Starting a business of your own requires a reasonable amount of up-front investment, in both money, time and effort. Not to mention that you’re constantly dabbling with a significant amount of risk. It could be related to either your finances and/or your current or “backup” career.
Millennials are often advised to start early and dedicate their 20s as much as possible to their entrepreneurship goals. The idea is simple – as a young person, you’ve more motivation, drive, and energy to pursue things. And you have fewer personal responsibilities. However, you must know that while the 20s are the prime time to work on our entrepreneurial goals, your 30s hold just as much potential.
Let’s take a look at three entrepreneurs who didn’t start until their thirties. And are now considered pioneers of their time.
Tim Westergren, Pandora Radio
Tim Westergren graduated from Stanford University (B.A. in political science). He then spent more than a decade trying to establish himself as an established musician and a sound engineer. At one point, he lived out of a van with other struggling performers. He played in a bunch of bands as he’s a jazz-trained piano player.
In 1999, at the age of 35, he teamed up with Will Glaser and Jon Kraft to start Pandora Media. Before they became the new trendy thing, the California-based company fell on financially challenging times. In fact, things went south really quickly, and Pandora’s employees didn’t receive their salaries for almost two years. Between 2002 and 2004, Westergren had maxed out all his credit cards (worth $500,000) trying to stay afloat. He had pitched to 350 VCs, as the company struggled with $2 million in back wages and four lawsuits from unpaid employees. Finally, the saving grace was an $8 million round of investment that was led by Walden Venture Capital.
The Success Of Pandora Radio
“I’ve got to give Tim the all-time award for persistence. I probably turned him down at least three or four times.” says Peter Gotcher, a venture capitalist who eventually participated in a $12 million round in 2005. “I liked his passion and entrepreneurial spirit.”
After a hush-hush launch to friends and family, Pandora went live in September 2005. It was quickly recognized as a breakthrough in the music streaming industry. In 2018, SiriusXM, an American broadcasting giant, announced that they’d be buying the digital media company for $3.5 billion to create an all-in-one audio-entertainment enterprise.
Currently, he’s a VC at Khosla Ventures. It is a California-based firm that has backed renowned businesses like AppNexus, DoorDash, GitLab, Hacker Rank, and Instacart amongst others.
Doris Fisher, The Gap
Doris’ story started after her husband, Don Fisher, struggled to find a pair of blue jeans in his size. Then, 36-year old Doris raised $63,000 to launch her own business. And that’s how the very first store of the apparel and lifestyle giant – The Gap – came into existence.
As a Stanford graduate, she was one of the first few women to earn a degree in Economics. Her husband made a living refurbishing old hotels. Credited with revolutionizing the retail industry, Doris started The Gap to “deliver a fun shopping experience”. She was able to successfully work on the same by:
- Capitalizing on the emergence of denim as a fundamental fashion.
- Expanding their offerings to include wardrobe basics that resonate with the young crowd like sweaters and t-shirts.
The Success Of The Gap
Together with her husband, Doris was the woman behind the company’s exponential growth into one of the biggest global brands and consequently, a symbol of “the corporization of American Life”.
“As ubiquitous as McDonald’s, as centrally managed as the former Soviet Union and as American as Mickey Mouse – the Gap Inc has you covered, from the cradle to the grave.” a 1992 article in The New York Times rightfully remarked.
Today, The Gap has 3100+ stores across 25 countries and amassed an annual sale of $16.6 billion last year. The company portfolio includes renowned designer brands like Banana Republic, Athleta, Old Navy, and Piperlime.
Jan Koum, WhatsApp
Koum has a fascinating rags-to-riches story that takes us back to 1992. Back then he (at the age of 16) moved from Kiev, Ukraine to Mountainview, California to be with his mother and grandmother. There the family has to turn to a social supper program to fend for themselves. His father was meant to join the trip later, however, the plan never came to fruition as he sadly passed away in ’97.
His mother actively worked as a babysitter (while Koum took up cleaning duties at a local grocery store) before passing away in 2000.
After noticing a visible interest in programming at 18, he enrolled at the Same Jose State University. While working as a Security Tester for Ernst & Young, he met his WhatsApp co-founder – Brian Acton. In 1996, he also joined the w00w00. It was a group of hackers, that includes the future founders of Napster (Jordan Ritter, and Shawn Fanning).
He was then hired by the software giant Yahoo! (along with Brian Acton) as an infrastructure engineer. So, he dropped out of school and stayed with the company for the next nine years. In 2007, after exiting from Yahoo! – he spent a year travelling with Acton, during which both of them applied to Facebook and were rejected.
WhatsApp was born in 2009 after Koum used an iPhone for the first time. He realized that the 7- month old App Store was booming with a plethora of apps. He was 33 at the time, and the rest is pretty much history.
The Success Of Whatsapp
The company saw 250,000 active users in the same year, and also raised a seed funding of $250,000.
By 2013, WhatsApp had approximately 200 million active users. And with a $50 million Sequoia investment, their total valuation rose to $1.5 billion.
In 2014, Facebook paid $19 million to acquire a majority stake in the company. Koum continued to work on WhatsApp until 2018, where he played a major role in introducing voice calls in the app.
As of ’19, WhatsApp has 1.5 billion daily active users across 180 countries.
Currently, Koum is still formally employed by Facebook – despite leaving WhatsApp and stepping down as Facebook’s board of directors – and is taking in $450 million in stocks from the company.
Overall, there are a fair share of entrepreneurs apart from the ones listed here who found their calling later in life – other notable figures include Jack Ma (Alibaba), Milton Hershey (Hershey), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Sam Walton (WalMart), Henry Ford (Ford Motor Company), Mark Cuban (MicroSolutions), Masaru Ibuka (Sony), Amancio Ortega (Zara), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Marc Benioff (Salesforce) and the list goes on.
According to a recent study, the average age of successful startup founders is 40, and research shows that creative breakthroughs have no relationship to age. It’s safe to conclude that the primary factor when it comes to good ideas is the number of experiments you’re open to running and the actual work that you’re willing to put in.