Fast forward a decade into your career, and a startup idea ignites your passion. You feel confident in your ability to run a business, and your youthful energy enables you to work long, grueling hours. But despite many sharing this experience, there seem to be relatively few startup founders in their thirties. The reason is surprisingly straightforward: The comfort of past achievements often leads individuals to avoid the risks associated with starting a business.
This is a tale familiar to many aspiring entrepreneurs: You achieve your dream of being accepted into the college of your choice. Then, you land a good job, rise through the ranks faster than your peers, and become the youngest presenter at significant meetings. Eventually, you decide to pursue an advanced degree, such as an MBA.
Success Can Be Deceptive
When you achieve success in your twenties, your decisions tend to veer away from those of a typical startup founder. You might splurge on the fancy car that your friends are buying, select a lavish home in a desirable neighborhood, dine at upscale restaurants, and indulge in travel. You may even get married and start a family, given your financial stability. After all, you’re successful, and your coworkers are doing the same.
The problem lies in the fact that before you know it, you’ve reached the age of 30 with a brilliant startup idea, ample experience, and a burdensome overhead. The thought of no salary or reduced income becomes too daunting for you and your spouse. Mortgage payments, grad school loans, and car payments are already part of your financial responsibilities.
Tom Kuegler, a co-founder at Wasabi Ventures, refers to this situation as the “Suckling Pig Theory.” He encounters potential entrepreneurs every week who are too comfortable to leave behind their sense of security.
So, How Can You Make the Leap?
All is not lost if your goal is to launch a startup eventually. The remedy may not be the most palatable, but it’s relatively simple:
Save your money: Resist the temptation to buy that expensive car.
Choose the right life partner: A supportive spouse can be the linchpin of your startup success. Be open with them about your dream of becoming a startup founder, and if they don’t run away, they might be the perfect match for you and your career.
Gain experience at a startup: Large corporations aren’t ideal breeding grounds for future startup founders.
Ultimately, you’ll have to juggle two jobs: your regular daytime employment and your startup during evenings and weekends. This preparation is crucial to assess if your startup is worth the risk.
Startups Are Daunting, but Rewarding
I am intimately familiar with this story because it happened to me. I launched Mosaic when I was 31, already saddled with a mortgage, a wife, and a beautiful young daughter. Today, I’m happily married with two children. While my MBA friends drove Audis, I humbly cruised in a 2001 Honda Civic.
Luck was on my side as well. I had some money from a previous startup that sold at the right time. My parents provided financial support and assisted with babysitting. My co-founder was ready to make the leap at the same moment. We lived frugally, and I allowed myself a nine-month cushion without a salary due to my career.
The good news is that my experience proved invaluable. I operated more efficiently than younger CEOs and had more credibility with investors, who invested heavily in our venture based on the strength of our team. We managed to monetize Mosaic early on. My friends might have nicer cars, but I have my dream job, and I couldn’t be happier.
So don’t let early success veer you off course. You can embark on your entrepreneurial journey a decade into your career, and your company will benefit from the experience you bring to the table.