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Ask PG: YC Founders over 30 yrs old
60 points by dannyr on June 2, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments
I'm curious to know how many YC companies with founders over 30 yrs old have been funded.

We hear so much about founders right out of college. I also wonder how much of a factor is age in selecting companies.

There are quite a lot of founders over 30. I don't know exactly how many because we don't keep track of ages. The sharp falloff is around 35, but we've had a handful of founders over 40. None over 50 though.

I think our age distribution is probably close to the age distribution for startups generally. We've funded more founders who are 27 than 20 or 35 because more people start startups at 27 than at 20 or 35.

I seem to recall at the YC meetup in Cambridge last summer (http://anyvite.com/events/home/tmokjxuwai/) that there was a question asking why the application asked for age.

I recall that you said "... age is a high bit in characterizing someone."

And Jessica yelled from the cheap seats that "... we need it to know that you can sign stuff legally."

I remember it vividly because it confirmed my decision not to apply to YC.

It sounds like you were reading a lot into what we said. Jessica's remark was obviously a joke. And all I meant was that when you're trying to judge someone's achievements, you need to know how long they've had to achieve them. Would you hold a 20 year old to the same standard as a 30 year old?

I'd think there would be more of a drop off with opportunities like Y Combinator than there would be with other Angel investors. I'm surprised there are any at all.

I guess it's still an excellent opportunity to meet people so I mean no offense to those over 30 who did sign up but I'm a 25 year old and I wouldn't pick up and move for $5,000 bucks. I always thought part of the lure of Y Combinator was that young folks had nothing to tie them down. I can't think of a 30 year old I know who has no obligations.

"I mean no offense to those over 30 who did sign up but I'm a 25 year old and I wouldn't pick up and move for $5,000 bucks"

No offense taken (I was 32 when we accepted YC funding). But it wasn't for $5000. Nobody, at any age, (except for rdouble) is applying to YC for $5000. The reason to move is because you probably should be in the valley, if you're starting a technology startup that is going to need to raise money or build partnerships with existing tech companies.

Anyway, the money was not at all a motivating factor for us in applying for YC. If we could hire pg, tlb, rtm, and Jessica to work for us for some amount of money, I would happily give them money. But that's not the way they wanted to play it, so we took some money from them instead. You're entirely missing the point of YC, if you think the money is the primary motivation for anyone working with YC.

Edit: Parenthetical added to cover outlier.

Nobody, at any age, is applying to YC for $5000.

Actually, money was a large part of the reason I applied to YC. I had a huge medical bill while uninsured last year and it wiped out a large chunk of my cash.


Heh. Cool. By the way, if you need an iPhone app for Virtualmin, my contact info is in my profile. We got an interview but we didn't get the $5000. :)

You know the email address field doesn't appear in your profile, right? And your websites don't provide contact info.

I can't think of a 30 year old I know who has no obligations.

You haven't spent much time in San Francisco, then...

I think the lure of YC (and really, the startup game in general) tends towards people who don't like being tied down.

If you don't know people like that it's probably because you're not sampling from a pool of founders, but of people that have conformed to the more usual social paths.

In our class there were lots of people driving $50k+ cars as well as people who could afford to not work for years.

Investors want founders who care more about their startups success than their own personal wealth/comfort. YC does an excellent job of weeding our people like you who wouldn't trade their comfort for a measurably better shot at startup success (which YC offers).

My main point was that the application appears to have requested it, so the data is there for the analysis.

I interpreted Jessica's remark as an attempt to head off concerns of any sort age-based discrimination rumblings.

I think age normalization is very tough, made even more difficult if you have a limited window into the 30 year olds you were judging (e.g., field changes, new start-up religion). Since you're betting on the entrepreneurial equivalent of race horses, though, you might be right. In other industries, like book publishing, one would like to see similar standards across age so a Frank McCourt gets though. The thing getting judged, though, is an already existing body of work and not the promise of future work.

It get's me thinking back to university, where there were a number of mature age students, most of whom were putting in much more than students on average. These people were obviously passionate, and had experiences in other industries.

Not sure who to believe here. Also not sure if it's illegal where pg is to discriminate based on age.

However it does seem that there's been a lot said about how people right out of college are the yc targets.

Might be good to explicitly state the position on age, to clear everything up. That way old hands know if it's worth applying or not.

Sounds like there a number of older people though, so I'm sure it's all good :)

Yes, you are supposed to hold a 20 year old to the same standard as a 30 year old - otherwise it's discrimination.

Yes, you are supposed to hold a 20 year old to the same standard as a 30 year old - otherwise it's discrimination.

This argument begs the question. To discriminate is to treat different things differently. The real question is whether age discrimination is justified, and despite the negative connotations "discrimination" has picked up, that's exactly what we're arguing here.

Also not sure if it's illegal where pg is to discriminate based on age.

Age discrimination isn't illegal; age discrimination by an employer against people over 40 is. Since those in question are under 40, and YC isn't employing said persons, legality doesn't weigh into things.

can you explain why this made you decide not to apply to YC?

we can make inferences from your remarks, but it would only be fair to you if you explained in your own words.

With all due respect that seems like an awfully sketchy reason to not apply.

Why wouldn't age be important for a YC applicant? If I'm ponying up some cash for your startup that is undoubtedly a factor I'd be crazy not to know. Furthermore, the comment from 'Jessica', whom I do not know, sounds tongue-in-cheek.

Are there other reasons, or is this the only factor you took into consideration?

We're planning on applying next year, by which time I'll be 49.5. Like Ben Fountain in the Gladwell essay, our success will be "highly contingent on the efforts of others."

