If Hollywood wants to portray a successful entrepreneur in a movie, then he — and it’s usually a he – is in his early 20s, may or may not have a college degree, is probably wearing blue jeans and a hoodie, and is a bit unkempt, with messy hair and facial hair.
That stereotype may appeal to our interest in a narrative where geeks take over the world, but the Mark Zuckerberg-inspired vision is absolutely only a part of the entrepreneurship story. Many entrepreneurs don’t even think about launching their own business until they are in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s, after years of work experience.
Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, sold paper cups and milkshake mixers until he was 52, according to an infographic from San Francisco-based startup organization Funders and Founders (below). Meanwhile, the founder of cosmetic behemoth Mary Kay, Mary Kay Ash, sold books and home decor objects until she was 45.
Fret not if you are over 40 and have yet to start your own business. There’s still time. And chances are, if you’ve worked a while, you’ve learned a thing or two about life and business that will be helpful, too.
Take a look at the infographic below for more examples of successful entrepreneurs who launched later in life.
As a kid you get asked what you want to become. The higher your tuition grows, the more you are supposed to know what all your learning will amount to.
People Who Took Indirect Paths To Become a Successful Entrepreneur
There will be a direct path from college into a high-paying, intellectually stimulating, and satisfying-in-all-other-ways job. At least that is the plan. A direct path to becoming a successful entrepreneur, right?
Why then so many successful people look lost at the beginning? Why didn’t they find this direct and easy path? Success of others can only be seen in hindsight. And hindsight distorts reality. What looked like a mess at the time in hindsight looks like a series of perfectly executed maneuvers.
- Marc Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner (until 25 bartender at his own bar)
- Suze Orman, finance guru (until 30 a waitress)
- Harrison Ford, actor and producer (until 30 was a carpenter)
- Pejman Nozad, angel investor (until 30 rug dealer)
- Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Sands founder (until 30 sold shampoo and windshield defroster)
- Manoj Bhargava, 5-Hour Energy founder (until 30 was taxi driver and monk)
- J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter author (until 31 was single mom on a welfare)
- Ang Lee, film director (until 31 was jobless house husband)
- Amancio Ortega, Zara founder (until 30 was shirt shop helper)
- Andrea Bocelli, singer (until 33 was piano player at bars)
- Mary Kay Ash, Mary Kay founder (until 45 sold books and home goods door-to-door
- Ray Kroc, McDonald’s founder (until 52 sold paper cups and milkshake mixers)
Take Silicon Valley angel investor Pejman Nozad – at 30 a rug dealer. Selling carpets at 30 is not failure by any means, but how many people who do that job believe that they are just a few steps away from being a high-power angel investor? An investor with a stake in one of the most influential companies in the world, like Dropbox. Not many. And how many people working in a rug shop would invite a founder of a hot startup to their rug shop to introduce them to other investors? Pejman did. Although now it may look like he had a plan, at the time it seemed random.
Is there a Grand Plan for my life?
It makes sense that anyone famous would have a grand plan – until you look at the life of, say, Ray Croc. The founder of what we now know as McDonalds was still just a salesman of paper cups and milkshake mixers on his 50th birthday.
Then one day he stumbled upon a clean restaurant with good burgers. He bought it and franchised it. Could it have been his plan all along? Unlikely. While being a paper cup salesman is not the same as failure, it doesn’t look like a grand plan either.
So, is it ok if at the bottom of your heart you know you have no grand plan? As long as you are alive, you still have a chance to become a successful entrepreneur.