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Does a Founders’ Age Play a Role in Ensuring Start-up Success?

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Is the age of a founder an important determinant to start-up success? This is a question that a lot of people have sought to answer in recent years. The proliferation of start-ups has brought about a new age of successful billion-dollar companies that 5-10 years prior were not in existence. However, with every new entry into the unicorn league, there are other start-ups that are unable to achieve lift-off, and as a result, fail. Success in the start-up universe is not a given. 

Numerous attempts have been made to unravel the science behind start-up success. These led to various studies that sought to link founders/entrepreneurs’ personalities or traits to start-up success. In recent years, there has been growing interest to examine whether a relationship exists between the age of founders when they first got started and the success of their start-up. 

Studies between age and start-up success

There is a commonly held view that most start-ups are created by founders that are as young as age 35 and below when they first established their start-ups. According to existing research, reasons for this can range from the high risk-taking behavior of many young people to the numerous famous stories about young successful founders such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Peter Thiel are just amongst the examples of those who were quite young when they founded their start-ups. 

These reasons notwithstanding, a review of empirical studies has shown that there is no consensus on the connection between a founder’s age and the success of a start-up. Rather, existing research on the relationship between the age of founders and start-up success revealed findings that pose more questions than provide answers. An early study by Frick (2014), which sampled 35 Venture Capital-backed firms from Wall Street Journal’s Billion Dollar start-up cluster list, found out that the mean age of founders of successful start-ups was 31 years. 

This finding is in contrast with the widely cited study by Azoulay, Jones, Kim, and Miranda (2020) which studied 1,700 fastest-growing start-ups in the USA that were in the top 0.1% in terms of employment growth and found that the average age of founders was higher at 45 years. The authors cited the prior working experience of the founders as being a key reason for why they were successful. A more recent study by Tamaseb (2021) revealed findings that further highlighted the ambiguity in this argument by concluding that, although the average age of founders of successful start-ups was around 34 years, most of them had a minimum of about 10 years of work experience which may have played a role. 

Ultimately, the arguments made in these studies do not point to any consistency towards the existence of a direct relationship between the age of founders and the success of their start-ups. There are other factors to be considered too, such as the work experience of founders, the location of the start-ups, the type of industries targeted by most start-ups in an environment. These factors come into play when these arguments are being made but are not the key determinants of start-up success.

The process towards success

So, the question remains. What determines the success of start-ups? The answers to this question may lie in the concept of entrepreneurial actions. Looking at start-up success through this lens allows us to ask the question “What are successful start-up founders doing so well that others have not been able to emulate?”

A point to be made is the realization that the start-up activity is steeped in uncertainty; like any scientist will tell you, the process of scientific discovery happens after numerous rounds of experimentation, testing, and learning. Start-ups that have been able to achieve success have maintained this ethos of continuous experimentation, testing, and learning. This process ensures that they can properly identify problems that customers deem to be important, provide a solution that addresses such problems, study a market size that makes the solution economically viable, and create a culture that allows them to pivot in the event of poor problem-solution or solution-market fit.

We just may have been looking at the whole thing all wrong from the beginning, and not asking the right question. When looked at broadly, the age or other personality traits of founders when they establish their start-ups is irrelevant and does not determine start-up success. Rather, the focus should shift to finding how to create a blueprint of actions that founders can implement towards improving their chances of success.

Why do some managers avoid giving employee feedback?

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Do some managers avoid giving employee feedback because of employees’ reactions or are there any other reasons? 

In a 2009 Gallup survey, more than 1,000 US-based employees were sought to qualify the impact of feedback on employees. The results show that managers who focus on the strengths of employees when giving feedback create a solid level of employee engagement.  

Accordingly, a manager who gives little or no feedback is not able to engage 98% of the employees. Therefore, to make employees engaged in your future vision, they need to know that their contribution is valued and that they are helping the organization to reach its goals. On the other hand, when managers avoid giving feedback, they make employees feel ignored and unimportant. 

Reactions to feedback

Sometimes managers feel uncomfortable providing feedback, especially when it is negative. They often worry that the employee receiving the feedback may react defensively, ignore the message behind the feedback, or blame the manager. Some managers are not skilled to constructively provide feedback, lack confidence, or fear confrontation. They may not have enough experience to give feedback or were never trained to do so. 

An employee’s reaction depends on how feedback is presented, one’s readiness, and the ability to adapt to changes. Some employees are not always sure why they are receiving a particular feedback and what the managers want them to do.

An employee may become defensive when feedback sounds like criticism, fault-finding or disciplinary, especially when it is the first time the employee is hearing the information. When employees are confronted about their poor performance, the discussion may trigger feelings of self-doubt, mistrust, and insecurity. A more effective approach is to focus on the desired positive performance rather than highlighting shortcomings. 

Feedback is stressful 

When managers give feedback, employees are often confused about the manager’s purpose. Sometimes, feedback receivers don’t know how to react because they are not ready to change their behavior. In fact, managers don’t always understand the inability of the subordinate to change so they avoid giving feedback rather than understanding the change process

In general, managers believe that giving feedback is stressful or difficult because they either don’t have the time to give feedback or they have too many subordinates to be evaluated. On the other hand, managers avoid demotivating employees or want to prevent conflicts. Additionally, managers sometimes believe that employees are responsible for their own development.

Remember that performance and evaluation data are not completely helpful when they are not communicated and interpreted properly between managers and employees. What managers can do to overcome the discomfort of giving feedback is to schedule a feedback routine so that employees will be prepared. Managers can also break the ice with detailed constructive feedback. 

Feedback is a gift

Whether you are receiving it or giving it, feedback can be considered as a gift. Feedback should be presented properly and should have something unique and meaningful inside that beautiful package. Here are some things to keep in mind for managers when providing feedback for their employees.

First, employees need feedback to grow and develop. Have short, frequent, and regular one-on-one meetings to find out what is important to your subordinates. Discuss progress and barriers and build trusting relationships. 

Second, there are a variety of courses that can help managers improve their skills on performance management. You can sign up for The KPI Institute’s Certified Employee Performance Management professional online training course.

Finally, consider your employee’s success as your own success. Employees who receive feedback are more likely to be successful. It is true that employees are responsible for their own development, but managers can help their subordinates focus on meaningful opportunities based on their needs.  

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