Never Too Late: What You Can Learn from the Business’ Greatest Late Bloomers

When you think of a successful entrepreneur, you probably have the image of a twenty-something genius school dropout who created a hit phone app or a sustainable clothing line. After all, investors often pool their money on younger founders. However, a recent study by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that the most successful entrepreneurs were middle-aged when they started their companies.

The study also found that among the fastest growing companies in the country, the average age of their founders was 45 when they started their business. In fact, you’ll be surprised to know that a lot of entrepreneurs of your favorite brands and businesses got their big breaks late. Here’s what you can learn from them.

A Career Change can be Beneficial

Whether you’re feeling burnt out from your current job or you just want to follow a longtime passion, a career change is never too late. Zagat’s founders leaned more towards the latter. Tim and Nina Zagat were corporate lawyers in their 30s before they created their restaurant review business in 1979.

They noticed that the reviews they read were difficult to understand, so they came up with their own way to rate and recommend restaurants. According to the Zagat website, they surveyed over 200 of their friends about their takes on 121 restaurants in New York City. They compiled and interpreted the results into a booklet with 100 reviews that featured easy-to-understand quotes and descriptions of food, a numerical rating of the restaurant’s offerings, and what the readers can expect to pay for a meal. They published the books themselves after being rejected by multiple publishers.

After getting a New York magazine feature in the late 80s, their “burgundy bibles” became essential to planning every night out. Their company was purchased by Google in 2011 and was recently bought by The Infatuation, an online platform for restaurant guides.

Perseverance is Worth Its Weight in Gold

climbing up the stairs

Switching to the restaurant industry themselves, one of the country’s biggest fast food chain, McDonald’s, wouldn’t exist if its founders and franchise manager gave up because of old age. McDonalds’ Ray Kroc had a plethora of jobs before he found success in fast food at the age of 52. According to the official restaurant website, he was a piano player, paper cup salesman, and Multimixer salesman.

He came across the first McDonald’s restaurant in 1954 and was impressed by how streamlined the operation was. Luckily, the McDonald brothers were looking for a franchising consultant at that time. Kroc then created the McDonald’s System Inc. in 1955. His vision of creating consistently delicious food and properly supporting suppliers and franchisees continues to echo with each burger served. When asked about his “overnight success” at 52, he said that it was a 30 year-long night.

Always Meet a Need

Your product and/or service doesn’t have to be disruptive, it just needs to meet a need. This is evidenced by the instant noodles created by Momofuku Ando when he was 48 years old. Despite having multiple businesses throughout his life, he found success in trying to find a solution for Japan’s food shortage during World War II.

After experimenting with various noodle-making processes, aiming to make something that’s affordable, easy to prepare, and delicious, he found that dying and flash frying fresh noodles preserved them for weeks. It also allowed the noodles to be ready to eat after being covered in boiling water. In 1958, he launched his product and changed his company’s name to Nissin Food Products Co., and the rest was history.

Age is a blurry factor when it comes to starting a business. While young entrepreneurs create disruptive products and services to make a profit, older ones seem to create lasting and successful companies. It just goes to show that it’s never too late to start a business.

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