New Data Debunks a Popular Startup Myth |

Unlike Jobs and other famous entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who started companies in their 20s, Fadell didn’t launch a startup until his early 40s. By the time Fadell started Nest, he had gained highly relevant skills as an employee at three established companies. Nest became so successful that Google bought it for $3.2 billion.

Data scientists who have mined enormous datasets have discovered that those leaders who succeed as entrepreneurs first succeed as employees who rise to the top of their organizations. For example, Fadell started as an engineer in one company, became a director of engineering at another company, and finally rose to senior vice president at Apple. There, he was in charge of building a new device you might have heard about — the iPod.

Leadership is an art and a skill. Like any skill, it takes time to sharpen. You’ll make many mistakes throughout your career, so taking one step at a time makes sense. And while you’re climbing the ranks and gaining valuable experience, you’ll learn from your mistakes — and the mistakes that you see other managers make.

The media loves stories of the lone inventor in a garage. As a storyteller, I love those examples, too. I wouldn’t have written books about Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos if I didn’t know a good story. But those stories capture our attention because they’re rare.

When I left a six-figure job at a prestigious firm in my mid-30s to start my practice, I had built up a solid network of people who believed in my value as a communication coach. One of my first clients, Intel, hired me immediately to coach senior executives. The client served as my “anchor store” to attract many other global brands.

Don’t feel as though you need to follow in the footsteps of entrepreneurs who dropped out of college and started a company in their early 20s. There’s time. And, according to the data, time could be your most valuable asset.