Are You Too Old?
I recently came across a survey of US Tech Start-Up Founders by the venture-capital firm, First Round Capital, that yielded an insight that I think most of us, explicitly or implicitly, know to be the case:
37% said age is the strongest investor bias against founders, while 28% cited gender and 26% cited race.
Age is the strongest investor bias. No surprise there. And while the survey was focused on Tech, I don’t think it would be a stretch to envision this to be the case across start ups in other sectors as well.
But that actually wasn’t the most surprising finding:
But before you start imagining how this hurts white-haired, would-be entrepreneurs in their 60s, 70s, or 80s, consider this: founders participating in First Round’s survey said ageism in tech starts, on average, at the age of 46—and more than a quarter of the founders said the bias affects entrepreneurs as young as 36.
“As young as 36.” Even in the Tech sector, that’s pretty incredible.
And while I’ve heard some of the rationale as to why younger folks are favored - natural inclination towards technology, deeper technical skills, work ethic, etc. (which I don’t agree with, by the way) - the fact that the age threshold has skewed towards 36 suggests something deeper, something that is clearly driven by a belief not based on any '“learned” experience.
Certainly, we can pontificate as to why that is, and what we need to do to change it, but the general sense is that it’s going to be a long road, if we are even going to get a point where ‘age-ism’ isn’t going to be a thing. (For example, while the survey asked respondents when they expected to see the racial and gender makeup of startups to reflect that of the country, the same question wasn’t even asked of age.)
So what is the grizzled old veteran, aged 36, to do in terms of their entrepreneurial ambitions? And by logical extension, should the 40-somethings, 50-somethings and 60-somethings just hang up their boots, or resign themselves to a life of servitude, a life lived on someone else’s terms? I think that takeaway is pretty clear.
Don’t live by anyone else’s standards. Don’t accept conventional wisdom.
Instead of de-focusing on what we see as a weakness (how old we are), lean into it. See it as a strength, a battle tested set of capabilities. Not everyone is going to accept that and you’ll lose out on some opportunities that would have been a perfect fit. But that’s actually a good situation - you’d never want to work for someone who considered your age to be a detriment. Look for those who value it and need it.
Or, don’t look: do something for yourself. The fact is that the experienced professional has plenty to offer, plenty of perspective to build on and, frankly, plenty of gas left in the tank. I think the factor that holds us back is the inability to take the leap, to try something out (even in ‘side-hustle’ fashion), to go do it for ourselves.
Look, I don’t think we can expect to see wholesale change on the issue of ageism anytime soon, despite anyone’s best efforts. So the implication is pretty binary for us: either accept conventional wisdom and do what you can, or take it as a Call To Action and do what you want.