[Edited a bit.]
When are you too old to be a startup founder?
A friend was lamenting recently the “Standard Model” that angels search for: young, college/dropout, coder, product-centric, naively bold. My friend isn’t these thing (except coder – he is that).
Should investors invest in old founders? Should you be an old founder?
Here are some old founders:
Dave Duffield of Workday which has raised $250mm since 2006 for his Peoplesoft 2.0. He’s 61 now
Louis Monier of Qwiki which won Techcrunch Disrupt a couple years ago and raised lots of money for visual search. He’s 55+
But they aren’t typical, are they? Intuition is all about the youngsters like Gates, Brin/Page, Zuck, Systrom.
The classic Marc Andreessen post on this topic reports:
- the long arc data on creative arts/science output shows there are peaks
- they are field specific (math/poetry early like 30, philosophy/novels late like 50)
- but overall it’s about quantity. Do more to produce more hits
Naval Ravikant from Angel List etc. adds a theory which I think is close to conventional wisdom among founders (similar themes from Paul Graham when he writes about the perfect time to start a startup: college):
- get old = get a family+ get richer –> both your free time/low opportunity cost and your peacocking libidinal drive dry up
- so your quantity of startup efforts falls, and so does output
Not that your probability of success falls on a given effort. But this tells you something in aggregate — on the whole, older folks won’t produce as much because they can’t take as many as bats amidst all their other obligations. And his overall point is that startups are for young people.
In general, I agree, for the reasons he mentions.
But how about for a single situation — will that one work out?
I think you have two problems as an older founder.
1. You know how to do stuff. You have experience doing X (especially bad if X is not starting startups). You will want to do things the way you have done before. People will find you “hard to coach” compared with an eager beaver recent student.
2. You will feel time is short. This is not your first of many startups over many years, this is the one “that has to work”. So I think instead of changing, pivoting, restarting, throwing out bad ideas you will be tempted to push on, let it ride, hang in there a little longer. And that causes a worse failure than restarting — that is the “fail slowly” result.
I think this last bit is the part that seems new to me — if you think “this venture can’t fail, I can’t let it”, then you’re less open to needed change.