I was slack jawed. Sitting across the table from a very successful thirty-something founder I was listening to him lament the hiring of a fifty+ year old CEO for one of his companies. There is no shame in making a bad hire, but he found only one proximal cause for the poor performance: the guy’s age. Listening to his description of that CEO’s failings, I was thinking what a horrible overall fit for the job this person was. Yet the founder’s conclusion was, “I’m never going to hire anyone over 35 again.” My conclusion was: you made a bad hire.
So it goes in The Valley sometimes. Age is strangely a proxy for performance, reflexively, maddeningly inversely proportional. It is irrelevant that the data say otherwise. I think later that week I saw yet another one of Forbes’s lists. I think this one was “The Ten under Ten.” Yet here I was, over forty and seemingly surrounded by amazing, inspirational, crazy risk-taking, exceptionally excellent over-forty year old doers.
The myth of older founders is pernicious: too comfortable, they don’t think big enough, not hungry enough, etc. Elon Musk doesn’t think big enough? Hadi Partovi is resting on his laurels with the founding of code.org? Where does the correlation of age to the myth of The Valley hero/heroine come from? One of the very founders of Silicon Valley itself Robert Noyce founded Intel when he was 41. Might it be that age is an incidental variable in human motivation, behind say, actual motivation? Steve Jobs was forty-two when he re-took the reigns at Apple and invented the iPod.
The data is interesting and while conclusive on the even spread of entrepreneurship across age groups (hint: the average age is 40) it’s inconclusive on value creation. Aileen Lee’s “Unicorn” analysis does a pretty good job on the top end of value creation and suggests that the “twenty something inexperienced founder is an outlier,” with the average age of founders for companies valued over $1B being thirty-four. The third most valuable company on her list had an average founder age of fifty-two. It seems some humans simply hit their stride later in life. Julia Child published her first recipe at forty-nine. Some strike innovation early. Picasso’s never did anything as important as the work in his twenties. So the data is out there but many have simply ignored it.
The week after Brian Acton (42) sold WhatsApp for $19B, I thought: maybe anecdotes are more powerful than data. So here you have a list of anecdotes, inspired by the inimical list of the “under under” set, but this one goes “over.” We give you the TechCrunch 40 over 40. Forty amazing entrepreneurs over forty years old. This list was fun and easy to put together. There is no shortage of over-forties taking big and small risks, changing the world and inspiring many. I hope you enjoy their stories.
(I’m an over 40 entrepreneur and sometimes write guest posts for TechCrunch. You can follow me @frankba)