I don't think one can meaningfully say that the "best" entrepreneurs come in one type or another. Certainly the YC juggernaut tends to confirm that young entrepreneurs can be extremely able and can lead ventures to spectacular forms of success.
But the statement above emphasizes for me what has always seemed obvious and yet has often been brushed aside in, let us say, the impetuousness of youth: that is, that experience can and often does make a huge difference for entrepreneurs and it is a mistake to ignore its value in assessing startup prospects.
Someone, somewhere, somehow needs to have "been there before" for a startup to work in a big, complex, and disruptive field such as those targeted by the most promising startups. If it is not the founders themselves, it is those with whom the founders surround themselves. If those persons are not there, it has been my experience (having represented countless founders) that the founders will tend to stumble around to their detriment. I believe the main value of the YC network, for example, is that it gives young entrepreneurs precisely the sort of connections and guidance by which they can connect up with and be guided or even mentored by those with solid experience in their respective domains. Without that, their chances of flubbing it are magnified by a lot. A VC with deep domain experience can add similar value, with or without YC, but of course its connections with key VCs is one of the ways that YC links its entrepreneurs with seasoned hands in a given field.
It follows ipso facto that entrepreneurs who are older and can bring direct experience to a venture will also often have it over younger, inexperienced ones. The opposite may be true as well and that the value of such experience in any given case may be limited or worthless. My point is that having key experience, when it is authentic and coupled with the right level of talent, is extremely valuable and should be eagerly welcomed when brought to the venture by older entrepreneurs.
We learn from our mistakes. That is a recurring theme on this forum. Those lessons don't simply take the form of "fail fast, fail often" because the virtue is not in the failing as such but in the lessons learned from the process - and that same virtue attaches to any quality experience by talented people who have tilled the soil in their areas of expertise for lengthy periods. That group may or may not be the "best" entrepreneurs but there will certainly be large numbers of them who will wind up being among the best by virtue of the depth and expertise that only quality experience can bring.
Of course you can, if the data supports it. If they had explicitly added terms like "the best entrepreneurs generally tend to come from people with many of these attributes" would that make it meaningful?
They were taking those as a given, since it's obvious that they apply when you compile data like this.
Just because a map is not the territory doesn't mean the map isn't useful.
And rejecting the data driven answer and then filling in your own interpretation retroactively is not a good way to arrive at conclusions that turn out to be correct.
That sounds like the scientific process to me. You look at a bunch of data points and say, "I'm going to reject the notion that this is an arbitrary correlation, and hypothesize that in fact there is some underlying cause X that drives the correlation." Then you control for everything else and do an experiment.
In tech startups, this might mean saying, "I think age doesn't actually matter, what matters is that someone in the founder's immediate circle (perhaps oneself) has a wealth of domain information." That's a perfectly testable hypothesis, even though the experiment would be expensive and difficult to do cleanly. You just take a bunch of older and younger founders, and have them found companies outside their domains. Some of them you provide with VCs and advisors with plenty of domain knowledge, others you just give money. If the domain knowledge proves more valuable than the age, you have confirmed your hypothesis. If the age matters more than the domain knowledge, you have rejected it.
Now of course you wouldn't find older entrepreneurs who would willingly forgo VCs and advisors with domain knowledge, and most founders choose industries they are familiar with. But maybe you could find some markets where this happens naturally. Maybe you could do an analysis of some industry like online education or fashion or something where you have a mix of types of founders, and see who has success. In any case, rejecting correlational data in favor of testable underlying causes is fundamental to scientific induction (it is only the difficulty of actually controlling ancillary variables that makes this practice hard to apply to sociological hypotheses).
> Then you control for everything else and do an experiment.
What grellas was doing was coming up with alternate explanations based on intuition and rejecting the conclusions of those that did do an experiment. And he was doing so retroactively. That makes it not science, but what is often called a "just so story" and is technically called the ad hoc fallacy.
Speculation about how to do a better experiment is a great discussion to have, but both yourself and grellas are moving towards a perfect solution fallacy, where you are ignoring the data you have now, that tells you something interesting in favour of waiting for some ideal study in the future (that can somehow test underlying causes in a sociological problem, which is, as you say, extraordinarily difficult).
This is a normal reaction to cognitive dissonance, find a flaw in the source that contradicts what you believe (it's correlational) and then you don't have to change your mind while you wait for a perfect solution. Seems to make sense but what you are actually doing is believing the narrative that has less evidence and then rationalizing that belief.
