Startup founders are better in their 40's

What’s important in finding success? And what isn’t?


Theron McCollough

3 years ago | 4 min read

Key Points:

  1. As a leader: be tenacious, be coachable, and have integrity, above all else
  2. As a team member: build partnerships and relationships
  3. As an entrepreneur: ask questions, foster the right ideas, and convey your passion

The story of the young upstart founder is a popular narrative in today’s culture, but how genuine is it? A recent article by Ian Hathaway actually reveals that, on average, the most successful founders are in their 40’s.

The fastest growing, venture-backed, and successfully exited companies are led by founders aged 42–47, not those in their teens and 20’s crafting startups in their dorm rooms.

If youth isn’t necessarily the most crucial point, what is? Of course this isn’t the be all and end all of lists, but great startup founders, from my perspective and experiences as an investor, hone in on the following key elements.

As a leader

Be tenacious

A “never give up” mentality is important. As a founder, you will have to pick yourself up time and time again in order to reach success.

You will hear “no” over and over. You may have people praise your company as the “next Google” but still not be able to raise enough funding to support your team (yes, this happened to my colleagues and me).

1. What’s most important is how you deal with and respond to these setbacks.
2. Be a realist and manage your highs and lows.
3. Every no is that much closer to a yes, pick up the phone — or Zoom — and do it again, and again, and again…

Be coachable

Did I forget anything?

This is something I have found to be extremely effective in meetings and before I close off emails. When I am prepared with questions, I get more insights to how I can be better.

This gives everyone an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and develop new skills.

Simply asking, “did I forget anything?” in the footer of an email opens the door to comments and feedback, continues the conversation, and shows you care.

It is easy to prattle on about how great you are…

Being coachable is more about being self-reflective and continually exploring how you can reach your next level of success.

It is easy to prattle on about how great you are — that is what most people do. What most do not do is ask questions. Asking questions makes you seem wiser and actually helps you become wiser.

This is an important aspect to the startup founder. You must constantly dig for answers, build and adjust hypotheses, and ask more questions.

Integrity is binary

Ted Schlein told me this one afternoon at their family home, it has stuck with me to this day and become part of my ethos.

For me, this means holding yourself to the highest standard. Don’t lower yourself to petty gossip, be diligent, give first, don’t deceive.

Be understanding and considerate to everyone, even if it’s your fiercest competition.

It must be your constant mission to check yourself. As my dad says, “if not you, then who? If not now, then when?” This is part of being a responsible human, to yourself and to others.

As a team member

Nobody goes far all by themselves. Team is a must. When hiring and looking at colleagues, I ask myself:

Would I work for them?

This is something I learned from Mike Cardamone while working with Acceleprise. Imagine if the person sitting across the table were interviewing you, and not you them.

How would you feel about working under their leadership? Would you respect them as a boss and do you get a sense that they are in relative control and balance in a crisis?

Who does this person surround themselves with?

Just because you are an entrepreneur, doesn’t mean you need to know everything.

Yes, you should be knowledgeable, but it also matters who you surround yourself with and what expertise they bring to the table. How well can you find co-founders?

Can you attract and hire a stellar team?

Startup founders need to be able to work well with others. They need to be conscious about fostering partnerships — with colleagues, employees, investors, and customers.

As an entrepreneur

Passion is key. How well can you convey why your project is important?

Why you?

Why are you the CEO who is going to win? Ideas are free. For every great idea, countless others have it too.

Only a few will bubble up and survive. An even smaller number will make it big. Why are you the right founder to carry the torch to unimaginable success?

Why now?

What key or pressing problem are you trying to solve? Why do people need to have this now?

Why should the market care?

Have you thought about your audience, and what matters to them?

How are you going to make money?

Basic, but true.

What are the expected outcomes?

What vision do you have for your company? Where do you see yourself and your company in the future?

In closing, I think most learn these lessons along the way. Maybe, around your 40’s you have answered these questions enough that they become integral to your life and lifestyle. You’ve built up the networks, heard enough “no’s” and built tougher skin.

It could be that you understand better how the pieces fit together, and have worked and built trust with enough people.

It is more than just the product you are building; it is also the ecosystem you have built around you and the ethos you emulate.


Created by

Theron McCollough







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