No Age Limits For First Entrepreneurial Experiences

“Young entrepreneurs proud to be selling their custom handmade jewelry.”
First entrepreneurial experiences can come at any age, according to a survey done by

First entrepreneurial experiences can happen at virtually any age. That’s what John Horning, President of, learned when he asked a couple hundred of his LinkedIn connections to describe their first entrepreneurial experiences.

“This was part of my quest to find out how entrepreneurs are different from the rest of us,” Horning says.

As part of his research, Horning learned, for example, that Walt Disney started getting paid for his drawings before he was 10 years old, Colonel Sanders (Horning’s hero because he didn’t achieve a lot of success until he was in his 60’s) established a ferry boat company at age 30, and Warren Buffett purchased his first stock when he was 11 years old.

Bill Gates started programming computers at age 13, and his nemesis, Steve Jobs, started his first business at age 17 selling “blue boxes” which allowed users to get free (and apparently illegal!) long-distance phone service. Mark Zuckerberg used Atari’s BASIC computer language at age 12 to create a messaging program he named “Zucknet.”

After sifting through over 100 responses from his LinkedIn connections, Horning discovered that there many ways these entrepreneurs could be grouped:

1. Those that had entrepreneurial experiences as youth (under 16).

2. Those that got started as young adults, typically around 18-25.

3. Those that got a late start – 30 to 100. Okay, there weren’t any 100 year olds in the survey, but it could happen 🙂

4. Those that were more or less forced into entrepreneurship after a layoff.

5. Those that got their first taste of entrepreneurship while working for someone else.

6. Then, there are “accidental entrepreneurs” who didn’t exactly plan to get into the business they’re in.

Of course, not all entrepreneurs can be placed into one of these categories, and many fall into more than one. In fact, Most, and perhaps all of those who reported that they got started as adults, actually had entrepreneurial experiences as youth or even children.

Don Scifres, whose first entrepreneurial memory was that of getting paid to move dirt at age 6, was a reminder of the many common things that youngsters did and do to earn money, including mowing lawns, raking leaves, shoveling snow, washing cars, picking and selling strawberries and blackberries, house painting, collecting soda bottles, etc. Horning adds baby-sitting, newspaper delivery, and selling lemonade to the list. All of these can count as entrepreneurial experiences.

Less common were experiences of people like that of Rick Plautt who remembers selling “personal pizzas” made from English muffins to neighborhood children at age 8 or 9, with a little help from his mother, of course.

Christopher Hussain bought candy in bulk and resold it to classmates, eventually setting up a store at sporting events, and adding sports cards and comic books to his inventory.

Freda Thomas, at age 7, persuaded the neighborhood children to come to a play/production at a friend’s house, where she charged them 10 cents each. Robert Nickell similarly organized a carnival in his parents’ backyard at age 10.

David Boghossian, at age 13, decided to sell his siblings’ Christmas presents to his classmates. Seemed like a good idea at the time, no doubt. Jonathan Cottrell was 11 years old when he started a business taking out neighbors trash cans at night and then bringing them back in the morning.

Douglas Raggio was able pay for a trip to Europe as a teenager by doing some work on his parents’ house. It was a LARGE job, he says. While in high school, Adam Peterson was involved in 4 or 5 businesses, including an underground newspaper. He was in charge of sales while everyone else in the group did the writing.

Many, such as Steven Davis, became entrepreneurs as young adults. Steven started a landscaping company at age 23, and Kumar Arora did graphic design work at Ohio State University starting at age 18.

George Lucas hired Dawn Garcia as a freelance makeup artist when she was 22 during the filming of Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (Dawn is Horning’s connection, not George 🙂 ).

Others, such as Jerry Hignight and David McGarry, didn’t become entrepreneurs until they were laid off from their jobs. Jerry started Passion Jewelry after getting laid off in the high-tech communications industry after 9-11 at the age of 48. David was laid off by his financially-troubled employer at age 36, and decided to create a fitness website.

Some entrepreneurs got their first taste of entrepreneurship from their parents. Chirag Kulkarni’s parents started a Math Tutoring Center when he as 13. Jason W. Womack’s mother and stepfather ran a restaurant, and his father was COO of The Sharper Image retail stores.

Some entrepreneurs are what could be called “accidental entrepreneurs”. For example, Macalister Bali was 12 years old and when his neighbor asked asked him to set up her computer. When she handed him a $20 dollar bill he began to realize he could earn a living doing something he loved.

In Horning’s opinion, most, if not all, entrepreneurs would qualify as “accidental”, meaning that circumstances beyond their control lead them into their various ventures. This could be a topic for another study.

While most entrepreneurs go through a fair amount of floundering before achieving success, some hit home runs with their very first venture.

Kevin Rivers signed a direct content licensing deal with Sony for his music label at age 17. Jeff Davis pitched a new line of clothing to a national retailer at age 15, and got his line into 40 markets.

Justin Cobb started door-to-door sales at age 21, eventually building his organization to over 2000 sales reps in 10 countries.Chris M. Harris launched his moving and furniture installation business from his college apartment at age 25 scaling it to $1.2m in 36 months.

Some of Horning’s LinkedIn connections were inspired to become entrepreneurs after seeing the success of their employers. Jeff (J.D.) Davids learned the art of deal-making while working for Nike. He quit his job, built a team and processed over $1B in deals over a 4 year period.

The bottom line is that entrepreneurs come in all shapes, size, and ages. Their backgrounds range from extreme poverty to opulence. What they do share is their dream of a better life and the willingness to take a risk.

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