The idea of an accelerator actually running a controlled study is an interesting one, but the structure of such a study would mean that you would be very confident in getting lower returns than normal for that cohort. Maybe you would discover something that made it worthwhile from the data, but likely you would not. It would be great for everyone if someone did it, but no one wants to literally sabotage young entrepreneurs in order to maintain valid controls. Maybe you could use the same ethical arguments that medicine uses ... but it would be a hard sell.
The spectacular success comes from a slim minority of the YC pool.
Depending on how much luck you think is involved, those qualities can either be common or rare. I think they're becoming more rare in the Bay Area startup environment, as notoriety and money attract more people who are pale imitators of the outward forms of success. (Already, it's considered a great advantage to come as someone already part of a group.)
In this way, the Bay Area is no better or worse than many other locales where economic, cultural, or intellectual movements have cropped up. It's also, obviously, not a single monolithic "scene." But as the population of doppelgangers increases, there's the possibility that something akin to "herd immunity" may kick in, where small groups of people with the right qualities will find it difficult to meet. Already successful people will find it harder to "infect" other susceptible people with success.
I note that YC has decided to reduce their "class size."
I don't like people my age, including myself. We are inexperienced and foolish, and think much too highly of ourselves. The only cure for our folly is experience, which I believe does not temper ambition, but instead directs it towards wiser pursuits.
I know I will soon reflect on the things I create now and realize how flawed they were, but I've decided not to let it stop me. I know I will make mistakes, I know I will chase the wind, and I know that five years from now all of my running may leave me tired and broke, but what choice do I have?
The best things I create in my life will likely come ~15 years from now, but in the meanwhile I am left to do what I can with the resources I have, which are currently youth and ambition.
I will be a better entrepreneur when I am older, for now I will be the best I can be today.
I'm 39, almost 40. I feel the same way.
The moral of this, IMO, is that the answer to the question "Am I there yet?" is always "no" in life. No matter how old you are, you always have more to learn, and you can always look forward and say "in 15 years I'll look back and think I was pretty silly now".
This is not to discredit the value of experience. I feel like I make better decisions about certain things now, than I did, say, 20 years ago. But by the same token, don't discredit the energy and ambition of youth.
In the end though, at any given time all you can be, is who you are. Make the most of it and just accept that you'll make some mistakes. Always keep learning and trying to grow and eventually you'll realize that the more "wise" you become, the more you just realize how much you don't know.
Experience is only a treatment, not a cure, for folly. People will always be imperfect, regardless of how much they improve, and will always make mistakes. We just get better at avoiding the easy ones.
Keep going cautiously, but always keep going. You have a great attitude.
Perhaps a new site to connect would-be 45 yr old entrepreneurs with 20-something hot shot programmers?
Your 30s are going to go by in a flash, and when you are 45, you are going to chuckle at what people in their 20's think old is.
I asked my grandparents the other day if this acceleration of time kind of levels off once you reach old age, and they said nope, years go by in what months used to be.
Working on things that are tedious or generally unfun, can make the clock tick by slower.
Workouts slow the clock down for me.
However, instead of trying to slow down the perception of time, think about it trying to leverage it:
If you know that the days, weeks, years, etc., are only going to pass faster, it becomes easier to visualize the end results of cumulative effects.
Always wanted to learn a new language? Spend 30 mins a day on it. When those 2 years have flown by, if you were disciplined, you will reap the rewards.
Same for working out. If you have always wanted to be more fit, or stronger, or whatever, nothing can be as intimidating or embarrassing as struggling to lift the bench press bar before putting the weights on.
And at the end of the workout, especially in weight lifting, you can feel like it will never get better or take forever to get results.
But if you bank on the ever increasing speed of perceived time passing, add a dash of discipline, and before you know it, you will have achieved your goal.
Really the advantage is two fold, during the workout time slows to a crawl, so you have achieved goal one, slowing down time perception.
And the rest of your life blazes by, so in seemingly little time, you will have worked out every day for 2 years and trust me, you will see results you wouldn't believe.
The solution is to break your routine. For me, the subjectively slowest passing of time is when I'm doing a lot of new stuff and haven't formed a routine around it. But if you're working a 9 to 5 kind of job you end up doing the same shit every day and every week and every month. Pretty soon you take notice and discover that another year has gone by. So do your best to avoid routine. Or if that's not practical (hey, we all need to make a living) then fill your non-work hours with new experiences and new learnings. Now that's some advice I need to take myself...
