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Executive Education

It's Never Too Late to Become an Entrepreneur

In his research, Etienne Krieger, HEC Paris Affiliate Professor and Scientific Director of the HEC Entrepreneurship Center, has found that the average age for founding an innovative company is 38. This is a striking contrast to the stereotypical image of the millennial start-up founder - so what makes 38 a good age to reinvent your career, and is it worth the risk?


When you work in an organization, says Professor Krieger, it can sometimes be difficult to introduce fresh, unique ideas and see them fully realized. As a result, the drive and desire to pursue your own initiatives can intensify over time, particularly after more than a decade in a particular career.


Money is rarely the motivating factor for someone in their late thirties deciding to start their own company. Their key motivations more often revolve around gaining freedom or prioritizing personal growth and development.” — Etienne Krieger, Scientific Director of the HEC Entrepreneurship Center



This can be the time in your life when you become more interested in finding your “ikigai,” or sense of purpose. In other words, finding happiness by aligning “what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for.”



While there’s always risk involved in a new business venture, at 38 an entrepreneur has to take into consideration a different set of factors and commitments than someone straight out of school. They might have a family, a well-established home, and a reputation at stake, says Professor Krieger. But great entrepreneurs are often visionaries and risk-takers.There’s only one way to find out where a risk will lead, and that’s by taking it. “Anyone intimidated by the prospect should consider that those who never take risks end up working for those who do,” says Professor Krieger.

You can begin developing the key skills for founding a company within your current organization. Professor Krieger notes that it’s particularly important to hone your managerial skills, as well as “diplomacy and determination.”

He quotes the French writer Henry de Montherlant: “Freedom exists. You just have to pay the price.” For entrepreneurship, the price is risking the familiarity and reliability of an established position and income for an unknown environment that offers a greater sense of purpose and the potential for personal growth.



In a paper co-authored with Anne-Claire Lethbridge, Deputy Director of Livingstone RH, Professor Krieger recommends building a team with diverse skills and outlooks. “As tempting as it may be to surround yourself with ‘yes men’,” they write, “there are no tangible benefits in working with clones - or people who have the same skills and the same personality as you.”

Diversity strengthens a company. But a founder must also carefully consider compatibility among the members of the team. “It is important to take the time to get to know each other, exchange views on success, and reinforce trust within the team,” they write. Ask tough questions from the start, or risk catastrophe further down the line when you realize your vision and fundamental goals are at odds with those of your team.

You should expect and prepare for problems, because “when they are dealt with in a constructive manner they can help the team to grow and bond just as much as success does.”

“Rather than the image of the conductor leading an orchestra," they write, "we prefer to think of the leader of a jazz ensemble, where a handful of musicians work effortlessly together, showing their talent and captivating their audience through their joy at creating something together.”



Affiliate Professor, HEC Paris