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.