Four out of six partners at my startup are between the ages of 25-29. The remaining two partners are both in their mid-50s. The mean of our ages leaves us falling somewhere near the peak age for entrepreneurship, which is around 40, according to the Kauffman Foundation. As a result our company is mature yet youthful, practical yet idealistic.
Overall, both the rookies and veterans on our team work and play well together. However, as with all companies, fostering a work environment that suits different needs has its challenges–especially when you build a company from the ground up with noticeable age gaps amongst partners.
Here are the pros and cons for young entrepreneurs starting a company with teammates over the age of 50.
1. You learn a lot
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Working with more seasoned professionals naturally lands you in the role of mentee and them in the role of mentor. This is one of the biggest benefits, if not the biggest, when you build a startup with older team members.
One of my older teammates is an accountant and lawyer, as well as an ex-adjunct professor. Since I nor any of my younger teammates has startup experience, having someone that is willing to guide us through a slew of legal documents and teach us the process was invaluable. Basically, older business partners typically know a lot about corporate policies, office politics, and insider industry happenings. If they are willing to pass along what they know, the company can only benefit from it.
2. Reduced risk of groupthink
Groupthink is a common pitfall in business. It occurs when team members care more about avoiding conflict and disagreements than considering all possibilities. Groupthink is dangerous for startups, where pivoting can be crucial to staying afloat. Yet, despite the apparent destructiveness of this mentality, groupthink is a natural human bias that creeps into all organizations.
Millennials tend to be more individualistic, but we are certainly not immune to groupthink–especially when we start a business with close friends. Diversity of thought is the best way to combat groupthink. During team meetings it’s common for our younger partners to get excited about a new idea, diving headfirst into ideas without full due diligence. We’re fortunate to have more grounded teammates who can reel us back in and keep us on track.
3. Unique culture
It is common for millennials to place an emphasis on a fun and flexible company culture. In my experience, professionals over 50 value as much, if not more, the benefits of a relaxed work environment. For instance, both of the older teammates at my company are members of rock bands. They are adamant that company meetings work around their show schedules. We’ve held several meetings at music festivals and dive bars to accommodate them. We even hosted our company Christmas party at a dive bar on Grateful Dead night per their request.
As it turns out, older teammates can teach us more than just how to be successful. Take advantage of what more mature counterparts have to offer; you won’t regret it!
1. Company cliques
Cliques are pervasive in the workplace. Cliques breed an atmosphere of exclusivity and create division. Age is one of the most common factor among clique members.
It may be unavoidable.
Our two older partners happen to be long-time friends and neighbors. They frequently carpool to meetings and events. The younger partners often stick around after meetings to further discuss things and hang out. This is simply something to be aware of. If it gets to a point where cliques affect morale or productivity, act swiftly to address the problem and encourage transparency among partners.
2. Blurred lines
As the youngest member on the team, I am just now beginning my professional career. Whereas my more mature counterparts have either retired or been in the business world for more than 30 years.
In a recent meeting, one of the older partners referred to the four younger partners as children. While he may have been saying it in jest, I felt a line had been crossed that would not typically be crossed in a typical professional setting.
The older team members have already fought their way through ranks, each being a leader in his respective industry. Now, suddenly, they are equals with a bunch of 20-somethings who have not yet put in the same time and dedication. It’s understandable how this could lead to a few snarky comments now and then. However, setting clear boundaries and expectations for everyone to follow is the best way to handle these confusing and awkward professional situations.
3. Stifled innovation
As I mentioned earlier, our older team members are extremely knowledgeable. This can potentially become a liability, though. When faced with an unfamiliar challenge, it is easy to rely on more experienced partners to tell us what to do.
But while something is an industry norm, it doesn’t always mean it’s the best course of action. Our younger partners may lose out on opportunities to think of new and innovative solutions because we’d rather take the easy route.
Young entrepreneurs can’t, and shouldn’t, fallback on the way things are typically done. If you run into a problem, don’t automatically default to more experienced team members. Think of a solution yourself first, then ask older teammates for advice or to act as a sounding board.
Rachael McKinney is a co-founder of TotalView Industrial Imaging, a technology company focused on improving safety for workers in industrial fields via virtual reality software that can be used for training, planning, and improved communications.