Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ode To The "Older" Entrepreneur

If you look at a variety of fields, you see that people within certain age groups tend to do better.

Most productive ages for:
Gymnasts: teens
Mathematicians: teens to late-20s
Physicists: early 20s-early 30s
Biologists: late 30s-40s
Literary authors: 40s to 60s

This suggests that for certain types of disciplines experience matter more, while for others, for some reason, youth may confer specific advantages.  Obviously, there are always exception to the rule - e.g. Schrödinger found his equation at the ripe old age of 39 or 40.  However, this is meant more to focus on the average scenario rather then the exceptions.

The Biggest Software Franchises Were Started By Young People (people in their 20s)
If you look at the truly iconic software companies, they were almost exclusively started by younger people (largely people in their late teens to late twenties):
Microsoft, Facebook, Google, eBay, Amazon, Oracle, Yahoo!

This does not mean there haven't been successful entrepreneurs who started something at an older age, it is just the scale of the accomplishments seem to be an order of magnitude smaller (the difference between a $40 billion company and a $4 billion one.  However, a $4 billion company is pretty darn good).

Some Pretty Amazing Tech Companies Have Been Started By "Older" Entrepreneurs
Only in the tech industry is an entrepreneur aged 35-45 potentially classified as old.  Lately, I have been running into examples of entrepreneurs who have done some of their best work in their mid 30s and 40s:
  • Reid Hoffman - started LinkedIn in his late 30s
  • Mark Pincus - started Zynga at ~40
  • Steve Jobs - did some of his best work at Apple in his 40s
  • Tom Siebel - Started Siebel Systems at 41
  • Jim Clark - started Netscape at 50 (he also started Silicon Graphics at 38)

This suggests a few things:
i) For some reason, the largest long-term sustainable software companies are most often started by people in their 20s.  I am guessing this is due in part to:
  • Money/stability means less to you when young (since you have a lower cost structure, no kids etc.), so you are less likely to sell out early
  • It takes a long time to build a major company.  Microsoft took 15+ years before it became truly the dominant force in tech.  Perhaps starting young gives you more time/runway to do this before other aspects of life take over.
  • Young people spot big software trends sooner.  E.g. a college-centric social networking site (Facebook) was extremely unlikely to have been started by a 40 year old.  Young people can capitalize on new behaviors as they see and experience the behavior first.
This suggests that the best time to start something truly massive is when you are young.

There Are Great Examples of Entrepreneurs in Their 30s and 40s
If you take a longer road to eventually starting a company, there is always the hope of being the next Jim Clark and doing something great.

Any other over 35 entrepreneurs you know of?  Let me know in the comments section.

Related post: "Are You A Visionary Entrepreneur"

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