I started doing this a few years ago and it's really great at the end of the to look back year and see all the cool things I did.
There are a few apps for this. I use Everday.me a bit and have been meaning to try Overdrive.
There's also a company called OhLife that sends you a daily email to reply to. I think they're YC.
On the other hand, stupid things matter less to me now. Like the fear of missing out (FOMO) and trying to look cool, so all of the hip social badges like trying all of the yuppie-crap to present an image that I'm an renaissance man matter less to me. The more mature things like being responsible, on-time and saving money matters more to me. But I feel so inept in these things, so I feel both like I have peaked and very immature at the same time. But hey, Dota hasn't changed so to make myself feel better about myself, I just pub-stomp n00bs ftw!
I don't like people my age, including myself.
I'm 29. It doesn't change. I've no problem with the average 29-year-old (or the average 23-year-old) but the types of people who do well, young, in VC-istan are pretty irritating.
The types who do well at older ages aren't much better.
For people, I prefer Wall Street. No, I'm not kidding. The work isn't as interesting, but the people are more decent.
This is not the first time I've gotten that.
Bad Founder DNA:
- Predatory Aggressiveness
- Excuse Making
- Emotional Instability
You see this happen with "scenes," like a music scene or an art scene. When a scene is new and truly obscure, everyone is genuinely open and supportive. Newcomers are welcomed and encouraged, as colleagues whom one can talk in common with about generally misunderstood ideas. When success and significant money starts to ramp up the competition, things change. Values change. Much of this isn't really "bad" so much as necessary: Fame and money invariably attract undesired attention.
For example, why does YC application asks for Age?
"There's an age bias in that our standards get higher as the founders get older. You can't reasonably expect a 19 year old to have achieved as much as a 35 year old. But there's no sudden cutoff."
Even though I'm older, I have to admit it makes sense.
To see if the myths held up. Age was talked about a little at dinners, but the consensus was that it didn't matter.
UPDATE: to be clear, it was agreed that being older had some advantages like experience & maturity. Being older wasn't automatically considered "bad" as the myth usually goes.
Oh really? Shortly after I got to the Bay Area, I met a 20-something YC kid who looked straight at me and said that my age was going to be a problem. (In the context of the Bay Area, not YC, to be fair.)
In which sense do you find it, "unfair, but part and parcel?"
Is it not fair in the sense that physical attractiveness and gender is an "unfair" factor when hiring Hooter's wait staff? Or rather, is it "unfair" in the sense of hiring a receptionist or a graphic designer? (Where looks aren't explicitly in the job description, but where exceptional attractiveness could be a potent and favorable signal for the company.) Or is it "unfair" in the sense of it being a factor in hiring a machinist?
Can you explain the "part and parcel" part?
I don't have a strong opinion on this. I'm just trying to determine which part people have a problem with. The two objections that I can think of are:
1. Not believing that age could be a factor affecting the likelihood of a venture.
2. Believing that even if age is a factor affecting the likelihood of a venture, VCs shouldn't use it.
Lack of experience is probably helpful if you are doing something which is basically a bad idea but because of a bunch of factors clicking into place ends up being an awesome idea.
When you are older you are probably not in such a position to just run with some crazy idea.
Counter-scenario: Perhaps being older is an advantage in the "go big or go home" scenario, since the older person feels like they have less time left to achieve their dreams?
Personally, as a 39 year old, I feel like I hear the clock ticking pretty loudly and that motivates the hell out of me. I use a lot of sports analogies, and the way I look at it is this: It's like I'm down by 6, with 1:37 left in the 4th quarter, and have the ball on my own 20 yard line. That means it's "4 down territory" and maybe time for a "hail mary" or two. It's do or die time here.
(Apologies to anyone who isn't a fan of American football, if the above analogy makes no sense).
Seriously, I don't feel like I have a lot of "at bats" (to use a different sports analogy) left, and I'm feeling a strong sense of 'do it now, or "the water under the Golden Gate is freezing cold"'.
I wish I'd never seen Godfather III. When Michael Corleone sits down in that wooden chair in the vineyard and his entire life flashes before him. That haunts me. Am I going to be proud that I took chances and embraced the full range of emotions that life has to offer? Or would it be rather dull for the most part although numbingly comfortable in an upper middle class way.
Which is good.
Because I'm finally motivated to actually accomplish something. For whatever reason the motivation wasn't that strong when I was younger, but now it is.
