Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures noted, to the dismay of some of his older readers, that almost all the entrepreneurs he'd backed were in their thirties. Steven Levy, in his feature this week on young entrepreneurs, has a still harsher summary of Silicon Valley's current wisdom: don't fund anyone over 30. So, cult of youth, or rational response of venture capitalists to observed outcomes?

Bad news for the graybeards: a quick check on the great tech companies of the last three decades shows a pretty brutal rule. The most spectacular successes are launched by founders still in their twenties. The peak age: 26. Within a year of that age were Google's Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Apple's Steve Wozniak, Yahoo's Jerry Yang, Skype's Janus Friis, Chad Hurley from Youtube, and Tom Anderson from Myspace.

There are a few exceptions: Skype's Niklas Zennstrom and Myspace's Chris DeWolfe were both in their mid-30s. I'm sure, moreover, that there are plenty of enterprise software companies, as profitable as they are boring, founded by veterans; but these tend to provide more modest returns than Google-jealous investors crave.

Advertisement

Our next project: to track the distribution of outcomes for entrepreneurs in a particular age cohort. My guess: older entrepreneurs fail less often, but succeed less stunningly. Even if there were evidence that young entrepreneurs are more likely to strike out, risk-hungry investors will still fall for youth.