America at work
8 Founders Who Started Businesses After 30
Free Enterprise Staff | December 2, 2014

When you hear the term “company founder,” what comes to mind?

If you’re like most people, you likely imagine someone like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg. The idea of a company founder being a young, male college dropout is firmly entrenched in our collective imagination. Yet for all the hype these savvy teenagers generate, they’re not the only ones responsible for starting successful businesses.

There’s actually a case to be made for the other kind of company founder. But the seasoned business veteran in his or her 30s, 40s, or 50s, who draws on decades of professional experience to create something that’s built to last, rarely receives the same kind of attention as their college-aged counterparts.

These 8 founders show that when it comes to starting a company, age is nothing but a number.

Tory Burch

Founder of Tory Burch

When Tory Burch was 38, she started a fledgling clothing line, opening her first store in Manhattan’s NoLiTa neighborhood. Little did she know her little experiment would become a full-fledged fashion house, with Tory Burch quickly becoming a household name among fashion lovers. Her eponymous company now operates more than 125 freestanding boutiques, and its products are sold in more than 3,000 department and retail stores across the globe. 

Tory Burch founded her eponymous fashion line when she was 38. Photo credit: Amanda Gordon / Bloomberg

Tory Burch founded her eponymous fashion line when she was 38. Photo credit: Amanda Gordon / Bloomberg

Cher Wang

Co-Founder of HTC

Cher Wang had a long, successful career in Information Technology (IT) before she decided to co-found a company with Peter Chou in 1997 when she was just shy of her 40th birthday. That company turned out to be HTC, the telecommunications giant that designs and manufactures mobile devices. Wang, whom Forbes listed in its 100 Power Women rankings, recently returned to help HTC recover from recent lackluster sales, taking over as head of sales and marketing.

Evan Williams

Co-Founder of Twitter

Before Evan Williams co-founded Twitter in 2006, he had spent years working at other peoples’ companies including Google, where, Evans said during a TED talk, he worked on Blogger, among other projects. He left the technology giant in 2004, hoping to make it on his own. Yet success didn’t come right away for him. It wasn’t until 2006, when Evans was 34, that he and a few friends dreamt up the idea behind Twitter, the now-ubiquitous social media network where he served as CEO before eventually stepping down. He still made a killing on the company’s IPO, however, and has a net worth of $2.5 billion.

Martha Stewart

Founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia

It takes a lot of chuptzpah to name a company after yourself, but Martha Stewart isn’t your typical founder. Starting with a small catering company run out of her basement, Stewart worked her way to the top over her decades-long career, honing her carefully crafted brand and aesthetic to broaden her appeal. In 1997, at the age of 56, Stewart founded Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, the media and merchandising company that bears her name, employs more than 400 people, and reaches more than 100 million consumers across the globe.

Travis Kalanick

Co-Founder of Uber

Although he does fit the founder archetype in one distinct way—he dropped out of UCLA— Kalanick didn’t come up with the idea for Uber until after more than a decade into his professional career. That hasn’t stopped Kalanick from leading Uber toward unprecedented growth, with the ridesharing service expanding across the world since a 33-year-old Kalanick co-founded it in 2009. Though it’s been the recipient of some bad press lately, Uber remains a juggernaut that recently earned an $18.2 billion valuation. For his part, Kalanick is still a star CEO whose net worth Forbes estimates at more than $3 billion.

Reid Hoffman

Co-Founder of LinkedIn

Reid Hoffman is a serial entrepreneur. But like everyone else on our list, he didn’t hit the professional jackpot until he was well into his career. In 2003 at the age of 36, Hoffman officially launched LinkedIn, the professional social network he co-founded that got its start in his living room. Now worth an estimated $4 billion, Hoffman still serves as chairman of LinkedIn, which counts some 6,000 employees and more than 330 million members among its ranks.

Reid Hoffman co-founded LinkedIn when he was 36. Photo credit: Noah Berger/Bloomberg

Reid Hoffman co-founded LinkedIn when he was 36. Photo credit: Noah Berger/Bloomberg

Arianna Huffington

Founder of The Huffington Post

Arianna Huffington was 55 when she founded The Huffington Post, which has grown to become one of the 30 most highly trafficked websites in the U.S. The company was one of the first to anticipate the shift away from print and toward digital media, and it was among the most successful at cultivating a broad audience, driving millions of users to its affiliated sites. The strategy helped pave the way for a major acquisition, with AOL purchasing the web property in 2011 for $315 million.

Sam Walton

Founder of Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart might now rank as the world’s largest retailer, but its origins are most definitely humble. According to The Guardian, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton started his first store in Newport, Arkansas, with $20,000 he borrowed from his father-in-law. In 1950, the military veteran moved to Bentonville, where he opened another store, Walton’s 5&10. It wasn’t until 1962 that the 44-year-old Walton unveiled the first ever Wal-Mart, in Rogers, Arkansas. Walton presided over the retail conglomerate over the next decades, taking Wal-Mart public in 1970. Today, Wal-Mart employs more than 2.2 million associates and operates 11,000 outlets across the globe.