What I realized can be a problem when you are acting out of age is the reaction of others. Even if no one thought I'm in my 40ies yet, I do act differently than others in my age (for various reasons). The point is that people expect you to act like other people in the early thierties. Sometimes in big corp world that can pose problems.
Guess it's the same when you ARE 40 and still act like you were 20.
FWIW, you're probably in your physical prime right now, barring weird circumstances. The "losing to 20-somethings" is probably just a run of bad luck, or you happened across a particularly talented group by happenstance, or you're losing focus for some reason, etc.
For most men, you don't really start declining physically until your late 30's or even into your 40's. Then you start getting drops in testosterone, etc. But, the good news is, men (and probably women to, not sure on this point) can gain strength and muscle mass well into their later years. You may have to work harder in the gym to keep up, but don't feel like you became a frail old man at 30 or anything. I'm pretty sure I know some 50 year olds who could kick all our asses at BJJ. :-)
See the problem is, there is no real data there and these guys are betting on anecdotal evidence. Generalization is the root of all discriminations.
What I'm talking about is the first time entrepreneur who maybe has had a steady job for the last 10+ years and maybe kids/mortgage and all the rest of that. These people are probably less likely to be interested in trying to be the next facebook and more interested in a profitable but humble B2B business or something such as that.
Why would you think a B2B business has to be "humble"? Do you realize how much money is at stake in the B2B world? Have you looked at the financials for Oracle or IBM lately? How about forget being "the next Facebook" and trying to be "the next Oracle" or "the next Red Hat"?
You can't really give a few college grads a couple of grand and ask them to sit in a room and build the next oracle.
What I mean is businesses that are not either win or fail dramatically.
For example you can run a consulting business out of your home office, it might grow into something the size of accenture, but if it doesn't you can still be comfortably profitable.
I'm still not seeing the same dichotomy you are, apparently. Can you give a couple of college grads a couple of grand and expect them to build the next Facebook? If "yes" and realizing that Facebook took quite a bit of time and capital to grow into what it is today, then how's that different than building the seed of what could grow into the next Oracle? Before they were the behemoth that they are today, Oracle was a startup with one product, a new database using the - at the time - revolutionary "relational" model.
For example you can run a consulting business out of your home office, it might grow into something the size of accenture, but if it doesn't you can still be comfortably profitable.
Fair enough. I'm not sure I buy that there's any particular reason that an older person would prefer that model though. Then again, despite being an "older" guy by HN standards, I differ in that I have no kids, no wife, no mortgage, and live a lifestyle that probably has more in common with some 20 somethings (minus the binge drinking and late nights at clubs). Maybe I'm biased in assuming that there are actually plenty of other 39 year olds living the same way I am, and dreaming of making it big.
Also, do age discrimination laws apply to VC's? Not that it would be right to do it -- but is it illegal?
Now contrast that with the US military and the shitstorm around allowing openly gay people to serve. Since there are many conservative types in the military who threatened to resign if openly gay people were allowed to serve you have the argument "allowing gays to openly serve will hurt our national security".
Now even the most liberal gay friendly person might see that as a valid argument.
Collecting data selectively is how discrimination starts.
But you are probably right, it's not illegal.
It calls IQ irrelevant, but values a metric of "high fluid intelligence" including logic, pattern recognition, and abstract thinking which... IQ is supposed to measure? If they've developed a more effective measure of general intelligence that correlates to actual success then why isn't this huge news? Why hasn't IQ already been supplanted by this metric?
And more personally relevant, what is the difference between "project completion skills" and the supposedly irrelevant "conscientiousness" metric? Something to do with intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation?
Do you know any persons who have scored or would score high on IQ tests who are ungraceful and awkward in social situations? Have you seen such persons unable to take advantage of their abstract thinking ability to avoid awkwardness in social situations? (Example: Failing to realize what they said implied about someone present.) Have you seen such persons persist in making logical arguments concerning a certain point, long after it should be obvious that the audience has ceased to care? Have you sat by and watched someone on your team do that in an important meeting?
> The difference between stupid and intelligent people - and this is true whether or not they are well-educated - is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. --Neal Stephenson
I've scored decently high on IQ tests and have been plenty stupid nonetheless.
The structure of the session and course material itself were kind of a let down though and they let a lot of people in who don't seem that stellar.
If this test is so accurate why aren't there bigger successes in Founder Institute?
I am not pro or against age. I actually believe it's probably not a very good indicator of success or lack of it. Age is probably a very weak indicator.
But they have a 60% drop out rate.
