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Most people assume that startups are a young person’s game. They imagine a group of college kids in hoodies, coding away all night, surviving off cup ramen and energy drinks, with bloodshot eyes and early symptoms of carpal tunnel from excessive keyboard use.
But this common perception is largely the result of the creation stories of a handful of companies. We’re enamored by this notion that a group young people can change the world with technology. And while that idea is both true and inspiring, it can also be misleading. Because the vast majority of “successful” companies are not Apple or Facebook. The truth is, most of the world’s “unicorns” were started by people in their 30s.
When Aileen Lee, a VC in Silicon Valley, did an analysis on unicorns a few years ago, the average age of founders at founding was 34. Even audience-driven companies like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr had an average age at founding of 30. SaaS and e-commerce founders averaged aged 35 and 36; enterprise software founders had average of 38.
Sure, we can argue that 30s is still young. But I bring this up because it seems as though the overwhelming perception, especially in Japan, is that startups are only something that people try in their 20s. Then they go on to get a “real job.”
It is true that as you get older, it becomes harder and harder to take risks. You may have kids or parents to support, or you may even suffer from “wife block” (or “husband block”). But you are also much better prepared to start a company. In your late 20s or 30s, you have worked enough to understand how the world operates. You’ve built a network that you can tap into for hiring or business development. Most importantly, you’ve probably worked with a legacy industry, and are young enough to discover that it could be completely disrupted by simply applying software or a new technology.
We have no qualms about investing in students. But we also want to give chances to people that have more experience. Because the data shows that most of the time, they are the “unicorn whisperers.”