What is the right age to be an entrepreneur in Maine?
Conjure an image of the perfect Maine entrepreneur. Is this person of a certain age? Perhaps your image changes with the type of business. Are the founder of a coffee shop, a sustainable beef jerky maker, and a seaweed farmer all appearing at different ages in your mind?
The reality is that Maine entrepreneurs – SCORE clients among them – are of many ages, and age has little to do with their success. According to SCORE mentors from throughout the state - people who collectively work with hundreds of entrepreneurs in all stages of business – the factors that matter are character traits – perseverance, optimism, and resourcefulness.
“More years can mean a greater diversity of skills and experiences, along with a broader and more established network, plus perhaps a greater awareness of both market behavior and the impact of various decisions,” says lead mentor Whit Ford. “All these experiences that come with age are valuable, of course, but may not be fully relevant to the current endeavor. Patience, persistence, motivation, and a passion for the mission are often more critical to success,” he adds.
Age of the entrepreneur matters less than character traits
Passion is an essential ingredient in any entrepreneurial effort. “A really young person without a lot of experience who is passionate about the field can be very successful,” says SCORE lead mentor Kathleen O’Donnell. “If they surround themselves with experienced advisors, mentors, and a strong team, then age doesn’t matter.”
For entrepreneurs in Maine, there are a number of great resources – many of them free like the mentor program from SCORE – to find advisors, consultants, and mentors.
Advisors are typically investors, owners, or board members who have a formal and financial interest in supporting your business.
Mentors are usually unpaid coaches who share experience, give access to their network, and serve as sounding board for ideas and questions.
Consultants are paid experts who help with any operating needs, including legal, accounting, financial, operating, sales, human resources, and marketing.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review also emphasizes the idea that it “takes a village” to build a business. In Don’t Let Age Get in the Way of Entrepreneurship the author states, “What matters more than age is your team, your idea, and your ability to advocate for yourself. So, first, assemble a team with a diverse set of skills. This might include mentors, advisors, or people who have experience growing companies from the ground up.”
Of course, building a team requires knowledge of the full range of skills that will be required for success, which can be a challenge for people at any stage of their career. SCORE lead mentor Richard Stone says that one of the keys to a successful business is “knowing what you don’t know. Only experience will tell you this.” He adds that a SCORE mentor can help an entrepreneur outline the set of operating needs, skills, and resources to support the growth plans of the business.
What makes an entrepreneur successful
Many a successful business owner laments “If I had known what it involved, I may not have attempted to start to start this successful business,” says Jonathan Trumper, President of SCORE Southern Maine and a lead mentor. “Inexperience can give you the daring to try something new.”
He adds that the same level of daring may not apply equally to Main Street businesses as to ventures that innovate in a field. “A Main Street business is more codified and has an established structure. It’s less about innovation and more about pure execution,” he says. Of course, day-to-day decision-making in any business is hard to do if you are isolated, so having people around you to whom you can turn with questions or just to validate your own decisions can be key to staying focused.
All entrepreneurs have a level of faith in their idea which is essential, adds SCORE lead mentor Daniel G. Willet. “You have to believe strongly enough that you can make it work. While experience can help you develop what you are passionate about, perseverance and belief in the mission are more important than experience in years.”
“Energy is the key requirement,” adds SCORE lead mentor Alan Shaver. “Energy is more important than experience.”
Entrepreneurs must be lifelong learners
Out of experience can come the knowledge of what is really important to the person, says Shaver. He’s served as a long-time mentor to two Maine businesses, both started by founders after they had retired from their first careers.
“In both cases, you have people in their 50s and 60s who did not have a lot of technical Internet skills but learned how to sell a product online. One of the product lines is now available in 39 countries!” he says.
“Both of them demonstrated an ability to do something they had never done before. That is key. The ability to learn and the energy to do it. Sure, experience brings some skills to the table, but to be an entrepreneur, you have to learn a bunch of new skills anyway,” he says.
O'Donnell adds, “Both of those clients had strong passions for organic and eco-friendly low-waste products. They each took their extreme interest and turned it into a very successful business.” It’s also helpful that both passions aligned with consumer interests and trends toward sustainability, creating fertile markets for ideas.
Pursue your entrepreneurial dream at any age
It’s a balance, advises SCORE lead mentor Lionel Derriey “Entrepreneurs are fully absorbed in their mission and singularly focused. That underlying perseverance and attention to the mission combine with adaptability to apply what you learn along the way.”
“It’s fearlessness that you need most,” adds Pete Nikitas, a SCORE lead mentor. “Entrepreneurial people are not focused on the fear of failure. They feel that if one thing doesn't work out, then something else will. One of the advantages of experience is that you have failed along the way. You know it’s not life-ending. You can over-run it. You now have a willingness to take risks.”
Of course, a lot of great ideas fail. Self-awareness for an entrepreneur is a useful guide. Willet had a client who started a business after 13 years in a large bank. “He realized that he could break free of institutional restraints. That takes self-awareness and courage. You can’t teach someone these things, they are character traits.”
Stone adds resourcefulness, perseverance, adaptability, and creativity to his list of essential character traits for success.
Ford recalls a cautionary tale of a client who had a number of ideas he was ready to invest in when his children stayed his hand. “They said, ‘Dad you’re nuts,’ and in the end, they were right,” Ford says. The client was hoping other people would jump in and manage the business, but he had not done enough due diligence to ensure the expected team members were committed to the idea.
“We all need to recognize these characteristics in ourselves and this can get harder when we get older. It may also be hard when you are young. Age alone is not a success factor,” he says.
There are tools available to everyone, like the Gallup Strength Finder, that help identify a person’s character traits, says Nikitas. “However, there is always an X-factor in every entrepreneurial success which is just part of their character,” he says. “If you wake up at 83 years old and are motivated by the rewards of success, and you have an unbridled passion for even a mediocre idea, you win every time. Age is not the deciding factor.”
People of any age can be successful entrepreneurs. Typically, these people have character traits that help ensure success, including confidence, curiosity, humility, perseverance, a collaborative spirit, passion, adaptability, vision, and a willingness to be lifelong learners. However, what you don’t have naturally, you can gain through a set of advisors and/or partners who have complementary skills.
Are you ready to explore your great idea? Explore this SCORE website to find the many resources as well as live and on-demand educational offerings available. Then sign up for an appointment with a SCORE Mentor - it's free.