Forbes India Roaring 50s: When age is just a number

Startup founders, our brains have been hardwired to believe, are young—mid-20s or thereabouts—with bellies bursting with fire and an insatiable appetite for risk. But the founders in our Roaring 50s special prove age may be just a number in the journey to a bigger, multi-digit figure

Brian Carvalho
Published: Dec 6, 2021 10:23:33 AM IST
Updated: Dec 20, 2021 11:09:05 AM IST

Startup founders, our brains have been hardwired to believe, are young—mid-20s or thereabouts—with bellies bursting with fire and an insatiable appetite for risk. Think Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Steve Jobs… hang on. Jobs may have been in his early 20s when he founded Apple but the maverick innovator, who died at 56, had also told his biographer two years before passing that the past 12 years of his life had been his most productive in terms of creating new products.
Messrs Zuckerberg, Page, Brin and Jobs are testimony that levels of creativity and imagination are perhaps highest in the 20s. But, hey, as long as the spirit, flesh and venture capitalists are willing, age may just be a number in the journey to a bigger, multi-digit figure—a multi-billion-dollar valuation on the back of a potentially game-changing business model.  

In the recent past, a clutch of founders on the ‘wrong’ side of 40 and 50 have built entities worth over $1 billion, with the promise of profits down the road. If the young and restless bring passion and energy to the business plan, the unyoung and longer-lived come with a been-there-done-that-and-keen-to-do-more mindset; victories are to be celebrated, and setbacks will hurt but, when time teaches you that this is how life works, you’re more likely to quickly move on to the next battle than get caught up celebrating the win or wallowing in the loss like there’s no tomorrow.

But there’s always a tomorrow. The Forbes India cover story is about a fine bunch of men and women who leaned on yesterday’s learnings to attain glory on those morrows. These are mostly former professionals who, after garnering plenty of knowhow, have chosen to go it on their own with the backing of technology and capital.
On the cover is Falguni Nayar, a former investment banker who walked to the other end of the table to start a beauty and fashion ecommerce venture in 2012, when she was 49. A decade later, after going public, Nykaa had a market value of close to $15 billion, as of the last week of November. And, Nayar, at a sprightly 58, was worth roughly half of that. As Nayar tells Naini Thaker, who wrote the story after meeting the founder, her son and daughter who head key verticals, and key professional honchos: “Entrepreneurship is an adventure that needs courage. Age and experience aren’t liabilities. When you’re young it’s easy because there’s no downside. Typically, with age, you somehow put these constraints in your mind that you have enough to lose if you don’t succeed.”

Experience, quite clearly, is what these 50-something founders have dollops of. They’ve seen sectors opening up, attracting foreign players and public sector monopolies being broken. Consider, for instance, Kamesh Goyal, who started his career in insurance in pre-liberalised India, with The New India Assurance Co in 1988, moved to German insurance giant Allianz in the late 90s when foreign players entered, headed the joint venture with Bajaj, and eventually moved to the Munich headquarters. After which he started up insurancetech venture Digit, at 50. As Goyal tells Rajiv Singh, who tracked his journey and wrote ‘The Big B of Insurance’, “I am not starting from scratch. I have done it and I have to just repeat it.”

Investors in public issues tick quite a few boxes when applying, and experience and pedigree of promoters is—or should be—one of them. That’s where the older hands will provide tech and internet companies an edge. As perhaps Nayar did for Nykaa, which was oversubscribed nearly 82.5 times and, at the time of writing, quoting almost 80 percent above its offer price. The new adage in boom town may well be: ‘Count your years in moolah, not years’.

Brian Carvalho
Editor, Forbes India
Twitter ID: @Brianc_Ed

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(This story appears in the 17 December, 2021 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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