Super Cities №114 - Innovation, Young and Old

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

Older founders are more successful than younger ones*

The data revealed that a founder who is 50 years old is 1.8 times more likely to start a top company than a 30-year-old founder, and that a 20-year-old founder has the worst chance of all.

Hart’s Comment

The largest American companies, by market cap, are Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, and Microsoft.

Each company was started by founders in their 20s.

(As an aside, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were both in their 20s when they became two of America’s Founding Fathers.)

But according to this research, a 50-year-old is twice as likely to be a successful founder as her 30-year-old peer.

What’s going on here?

I believe the answer comes down to a central tension between creativity, technical know-how, and experience.

A fifty-year-old could not have conceived the idea that became Facebook. The same is true of an online bookstore or a search engine. These concepts would have been too far from his frame of reference.

But these concepts-turned-businesses needed adult supervision to mature and thrive. That’s why Eric Schmidt — then in his mid-40s — led Google for a decade. Sheryl Sandberg joined Facebook when she was thirty-eight.

At the risk of generalizing, let’s say:

  • Younger people are riskier, more creative, and much less experienced.
  • Older people are more risk-averse, less creative, and much more experienced.

As the most successful companies demonstrate, the sweet spot is a balance between youth-fueled creativity and long-term experience.

In a rapidly changing world, one cannot exist without the other.

  • Thanks to Ben for sharing this article.
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