Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Take Heart, Over-30 Entrepreneurs

I've written before about ageism in Silicon Valley:

It's a well-known fact that VCs prefer to fund young founders. In its summary of a recent Churchill Club talk by Vinod Khosla, Business Insider writes:

"[Khosla] explained that the older a person gets, the longer it takes to adjust to change. People over 45, he says, are noticeably slower in adopting new tech than, say, teenagers.

Because things keep changing faster, there's less time to adapt to each change. And that means that suddenly, the quick adapters are the smartest people in the room.

"With all this rapid change, more leadership is coming from much younger people," Khosla said. "I'm spending more time listening to people under 25 then I ever did before."

In many ways, it's tough to argue when the youth-worshipers can point to Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Yet if you're over 30 (like me), there's no need to throw in the towel.

Think back to the startup that started the Internet boom.

Netscape (a name that seems as distant to entrepreneurs today as Osborne Computers did to Marc Andreesen back then) was founded in 1994. 50-year-old Jim Clark partnered with the 22-year-old Andreesen to start the very first Internet company.

The combination of youth and experience helped propel the company to a multi-billion dollar market cap barely a year later.

The ageists are right in this sense--I wouldn't trust a 40-year-old to have an intuitive sense for what 18-year-olds college students want in a product. But neither would I trust a 22-year-old who'd never worked at a "real company" to have an intuitive sense for what a 40-year-old IT manager would want in a product.

Whether you're young or old, your background and experiences provide strengths and weaknesses. It's your job to build a team that capitalizes on the former and compensates for the latter.

6 comments:

SAE said...

Nailed it - as usual!

SK said...

I think 25-35 is the prime time for entrepreneurs. One study looked at the relationship b/tw genius and age and the median age of peak scientific achievement was 34. Of course, this is looking at scientists vs. high tech entrepreneurs.

"Why productivity fades with age" (PDF) http://personal.lse.ac.uk/Kanazawa/pdfs/JRP2003.pdf

SK

Foobarista said...

The Valley always has a "face" ethic of overvaluing kids, but you'll always find plenty of old guys in the startup world (and by old, I mean actually old, ie >50 and sometimes >65).

They (we) tend to not hang around cooler-than-thou startups that get lots of bytes on the usual suspects, but you'll find plenty of us in more technology-dense startups, particularly in more obscure enterprise areas, which usually require deeper and broader domain knowledge than is typical among most consumer web startups.

Some of our properties: we have lives, non-work interests, and aren't interested in hanging out at work all night.

Work style: we prefer working smarter to "type first, ask questions later" iterative (and usually buggy and time-wasting) approaches to product development. There are fields where you have to do this, but we'll let the kids play there :)

Bill McNeely said...

The Mercury News had an article on the subject a few days back. Personally I think we in America put too much emphasis on youth and not enough on the knowledge learned from our living older generations. Just an observation from living in the Middle East and Afghanistan most of the last decade. Here is the article. http://www.mercurynews.com/jobs/ci_22072709/silicon-valleys-dirty-secret-age-bias

Chris said...

Foo,

I agree on the value of older entrepreneurs, especially in the enterprise.

The one thing that's actually harder for older entrepreneurs is being able to survive without a salary for extended periods of time.

Crashing at your parents' isn't too viable when you're married and have two kids in school.

Bill,

Thanks for the pointer to the article. I read that one as well. It's sad that people have to dress differently just to get a job interview!

Foobarista said...

fyi: your site appears to have some formatting issue. A white box shows up on the top left with what appears to be incomplete text and a link in it. This happens in FF and IE.