The Best is Yet to Come
“Risk more than others think is safe. Dream more than others think is practical.” -Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO
Reference to Context
Earlier in April this year, it was a beautiful moonlit night. But, I decided to forego the moonlit night for a coffee with a friend.
Did you know that some of the greatest authors such as Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame were under the influence of stimulants that actually helped them write a beautiful tale of human longing and belonging through the eyes of a perceived monster.
Later that night I was reminded that it takes caffeine to bring out the best in people.
As we got deeper into our conversation, my friend mentioned how hard it is to start a business when you are old and in the 40's with a family that limits your risk taking appetite. Yes, I agree it becomes harder. If not family, you also have to be in great health to take the stress that comes with the joy of being your own boss.
However, I have always been unreasonable and I think that older people can start a business later in life. In fact, facts do support my claim. However, if you have capital and the right friends, you can start young. Even then, a formal education would be a good backup especially if you aspire to be self made.
Jack Ma applied for 30 different jobs and got rejected by all. “I went for a job with the police; they said, ‘you’re no good,’” Ma told interviewer Charlie Rose. “I even went to KFC when it came to my city. Twenty-four people went for the job. Twenty-three were accepted. I was the only guy…”. In addition he applied 10 times for Harvard and got rejected (source : wiki)
Jack Ma began his business when he was in his 30's. Granted that it could be still considered young by many but atleast he wasn’t a rich guy in his 20's with wealth for backup when he began.
Consider the ages of founders of various behemoths : Facebook (20), Microsoft (20), Apple (21), Google (25), Twitter (30), Amazon (30), Tesla (34), Oracle (35), Netflix (37), Zynga (41), Walmart (44) and McDonald’s (53) (source: Forbes)
It covers the whole gamut of age ranges. So, yes internet startups could be started by a young 20 something but it is not always the case with all startups.
The Best Backup Plan
In my mind, the best backup plan is a formal education. Contrary to what many say — until the present education systems across the world are completely overhauled, a formal education is a great insurance policy. In fact, I know of friends that have used their education in their business.
Today, more so than ever — computer literacy is the modern equivalent of a primary education. Irrespective of age, you literally have to learn about technology everyday to stay relevant.
There are two kinds of people — one who always rely on excuses. The other who fight those excuses everyday.
Chances are — if you bust your butt hard enough, you will make it. So, next time you think of an excuse, ask yourself this :
Did I try hard enough?
There are many good resources such as affordable public institutions, community support, financial aid available to those who try. It all begins and ends with you.
Again, this is not a pep talk but a lesson I have personally learnt in the university of hard knocks. Although I am no Jack Ma, I am happy. To me, success is living life your own way. I have. But, can tell you I always start by blaming myself. Acknowledging a mistake is the first step towards growth.
There are two countries that come to my mind where adversities are more frequent than luxuries for many in the lower and middle class — India and China.
If you have travelled in a local train in Mumbai, you will exactly know of the struggles people go through just to reach office which may be 50 miles away. Sometimes, their clothes stink of sweat when they reach office. But, they fight and many come out on the other side happy.
Many of my friends are blue collar workers in a factory. During my time at Unilever, I travelled to the remotest corners of India. On many of these visits, I shared my lunch with workers on the shop floor. The warmth and camaraderie I shared with my blue collar friends beats the sweetness of food at a five star hotel any day. Some of those friends have pursued their entrepreneurial dream after making sure their family’s basic needs were taken care of. Of course, that meant working 24/7 every month for months on end.
Many entrepreneurs had a working spouse, good family and savings to turn to as a backup plan. For all those who don’t have such backup plans, the plan should be to get a formal education. It’s easy to say education is not required for business but when it comes to not having enough money to have two squares meals a day, it’s a different battle altogether.
Jack Ma feels the most important commodity today is data and the basic skill needed to survive in the future will be data analytics.
I will be honest. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. There is something to be said about coincidence. For many successful entrepreneurs, success boils down to serendipity. A lot of stars aligned to get them to where they are today. So, it’s not for everyone. If you want learn more about how the environment around them contributed to the success of world famous entrepreneurs, read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers.
But for all those who aspire to be entrepreneurs at a later stage in life, I say go ahead and try.
One of my favorite Herbert George Wells quote from one of my favorite books — The Island of Dr. Moreau is:
I Hope, Or I could not Live.
To me, the statement ‘The Best is Yet to Come’ symbolizes hope. How else do you look to the future?
Truly, age is just a number. Feed your mind and body right and meditate the stress away. Soon, You will realize there is no right age to start working on the business of your dreams. Maybe, your wealth has increased with age and you had a blissful family life. Now could be the turn to make your own proverbial dent in the universe.
To all those to be entrepreneurs, young and old — always tell yourself the Best is Yet to Come. Even if the best (as you visualized it) does not come, you would have lived happy with the fact that you made the effort. Making the effort is half the battle won. The other half — winning or losing is subject to many variables an entrepreneur may have NO control over. That is the uncertainty that cannot be modeled away. Assumptions are only that — assumptions. Human nature can run contrary to the best laid plans. Ask VC’s because they know 9 out of 10 startups fail.
Agreed, there may not be a golden parachute at the end but you have to decide whether regret trumps not having such a parachute.
Know that, today more than ever, it is becoming easier to start your business. Also, know that I am not waxing lyrical. I leave you with the facts and rest my case:
According to research by Vivek Wadhwa, an academic and tech entrepreneur, and the Kauffman Foundation, the average age of successful start-up founders in these (biotech and business software) and other high-growth industries was 40. And high-growth start-ups are almost twice as likely to be launched by people over 55 as by people 20 to 34.
Time Magazine, Mar 14, 2013
As Steve Jobs says “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”
To which I add “Work Harder Than Anybody Else”