Startups aren’t (just) a young person’s game

Adjust the narrative: Experience and network take time to build

There’s a pervasive myth in Silicon Valley: Startups are only founded by a bunch of 20-year-olds who recently dropped out of college. The Social Network, the Pirates of Silicon Valley, the various Steve Jobs biopics, and even the Silicon Valley TV show – wherever you look, the popular narrative is all about youngsters making it big.

It is true that entrepreneurial folks are more likely to start companies before the real world has beaten the optimism out of them and dulled their eyes with cynicism. But while youthful vigor can fuel and motivate fresh-faced founders, startup veterans know there are other aspects of building companies that are equally important.

After you’ve seen enough startup pitches (God knows, I have), you start to spot a pattern: The best founders often have a few miles on the clock. The advantage is in having a curated, personal database of solvable problems, of the people who might be able to help, and a good idea of who you can sell your product to once you’ve built it.

Life skills often come with age. For example, having kids makes you a better manager, because it forces you to learn priorities and the value of time. Parents tend to be more resilient and patient, which are both crucial startup skills. But the real reason why experience is important is related to building one’s personal network.

When I got my journalism degree, I found myself wondering, “Great! Now I have the academic and theoretical context for the field of journalism, and I know all the techniques journalists use to string an article together.” What I didn’t have, though, was anything to write about.

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