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Age & Entrepreneurship...
beginning a dialog (or is it a food fight?)

Here at Idea Cafe, we have the lucky privilege to meet a lot of entrepreneurs: gutsy people who own their own businesses; people who'll start a business soon; and people who've started, built, and sold their business to retire or move on to something else (like starting another business).

So we know that a big reason people start businesses is to bring their life and their work closer together. Every day in Idea Cafe's CyberSchmooz, Financing Your Business, and other sections, you see how we're willing to talk about the biz-life issues of small businesses...you know, the kinds of things your employed friends and relations can't begin to understand.

It's with great pride (and some chortles, too) that we now pull back the cover on yet another touchy issue -- your age (and what that has to do with owning your own business, if anything).

So bear with us as we give you our conclusions from our own experiences. Then add your own views. We'll start with chaos, and probably end up with it, too. But it could be fun -- maybe even enlightening -- so stick around. Let's start with a question:

 

What's the Best Age to Start a Business?

by Francie Ward
Boomer

I started my first business in my mid-twenties (which used to be considered young to take the biz plunge). We didn't wear nose rings then, but it was still pretty obvious that regular people in business didn't look like I did. So I made a conscious effort to get some "straight" clothes like blazers and heels. I left the hippy,long-cotton skirt, along with those clunky, but cool hiking boots, in my closet. All my clients were older than me. And I remember wishing I'd get wrinkles sooner so I'd look older and wiser.

Now the tables have turned -- somewhat. Now people assume that younger people understand computers and the Internet better than older people. Now nobody has a problem believing the TV commercial where orange-pigtailed GenXer Stewart shows his hesitant boss, Mr. B, how to trade online.

Start Now -- Whatever Your Age

Back to the question, "What's the Best Age to Start a Business?" My answer is "As soon as possible, whatever age you are." Even if you've prepared diligently with a thorough business plan, found financing and lined up a sharp staff -- it's still going to be different, in ways you never imagined, once you're in business for real. So you might as well get as many of the surprises behind you as fast as you can.

Today, GenX Entrepreneurs Are the Media Darlings

So if you're young, get your business going soon before the spotlight shifts. Capitalize on the advantages unique to your age:

  • You've knocked around a bit by now, and hopefully have sown enough wild oats that you're ready to focus.
  • You've had some education, some travel and some living, so you have the street-smarts and vocabulary to handle typical business situations.
  • You're used to weird hours, lack of sleep, and sleeping under your desk, so the demands of the entrepreneur's schedule won't phase you .
  • You're physically at your peak so you can easily muster the stamina running a business demands.
  • You haven't accumulated that much expensive stuff to worry about and make payments on yet -- lack of a mortgage alone gives you tremendous freedom.
  • You don't have a lot of family expectations to deal with daily -- you're out of your parents' nest (so they won't worry about how little you sleep), and you may not be married yet. (Even if you are, at least you don't have teenage kids to feed, clothe and agrue with yet.)
  • Because of your youth, people may be willing to help you if they don't see you as a threat. (Use that aura of innocence as long as you can get by with it or until it just makes you look plain dumb.)
  • You have to adjust to something that's new to you anyway -- so instead of adjusting to a job, why not adjust to owning a business?

You'll Make Mistakes.

So what? Just dust the embarrassment off, make the best of it and keep going. Being young, you can recuperate fast from fiascos. Even when customers, vendors and employees are ready to leave you for whatever stupid thing you did, they'll probably give you another chance because they figure you learned not to do THAT again. So jump in!

Francie Ward
Idea Cafe founder and CEO
(aka Chief Cook & Bottle Washer)

What's the Best Age to Start a Business?

by Alex Carter
GenX

As soon as you have an idea, I say! Age is nothing but a number, and who acts their age anyway? Especially when it comes to being an entrepreneur? Some teen-aged entrepreneurs act older than their touch-of-gray counterparts, and vice versa! Hey, I'm 23 years young myself and I'm still not convinced I'm an adult!

Better yet, we live in the land of opportunity, where anyone with a bright idea can go from rags to riches. Even tho we have minimum ages for driving a car, joining the Army, or becoming president, the American dream of owning your own business has no age restrictions. The same is true for scores of other countries too.

I personally know several "kids" who've taken advantage of this and done very well for themselves -- and we've all marveled at the news stories about GenX millionaire entrepreneurs. So being young has to have its biz advantages somewhere along the line.

Why GenXers Can Rise to the Top

  • Face it. Most of us GenX types can take financial and personal risks more readily. We're not bogged down with mortgage and car payments, and we don't have a "Baby on Board." We're footloose and fancy free.
  • The Energizer bunny has nothing on us. We've got more than enough energy to follow our dreams. When we find a cause we believe in -- look out!
  • We don't know any better. At first, you might think this is a bad deal; but think again. While not having any business experience under your belt might spook some investors, your ability to "think outside of the box" can make you a business trailblazer. Your fresh insights aren't spoiled by years of doing it "their" way. Your innovation and creativity are two of your strongest suits.

Well, It's Not Easy As Pie Either!

Taking a stab at the entrepreneurial life at a younger age, however, does have its hurdles. For starters, it's tough getting those older and "wiser" businesspeople to take us seriously. Not only are we too wet behind the ears to gain their attention for long, these guys often resent our being the "new kids on the block." They've spent years working and building their businesses up, and they often don't take kindly to our competition or ideas.

On top of this, I think we're viewed as a threat at times when it comes to our computer savvy. With computers becoming so much a part of modern life and business, older generations have had to scramble to learn these newer technologies. On the other hand, we all grew up with computers. We're computer comfortable and knowledgeable -- and that often gives us an advantage. We're ready to use computers quicker and more efficiently in our ventures.

The Sky's the Limit!

You're never too young (or too old for that matter) to start your own business. I've bumped into members from every age group who've had success with launching their own business. That tells me when it comes to starting a business, age is less important than drive and enthusiasm.

And in case you haven't noticed, GenX entrepreneurs are also full of something else that's extremely powerful -- optimism! So follow your American dream, regardless of your age!

Alex Carter
Xstartup.com founder
Editor of GenX Start-up at Idea Cafe

Who's Talking?

Alex Carter
Xstartup Founder

AlexAt age 23 Alex has successfully started three businesses, while having a hand in many more. He also has given speeches to fellow young entrepreneurs and helped many get pointed in the right direction.
A graduate of Iowa State University, Alex now is VP of Parker Solutions.Com, an Ames, Iowa based Internet consulting firm.
"After getting my feet wet right out of college in the business world, I started to look around to see if there were others my age who had chosen the same path I took of career self-determination. And to my surprise, there were a lot!" said Alex. "There is a powerful phenomenon taking place with Generation X right now in the business world. Many are opting to"just say no" to career day and are forging their own path, like myself."

P.S. At 23, Alex is a young GenX entrepreneur. More from Alex.

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