Friday, May 13, 2011

Can you be too young to be a successful entrepreneur?

Last week I discussed how 30-year-olds are not over the hill despite what a VC that was close to Michael Arrington of Tech Crunch said. The VC said that younger entrepreneurs are more creative and imaginative and it's "not a guess, this is a data driven observation."

Many responded to my post and said that being 30+ is not a limitation of a great entrepreneur. They agreed that the 20-somethings have a bigger advantage because they have a lot less to lose, so there are more of them taking the chance. 30-year-old tend to have families and more responsibilities, so they are fewer of them in the entrepreneurship world.

So it got me thinking. Is it possible that you could be too young to be a a successful entrepreneur?

Before we answer that, let's define what "young" is:
  • 20-something is not young with Mark Zuckerberg and Max Levchin as good examples.
  • Let's take away the child celebs such as the Mary Kates and Ashley Olsen's.
  • Let's say anybody that was born before May 13, 1991 is already old.

A early success stories that come to mind include:
  • Josh Buckley (18) and Tyler Diaz (17), founders of the YC-backed company MinoMonsters.
  • Jessica Mah (19) when she co-founded the YC-backed company Indinero.
  • Ashley Qualls (14) when she started WhateverLife.
  • Ernestinte Fu (19) a Stanford student that is also a VC at Alsop Louie Partners.

To answer my question, these few examples (among the many that are out there) prove that you can't be too young to be a successful entrepreneur.

The problem that I have a hard time grasping is the known fact that venture capitalists are so risk averse. So I wonder how they can consciously write a check to the aforementioned teen techies - some of whom may not even have a checkbook themselves. Obviously, these are the few examples of proven and successful teen entrepreneurs, but for every success story, there must be a failure and that has to be wavering in the back of their head.

I'm not aware of any teen failure stories off the top of my head, but it's likely a failure on it's own if a teen came up to an investor with an awesome idea and a minimal viable product only to be shutdown because of their age.

(For the record, YCR does not discriminate based on age. We welcome all entrepreneurs regardless of when they were born.)

A Junior Achievement survey released in April 2011 said that 51 percent of teens would like to own their own business someday, but of those polled, 74 percent identified risk (39%) or failure (35%) as the biggest discouragements. So you have to wonder if that initial "no" from an investor prevented a gifted student from building the next Google or Facebook.

Many moons ago, when I was young and in my teenage years, I thought I was sharp and bright. Could I have run a Facebook or PayPal? Maybe, but it definitely was not the thing to do in the early 1990's. Most people were trying to figure out what those AOL discs were that populating their mailbox everyday, Apple was the computer with no right-click button, and our experience of UNIX was the one scene Jurassic Park that supposedly locked the doors and kept out the Raptors. Nobody was interested in started a billion dollar business back then.

What are your thoughts? Let's say you had an extra $100,000 lying around, and a 15-year-old prodigy came up to you and presented you with a solid MVP/business plan/etc. Would you fund them knowing that age poses a great risk?

Image by M.ADA under the Creative Commons License.

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