Who Are the Most Successful Entrepreneurs? The Middle-Aged
WIRED, October 22, 2019
By Clive Thompson
“Sure, youth and innocence are great. But what if experience is even greater? We might get more innovation if we let the elders take the lead.”
Back in 2007, a 22-year-old Mark Zuckerberg gave some advice at Y Combinator’s Startup School: Do a startup before you’re old. In technology, he said, twentysomethings rule. The olds are useless.
“I want to stress the importance of being young and technical,” he said. “Young people are just smarter.”
That comment has not aged well. As we watch tsunamis of disinfo rage through social networks, we’re now suspecting it wasn’t so great for cocky young techies to so rapidly reupholster the public sphere. Those dudes may have been technically adept, but they were, as one early Twitter employee told me, “naive as fuck.” With little experience of the real world, the dewy pioneers were woefully unprepared for the hate speech, dog-piling, and sock-puppeted algorithm-juking that ran riot in the 2010s. Now we’re living in the wreckage.
Sure, innocence is great. But what if experience is even greater? Maybe we’d get better innovation if we left it to Zuckerberg’s elders. When it comes to building tools that help solve the world’s truly wicked problems, it’s the older visionaries who’ll get it done.
Consider the recent findings of a group of academics from MIT, Northwestern University, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the US Census Bureau who examined the success rates of startups. When they homed in on elite “high-growth” tech firms, they discovered the average age of the founders was 45. What’s more, their chance of success didn’t decrease with age. It increased.
About the Author:
Clive Thompson is a WIRED contributing editor.