Is 30 Too Old For Entpreneurship? Only If You Believe ValleyWag’s Sloppy Thinking

The nice thing about blogging is that it's quick and easy. As a result, you can say things without thinking them through, as Valleywag did in this post about entrepreneurship after the age of 30. They basically looked at a handful of super successful startups, noticed that most of them were founded by people in their 20s, and then made a magic leap of the mind to say that the best time to start a business is in your 20s. Why is that wrong? Because you can never make those kinds of judgements just by looking at a sample of winners. Using winners as your sample means it is skewed from the beginning unless you are going to test your findings against a larger (and preferably random) sample to look for disconfirming evidence.

Think about this – what if 10x as many tech startups are founded by people in their 20s as by people in their 30s? Well, then all else being equal, we would expect 10x as many 20-somethings to be successful. What this means is that Valleywag's analysis doesn't prove anything without further information. The *fact* that all these super startups were founded by 20-somethings may be primarily a result of significantly more 20 somethings entering the startup scene. I'm not saying it is, I'm simply saying that we don't know from Valleywag's chart.

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Blogs dealing with startups and entrepreneurship seem to be particularly vulnerable to this "find the secret sauce" kind of thinking. Everyone wants to be a successful entrepreneur just like everyone wants to win the lottery. And just like the lottery, there is no "secret sauce." Successful entrepreneurs have all kinds of personality traits and come from all across the board. Hard work, creativity, and all that other stuff are necessary, but not sufficient, for entrepreneurial success. Luck and timing play a role too.

My advice for entrepreneurs is to stop looking for that magic bullet and start doing stuff. It's the Mark Cuban theory – keep trying stuff until you figure out something that works. Don't worry about whether you are too old, too young, too short, too ugly, or whatever else it is that's holding you back. You are going to fail a bunch of times anyway. May as well get it out of your system early.

  • Great post, Rob. There’s also the bias at work here that youth = creative thinking.

  • Ignorant and sloppy thinking from the new journalism… why am I not surprised??

    Rob, during the run up to the first dot com bust I interviewed a 60 plus year old venture guy who told me that he wouldn’t back a deal who had a CEO over 35… period! I thought that was a terrible idea. My reason was simple. Many under 35 CEOs never have experienced anything but success so it would be natural that if they hit an obstacle they would not know the right thing to do. As one sage wrote, Good judgment comes with experience and a lot of experience comes from having bad judgment.

  • Bob

    The notion that 35 or below is some prerequisite for business success is nonsense. I can site any number of new successful ventures begun by people in their mid-forties to mid-fifties. I’m talking about real businesses – not just building a job. You won’t find them written about in Wired or any new economy blogs or publications, though.

    And, how many “intrapreneurs” who launch a new idea inside an exisiting company are over 35? Quite a few, I suspect.

  • Great post! I am on my third start-up, am about to turn 61, and am loving every second of my worklife. I couldn’t agree more: There is no magic bullet nor an easy process to build a business. Not to disagree with Mark but it isn’t just about doing stuff. It is about doing the right stuff, and lots of it.

  • Another reason I don’t read Valley Wag!! The only reason to not continue to grow (both personally and professionally) is because you are either dead or in a coma (but I guess being a politician or reporter might also qualify).

  • DJM

    I don’t know Valley Wag, but can infer enough from the name. Colonel Sanders, Dave Thomas (you can see what I am thinking about right now), and many others started firms well after the age of 30. More data oriented — there have been many academic studies that show that success of an entrepreneur is often heavily determined by experience.. while there is no ideal number that I can recall, i know it is not 2 or 3 years. Industry, management, and crisis experience are crucial to the long term success of any venture. This is not to say that younger entrepreneurs cannot build great firms, but my hunch is the write r over at Valley wag forgets about the smart vcs and the execs who came into firms like google, pretty quickly. sure brin, et all still grab the headlines, but there is much experience with them when the big money starts to arrive. Moreover, for any serious discussion of entrepreneurship and success, his sample is ridiculously skewed. Fun for blogs, but no one should make any real decisions based on the entry.