The myth of the young startup founder

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While the story of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook has undoubtedly inspired an entire generation of young entrepreneurs and reshaped their imaginations about what’s possible, people too easily forget that a big part of what makes the story compelling is that it’s so unusual. Mark Zuckerburg is not only an outlier — he’s an outlier among outliers. By Ian Hathaway.

Researchers have known for a while that peak age for general entrepreneurship occurs around mid-career (mid-30s to mid-40s), but an influential academic study published last year shows just how misguided the popular narrative is that twenty-something tech billionaires are the norm even for high-growth, high-tech entrepreneurship.

Economists Pierre Azoulay, Benjamin Jones, Daniel Kim, and Javier Miranda, analyzed administrative government data on the founders of all U.S. businesses that were started during a recent eight-year period (2007-2014). This restricted-use dataset at the U.S. Census Bureau allowed the researchers to get an accurate and comprehensive view of all business startup activity in America.

Age of entrepreneur


The authors calculated the average founder age (at the time of founding) along key startup characteristics (industry, financing, patenting, location) and outcomes (hyper-growth, acquisition, or IPO). Below is the average founder age along these dimensions:

  • All companies (with at least one employee): 42 years
  • Fastest growing 0.1% of companies: 45 years
  • High-tech industry: 43 years
  • Venture-backed: 42 years
  • Filed patents: 45 years
  • Successfully exited (acquisition or IPO): 47 years
  • Located in Silicon Valley: 42 years
  • Located in an entrepreneurial hub: 41 years

Founders aged in their 20s and 30s are less likely to start high-growth companies compared with their share of total companies founded. Conversely, founders aged 40 years and above are more likely to start high-growth businesses relative to their contribution of total companies founded. Super interesting read!

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