Why do people like myself (and several very intelligent people in my session) dropout of FI ? We all dropped out because we found the course wasn't well planned, the weekly assignments were often annoying and non-sensical and got in the way of doing important work on developing the company. They dump surprise assignments on us during Christmas while we are at our relatives. I wasn't getting important questions answered and found better info elsewhere.
So intelligent people are dropping out and then FI reads this as: intelligence is not correlated with success. So they reduce IQ from the entrance test. Correlation does not imply causation.
Age is just a number, ego is something that could cause self-destructive behavior and bad decision making.
There's good points. But this feels like a bad case of "blind eyed data worship". That's like saying "the best entrepreneurs are women" because when you compare data, female entrepreneurs grow their companies faster, with less risk, and are profitable sooner (all true facts, go ladies!). Yet when we look at startups and businesses we see men all over the place, at the top of billionaires lists, with massive companies, worldwide reach, huge patent portfolios. All despite there being 10+ million female entrepreneurs in the US. This is another case of the data not matching up to real world results. Maybe because there's more to being an entrepreneur than the data recorded. Like aggressiveness, risk, market, idea, management style, etc...
Every time an article like this comes up I can always think up of numerous examples that prove the exact opposite. From Egotistical Puppet-master Steve Jobs (RIP), to Numerous VCs that have stated over and over that they find "young, narcissistic guys with a chip on their shoulder" to be really good entrepreneurs, to real world examples all around me. Can someone explain this?
Because my explanation is that data patterns like this only explain: "what has happened, not why it happened or what will happen." Sometimes, numbers and data are only as useful as the places and methods you use to collect them, and the way you re-arrange and present them. Which very often is "poor".
TLDR: The Best Entrepreneurs are people who adjust to change and get shit done.
Obviously, people have varied aptitudes for behaviours, based on a whole set of genetic and environmental factors (especially early developmental environments) BUT, anyone can practise at entrepreneurship and get better, which is why I'm not surprised older people with business experience are more successful.
'The best entrepreneurs are ones who work in their field first, gaining valuable real-world knowledge and experience for a decade or more.'
The definition of 'best' here is massively important. If 'best' means 'has an operating business with ~1 million in revenue', then perhaps no one will doubt that a slightly unconventional, experienced, agreeable, 34-year old is predictive.
Maybe I'm totally wrong on this but I feel that not many people are selling their things, moving to silicon valley and missing a good deal of their youth in order to have a successfully operating business in which they hold a little equity, thus putting them in the ranks of perhaps a certain type of 'best' entrepreneurs. I would go even so far as to say that SV's 'best' is massive success--like 'billion is cool'--where perhaps you couldn't even do a predictive test because the outcome is that rare. I mean how many people are really set out to achieve non-power-law-type success if they are in the 'founder' game? Are angels looking for that? Perhaps picking founders by lowest car insurance premium? VCs?
My personal anecdotal experience is that older entrepreneurs tend to be better at certain types of entrepreneurship -- I know several older folks who are renowned in a particular very technical area of innovation. There are probably 10 people in the world that could found a company in their space and it takes years to develop that level of specific domain knowledge.
On the other hand, when it comes to building a consumer-focused app targeting 20 year olds, it's going to be difficult for a 40 year old to relate.
As far as ego goes, my experience is that SV CEOs tend to be some of the biggest ego driven maniacs on the planet. Not all, but I would certainly say more likely than the population at large.
That being said, this article seems to have a bit of a slant against that demographic. I think it's a wonder so many of the people that age succeed the way they do, given their competition.
I'd also point out that Paul Graham has a good point when he talks about some of the advantages being under 25 has if you make a startup - for instance, that you're more likely to learn more tools and not become "set in your ways" so to speak.
Still, it is encouraging to see any research that dispels that idea that you have to be a 20-something to succeed as an entrepreneur.
I'm 37 and have had moderate success as an entrepreneur. I would consider myself competitive but not really egotistical. I just try to hire/work with people who are smarter/better than me so I can always be learning.
Maybe it's not even so much ego, as it is a crazy high sense of self-efficacy. I still buy into that "I can do anything, if I'm just willing to work hard enough" mindset.
They have less ego than anyone living and a great deal more experience to draw on.
Young people should therefore consult the dead first, resorting to their older counterparts only as a means of last resort.
Energy and ability to learn and change peak early. But our experience and deep understanding of things can keep expanding for many years.
1. Awesome, because I barely think I can accomplish even the simplest of goals!
2. Wait, but I'd better not let that make me overconfident.