- There is a myth in Silicon Valley that only the young, upstart entrepreneurs will succeed.
- These older founders from HuffPost's Arianna Huffington to Ethereum's Joseph Lubin prove founding past 40 is possible — if even preferable.
There is a myth in Silicon Valley that only the young, upstart entrepreneurs will succeed. But eight successful founders from HuffPost's Arianna Huffington to Ethereum's Joseph Lubin prove founding past 40 is possible — if even preferable.
"As a would-be entrepreneur, people have on-boarded this cultural myth that you have to be very young. Some people who are not very young may decide not to go for it, when in fact they might do extremely well," said Benjamin Jones, a professor and researcher at Northwestern University.
According to a recent study led by Jones, the average founder of the fastest-growing tech start-ups was about 45, and 50-year-old entrepreneurs were about twice as likely to have a runaway business success as their 30-year-old counterparts.
"If you think people innovate more successfully around products they deeply understand or know, young people are much more likely to see ideas that are consumer facing, and consumer facing for their own generation," Jones said. "What we might not be doing is getting the kind of innovations that someone with depth in a field has."
Here are eight founders who threw caution to the wind and started companies past 40.
Media mogul Arianna Huffington is probably best known for her namesake online publication, HuffPost, formerly known as The Huffington Post, which she founded at age 55. But Huffington had a long career before then — and after. Prior to the endeavor, which she founded in partnership with Kenneth Lerer and future BuzzFeed founder Jonah Perretti, Huffington was a media commentator and, briefly, ran for office.
After leaving the Huffington Post in 2016, Huffington went on to found Thrive Global at about 66 years old.
"I’d co-founded The Huffington Post in 2005, and by the time Thrive launched in 2016 I’d had ample time to learn from my mistakes – especially no longer buying into the delusion that burning out is simply the price you have to pay if you want to start a successful company," Huffington wrote in an email. "The other thing that becomes easier is not internalizing outside criticisms and the views of naysayers."
Dot-com entrepreneur Jim Kimsey was 46 when he joined Steve Case and Marc Seriff to found America Online. The team turned a once-failing video game company, Control Video, into the giant that helped bring the internet to the masses, and which merged with media company Time Warner in a $160 billion deal at the peak of the dot-com boom in 2000.
“It was a little bit of having the right team,” Case told The Washington Post in 2016 after Kimsey's death. “Jim focused, because he was older and more credible, on raising money. He helped build the board and build the investor group. I focused on the marketing and strategic partners."
“Jim really played a pivotal role in taking an idea that seemed far-fetched to most venture capitalists,” he added. “Without Jim, AOL would never have happened.”
Before becoming a crypto-billionaire, Canadian entrepreneur Joseph Lubin spent years dabbling in other industries. He got his start in computer science and electrical engineering, and briefly worked a stint in the music industry down in Kingston, Jamaica. Perturbed by the imbalances in the world's financial markets which he saw firsthand on Wall Street, Lubin discovered bitcoin in 2009 and had an "ah-ha" moment that would change his entire career.
"When I encountered this technology, I had that 'Bitcoin moment' that so many of us have experienced: this has the potential to change everything," Lubin wrote in a note on Medium.
It took another few years before he joined Vitalik Buterin in founding Ethereum. It was 2014, and Lubin was nearing 50.
"That was my Ethereal moment," Lubin wrote.
Lubin went on to found blockchain production studio ConsenSys later in 2014, but prior to Ethereum's official launch. His estimated net worth was between $1 billion and $5 billion in January 2018, according to Forbes.
Serial entrepreneur David Duffield has twice founded companies past 40 — and twice succeeded. In 1987, when he was in his mid-40s, Duffield founded PeopleSoft. The HR software company gave Oracle a run for its money in the business software space until the tech giant acquired PeopleSoft in a $10 billion hostile takeover in 2005.
Months later, Duffield pulled himself from the brink of retirement to co-found cloud-based financial and human resources company Workday with Aneel Bhusri. Today Workday is valued at more than $26 billion.
"I think I’ve got one more in me,” Duffield told a former PeopleSoft colleague in the early days of Workday, Forbes India reported.
Nicknamed "the mayor of Silicon Valley," Robert Noyce was one of the forefathers of the modern semiconductor industry. He is credited as one of the inventors of the integrated circuit or silicon microchip, which both fueled the personal computer revolution and lent Silicon Valley its name. Noyce co-founded Intel in 1968 at the age of 41.
Noyce was a role model for Apple founder Steve Jobs, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
"Bob Noyce took me under his wing," Jobs told Leslie Berlin, author of "The Man Behind the Microchip."
"I was young, in my twenties. He was in his early fifties. He tried to give me the lay of the land, give me a perspective that I could only partially understand. You can't really understand what is going on now unless you understand what came before."
Noyce died in 1990.
GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons was 47 when he founded the web hosting company in 1998. Parsons almost gave up on the project in 2001, as cash dwindled, but pushed through and found surprising success in the early 2000s. Parsons steered the company right up until it filed for an IPO in 2014. That same day Parsons stepped down from his role as executive chairman so he could "devote more time to his ventures outside of GoDaddy." The company is now worth just over $12 billion, according to FactSet.
Parsons attributes much of his success in business to his time spent in the Marine Corps.
""Because of the Marine Corps, I learned how to focus. They taught me how to handle responsibility and they taught me how to carry out responsibility," Parsons told Entrepreneur.com. "They taught me discipline."
Online trading pioneer Bill Porter was 40 by the time he started his first company, Commercial Electronics, in 1968. Porter sold that company to Warner Communications, but much of the technology he developed there is still in use today. Porter's big break came in 1980, when he met Bernie Newcomb at a party in Palo Alto, California, and sold him on the idea of online stock trading. Together the pair founded E-Trade in 1982, when Porter was 54. Porter still hadn't had his fill of entrepreneurship with E-Trade, and in 2000 at the age of 72, Porter founded International Securities Exchange, the first completely electronic options exchange in the country.
When asked about the desire to launch a new exchange past 70, Porter told CNN in a 2000 interview that he felt the need to boost the U.S. markets' competitiveness on the world stage. When asked about his intelligence, Porter responded humbly.
"You know, I think I'm fairly normal. Probably the difference is in my approach to things and just, you know, if there's something to be done, you do it," he told CNN.
Porter died in 2015.
After a career as an executive at major technology companies, including Oracle, Thomas Siebel struck out to start his own. At 41, he founded Siebel Systems, a customer relationship management software company acquired by Oracle for more than $5 billion in 2005.
After Oracle's buyout, Siebel moved onto try his hand again at entrepreneurship. He founded energy company C3 in 2009, when he was in his late 50s. Siebel later relaunched it as C3 IoT, an internet of things-focused company that helps customers ingest and analyze data coming in from IoT sensors.
In his business ventures, Siebel was said to surround himself with older, more experienced workers, much like himself.
"We have a number of tried, tested and proven professionals with whom I’ve worked for many decades. Some go back to my Gain days in the 1990s, others to Siebel Systems," Siebel told Forbes in an interview.
"The group I’ve traveled with has built some pretty successful companies. And I believe we’ve added another one," he said.