June 2, 2023

The Myth of Overnight Success

The Myth of Overnight Success

New data shows that the average age of the world’s billionaires is 67, and 42% are over 70. Just 10% are under the age of 50, according to the study. Many of the billionaires are entrepreneurs. Those over 70 tended to make their money in finance, industrial conglomerates, and real estate.

I’m glad there is finally formal research on this because the findings back up something I’ve observed many times during my years at Marcum: Overnight success in entrepreneurship is more the exception than the rule.

The media tends to celebrate twentysomething wunderkinds launching the next hot startup in Silicon Valley, but those stories are not as common as they may seem. For many entrepreneurs we work with, slow and steady wins the race.

In the real world, it can take 20 years or more to scale up or to achieve an exit. It can often take decades to become well-established in an industry and to position a company for significant growth. Nonetheless, these owners still build significant wealth along the way.

With people staying healthy longer, more entrepreneurs in their 50s are just getting started. Other data from the Kauffman Foundation, which promotes entrepreneurship, found that more than 25% of new entrepreneurs were between 55-64—up 15% since 1996.

It makes sense that entrepreneurship is growing among this age group. Many people in their 50s and beyond have children out of the nest or away in college, so they have more freedom than they may have experienced in decades. And by the time someone is in their 50s, they have often acquired a deep well of professional knowledge and lots of connections—valuable resources for growing a business. At the same time, they may have accumulated enough savings to fund the business themselves. It’ll be interesting to see what types of businesses these midlife entrepreneurs tend to start and if there are any trends.

With the World Economic Forum predicting a significant rise in the number of people who make it to 100, perhaps the age of the world’s billionaires will continue to rise. Many people who are nowhere near being billionaires like to work past the average retirement age. They enjoy the social connections that come with going to an office or want to keep their minds sharp. Why not billionaires?

Of course, there’s no shame in wanting to close up shop after decades of hard work and achieve an exit. We work with many entrepreneurs who decide to exit their firms so they can pass them along to the next generation, or they can enjoy travel, golf, grandchildren, you name it.

The beauty of entrepreneurship is that—whether you take your inspiration from active billionaires like 92-year-old Warren Buffet or have been planning on a big exit for years—you can carve your own path, no matter how long and winding it may be.