This post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.
In his book “Outliers,” author Malcolm Gladwell focuses on external factors that pave the path to success. Along with these external factors he also suggests that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to “master” a skill or set of skills. He cites a variety of examples in sports, music and business to support his theory. I believe this theory also applies to entrepreneurial success.
10,000 hours. That’s approximately 15 hours per week, every week for thirteen years. Most well-known athletes started playing their sport from five to ten years of age, and with lots of practice and good coaching, reach the “master” level in their late teens and mid 20’s, just as they are beginning their pro career or making an Olympic team. The data tells us that most entrepreneurs are around 40 years of age when they start their first company.
Most people begin their entrepreneurial training in college with the exposure to business courses, some cool technology, or other experiences that get them thinking entrepreneurially. It takes another 15-20 years of education and work experience to develop the vast skill set, relationships, connections, maturity, risk tolerance, and confidence for entrepreneurs to start their own company.
If it really takes 15 years or more to hone the skills needed for entrepreneurial success, then parents and educators should make a more purposeful effort to identify potential entrepreneurial talent early. Once identified, young would-be entrepreneurs should be exposed to opportunities and surrounded with the resources they need to “master” the broad array of skills, and prepare them for the startup life by the time they are in their mid to late 20’s. This also coincides with scientific data regarding brain development and more mature thinking.
Joshua, our teen entrepreneur, is well on his way down this path. Once we realized he was displaying entrepreneurial traits at around age thirteen, we became more intentional about nurturing his passion and gifts with opportunities for business education, programs, contacts, and experiential learning. He was doing this on his own before we finally realized his entrepreneurial traits and he has continued to educate himself and gain experience. Despite having been at this for six years now, I suspect he will be in his mid 20’s before he has attained the skills and experience that will significantly increase his odds of success in the startup life. He is on a faster track than most at his age because he is not in college at this point and fully focused on his business endeavors. Fifteen years may seem like a long time to a teenager, but it is still a decade or two earlier than most first time business owners feel confident enough to go out on their own.
Although Joshua is on his own at 19 years of age, we continue to enjoy watching him grow in knowledge and experience and do all we can to help and support him, along with the network of mentors, advisors and supporters he has developed on his own. When he hits his mid 20’s, look out!
THE TAKEAWAY: While there are exceptions, the 10,000 hour theory seems to apply to young entrepreneurs. There are simply too many examples in comparable areas of mastery to ignore it. Young entrepreneurs – this is much more challenging than you probably thought it was at first. So what! If that’s all it takes for you to give up, you weren’t going to make it anyway. If you have the drive, passion and willingness to do what it takes to build on your gifts and develop the necessary skills, mentors, advisors and supporters, you can live the startup life. For those of you who take up the challenge, “Welcome to the Community.”
Header image courtesy of Flickr, BusinessSarah