Quit Your Job Now – While You Still Can

A Harvard Business Review article (and podcast) called “The High Intensity Entrepreneur” makes this shocking claim:

“To be successful, entrepreneurs should wait until they are in their 30’s before launching a business.”

I almost dropped my iPod when I heard this.

The article actually quotes a study that says most highly successful entrepreneurs worked for three or more years in a large multi-national business before leaving to start their own companies in their 30s.

I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. My heroes, guys like Dell, Gates, and Zuckerberg, didn’t even wait to graduate college. But the study authors (and by extension, HBR) are saying that you should go to work for The Man for 10 years to learn how to:

  • Structure operations and process in your business
  • Manage people in an organization
  • Build a strong company culture

Sure these are important lessons … but they can be learned anywhere!

I apply these rules to my business, and I’ve never worked at a Fortune 500 anything. The lessons of efficiency, delegation, operations and process can be learned anywhere.

In fact, the most proficient person I know in these skills is my wife. Where did she learn them? Working for a tiny newspaper during college, and six months at an even smaller bakery as a pastry chef! She’s a master at making simple processes that propel a company forward.

Meanwhile, multinationals continue to suck the life out of entrepreneurs. After a few years in the comfy cubicle of a Fortune 500 company, would-be entrepreneurs will have a hard time adjusting to the realities of life at a startup.

If you have learned to rely on million-dollar marketing departments, armies of IT people, and pools of secretaries and travel agents, you are in for a big start-up surprise. Starting a company is messy and I’m not entirely sure that working for a Fortune 500 company equips you to deal with messy.

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook

So quit while you can. If you are 24 and working for The Man, your time is almost up. My experience suggests that waiting until you are 34 or 44 almost guarantees that you will not build a successful company. You will become complacent and weak. You will delay and postpone and equivocate until you are stuck in your job for good.

Worse, you will likely spend your way into financial bondage: The economic weight of your mortgage, your kids and all the consumerism of modern life will weld your butt to a desk chair. Life at 30 is a LOT more expensive than life at 20 and a steady income sure seems easy.

Sure, there are some tough lessons a youngster will learn. Zuckerberg, Parker, Dell and Gates all got knocked around a bit. But the billionaire boys club is not made of people who waited until 30 to find their passion for work.

If entrepreneurship is for you, you’ll know it by the time you’re 20. But it can be forgotten, too. So act on the urge. Act soon. And act while you are young. When you do, don’t even THINK about subscribing to the Harvard Business Review. Clearly, the writers there are still working for The Man.

Dedicated to your (youthful) profits,


  1. I agree that you don’t need to work for a Fortune 500 company to gain the skills required to be a successful entrepreneur.

    But your statement that “waiting until you are 34 or 44 almost guarantees that you will not build a successful company” is simply wrong. There are numerous studies showing the vast majority of successful entrepreneurs are over 30.

    Also, in the US the age cohort starting the most new businesses is 54-65 year olds.

    Yes, young entrepreneurs get the press. But older entrepreneurs are running most successful new businesses.

    • Thanks Steve:
      As a 40-something entrepreneur myself, I had many conflicting feelings about this article. In fact, I first penned “Old Guys Rock” about the very facts you mentioned. Several studies have indicated that founders in their 40’s do very well — perhaps even better than their younger cohorts.

      All that may be very true, but I wonder if, buried in the detail, are not some even more telling statistics…. like, entrepreneurs in their 40’s are starting their third or fourth business (like me), rather than thier first.

      In any event, I still think that the longer you wait, the more difficult (economically and socially) it becomes to jump out of a comfy career and into risky entrepreneurship. If you keep saying “Someday when I save enough money I’ll start a company,” I can assure you that the day will never come.

      The kinds of expenses we (Americans) take on during our 30’s and 40’s — like home mortgages, car loans, kids, and piles of gadgets and crap — tend to dissuade all but the most dedicated entrepreneur.

      Speaking personally, if I had a “Fortune 500” career to fall back on right now, you bet I would think long and hard about launching yet another business. It might be very nice to coast into retirement on a fat salary, with expense account lunches and annual bonuses.

      I think entreprenuership springs from the heart of youth. From a care-free spirit of “nothing to lose” and the very real ability to pursue one’s dreams without endangering the livelihood of a spouse or a child.

      Too many of my friends have said “One day…” and yet they continue to toil away in the same job, year after year after year.

      Steve I hope you will contribute more to our discussion here. I admire the work you’re doing at http://www.emergentresearch.com/

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