A common belief is that U.S.-born tech founders of technology companies tend to be young. We found that about 1 percent were teenagers when they started their firms. More than twice as many were older than age fifty than were younger than twenty-five. Many, in fact, were in their sixties when they founded their startups. The vast majority of U.S.-born tech founders were older than twenty-five. The average and median age of key tech founders was thirty-nine.

Source: http://sites.kauffman.org/pdf/Education_Tech_Ent_061108.pdf

This is very relevant research. I actually agree with the findings based on the people I know who have started technology companies.

I don't think it applies to the kind of people that YC is targeting - young, mobile, no dependents, able to live on very little $'s a year or the technology segment which is consumer web startups.

The demographics here are kind of straightforward.

If you're over 30, you're more likely to have a family.

If you have a family and you can handle starting a company from zero, you're less likely to need YC. If you can't handle starting from zero, YC doesn't help you anyways.

This article has some good insight into people who succeed later in life (late bloomers): http://www.gladwell.com/2008/2008_10_20_a_latebloomers.html

It does happen, and it's not as rare as most people think. The article also makes a pretty strong argument that late bloomers tend to approach things differently than those who get an early start.

Thanks -- I really enjoyed that article. I could relate to the line "I felt like I'd stepped off a cliff and I didn't know if the parachute was going to open. Nobody wants to waste their life..." The discussion about the importance of a support network for "experimental innovators" is spot-on, too.

It isn't surprising most founders are in their twenties given demographics which are probably close to this on HN: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=517039

It looks like those in their thirties are well-represented. I don't see why age would make a difference anyway. If you blow them away, my guess is you're in. Just spend a few hours on your application, get a few people who you think are smarter than you to review your application with you for a few hours, submit it, then go back to focusing on your startup.

I work for a startup where everyone in the company is over 30

This thread (and the link to the Gladwell essay that someone submitted to it earlier) are interesting. I'm 39 years old, and want to start my own company and change my career from journalist to news technologist/entrepreneur. Some readers might chuckle at that, but I am very serious.

In my mind, the question of the age of YC founders has much to do with the threshold for risk. Age definitely plays a part. But age does not crush vision, and brings some benefits in terms of experience and understanding of target markets. In my own case, I have an idea for a mobile news platform that I believe will change the way in which a lot of people get information. I think it would be a product that people want, but the only way to find out is to build it and see what the market thinks.

But I recognize that there are a lot of barriers to achieving my vision.

First, I'm not a hacker, and I don't have a co-founder (yet) who is. I think in pg's view, this would preclude me from starting this type of company (based on some of his commentary in Founders At Work and in http://paulgraham.com/startupmistakes.html). Nevertheless, I have a lot of experience with the technologies that would drive the platform, and insights into the way people consume information, and I think this will be extremely valuable in driving product development.

Second, I have a family and a mortgage. Others have noted family-related issues, but the situation really depends on the specifics of your family. My wife is not working, as my youngest is in preschool only for three mornings a week. This makes it impossible for me to take the risk right now to drop my day job and the health insurance that comes with it (I live in the U.S., in the Boston area) and work full time on my product. If my wife was working in a professional position, not only would we have the salary and insurance to fall back on if I stopped working at my day job, but also we could afford day care.

So, what I am doing right now is plugging away at the business plan and some of the technical concepts in my spare time, usually for two hours per day after the kids go to sleep. I'm trying to bone up on my understanding of the platforms that I think I will need to grok in order to get this thing off the ground. I've stopped putting money in my 401k to build up some funds, and I'm considering how I might tap other sources of funding -- not to mention considering various revenue streams from the product itself.

Would I ever apply to Y Combinator? I couldn't do it on my own, but I might, if I had the right team and could consider taking off for a few months (I wish YC still had the summer program in Cambridge!). The family-related concerns are real, but there are ways to address them (for instance, COBRA for health insurance and enough funding to cover my mortgage and living expenses).

Edited: Changed first sentence to add Gladwell ref

Thanks for that newsio. As a 24-year-old I can't relate to a lot of the challenges you're facing, but I draw a healthy amount of inspiration from your passion and drive. I wish you the best of luck.

Just replying to wish you good luck. It can be done, but the responsibility of a family does make it more difficult. (35, 2 kids)

Regardless of whether you go the YC path or not - you should know that there are many, many examples of extremely successful companies being founded by people in their 30's and later. Cisco, Qualcomm, Amazon.com, Bose Corporation, LinkedIn. etc.etc.etc.

Normaly there are a lot of rule about age discrimination, but I don't think they exist in terms of investment $. I wonder if there are any such pitfalls when building an incubator?

I'm a little surprised that there are a lot of 30+ founders.

The thing is we mostly read about young people getting into YC.

I have also been to a number of gatherings with the YC founders and most of them are young.

rescuetime is one example right off hand, also not sure how old Matt Moroon at draftMix is but def does not strike me as fresh out of college. sure there is a few more as well.

Someone posted a correction and I guess they've deleted it; but Matt's last name is "Maroon", not "Moroon".

And he's under 30 still. Was 26 when he went out to YC. Spread the word.

matt, sorry for the misspell, annoying im sure. a young guy indeed.

If you look at many tech startups, you will notice that the age of the founders is closely related to the nature of their business. For instance, YC startups do mostly web software, so the founders should be young because the barriers of entry aren't that high. After all, a smart kid who spends his teens coding in his spare time will be at his best by the age of 20.

On the other hand, I know startups which were founded by guys in their 30s and 40s. Their business areas were chip-design and laser tech for optical networks. The barrier of entry in these fields is huge.

To cut a long story short, if you're 35 you may be old by web-app industry standards, but you're still young by semiconductor industry standards. Since you're on HN I suppose you're into software, not hardware, so what I have just written will most likely be irrelevant to you.

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