are able to scale up much faster.
One of our investee companies, launched by three IIT Kharagpur 2012 graduates, has young founders with merely two years of work experience. They lived in a rental accommodation and used their savings to start a business in inter city cab booking segment. They had no fear of failure and no preconceived notions on what would work. They put all their saving to risk and lived hand to mouth for a year. Recently, they have raised funds and seeing a healthy month on month growth in the business.
If a young entrepreneur fails, society in general, and the corporate sector will see this as a positive. It shows their risk taking capability. On the contrary, if an entrepreneur fails in his 40s people take it as personal failure not realising that entrepreneurship is anyway fraught with risks. Corporates, on the other hand, may brand this failed entrepreneur as someone who likes ‘full freedom’ in the work environment and not someone who can work in an organised set-up.
As a senior entrepreneur, one needs to leverage from industry knowledge and network. Create a business in the industry where you have grown and solve a problem that you have faced. More senior entrepreneurs should look to digitise business processes in their industry of comfort and knowledge. Having spent time within the industry, one is able to leverage from one’s contacts to get things done at a minimal spend and in most judicious manner.
To my friends of my age, I say: Go for businesses in sectors you are familiar with; take the risk and be out of the corporate set-up; invest the risk capital and build the product; take newer blood in your team; shred the ego of who you were and how many people reported to you; get used to travelling cattle class and don’t compete in businesses that the 20 year olds can do too.