By Chaim Zucker*
In one of many great scenes of the movie Pulp Fiction Marcellus Wallace, a gangster king, tries to make Butch sell off the last fight of his boxing career. Marcellus tries to explain Butch why he is too old to succeed:
“I think you’re gonna find – when all this shit is over and done – I think you’re gonna find yourself one smilin’ motherfucker. Thing is Butch, right now you got ability. But painful as it may be, ability don’t last. Now that’s a hard motherfuckin’ fact of life, but it’s a fact of life your ass is gonna hafta git realistic about. This business is filled to the brim with unrealistic motherfuckers who thought their ass ages like wine. If you mean it turns to vinegar, it does. If you mean it gets better with age, it don’t. Besides, even if you went all the way, what would you be? Feather-weight champion of the world. Who gives a shit? I doubt you can even get a credit card based on that”
Sure sounds true for boxers. I mean Mike tyson’s career didn’t exactly age like wine.
But what about entrepreneurs? Do they turn to vinegar with age?
The answer would be a big yes if you follow the common Valley myth which goes something like: if you do not make it by the time you are thirty you are probably not going to make it at all. Followed by the usual suspects list of Gates, Zuckerberg, Mason and others.
Some even go further than that. According to Peter Thiel who last September launched his “20 under 20” program, twenty is the new thirty. If selected Thiel would give you $100,000 to start your company provided you are under 20 and are willing to drop out of school.
Entrepreneurs get younger and VCs seems to want them even younger still so I guess the next logical thing would be to offer kids $50K if they skip high school.
But seriously, is a twenty year old founder better equipped for the job then a thirty or a forty year old?
I definitely think not.
You Have Seen Nothing Yet
In their famous book, Startup Nation, Dan Senor and Saul Singer claim that one of the main reasons Israelis are so good at doing startups is because of the “impossible is nothing” way of thinking they get during their army service. Doing a successful startup is impossible. Well, almost impossible. If you don’t have what it takes to go through some major setbacks, tough times, rules that constantly change and so on you are doomed. You might still be able to raise some cash but you are definitely doomed.
What it takes to get over these hills and not give up at the first time the going gets tough is your mental strength. Mental strength comes with age, lifetime experiences and challenges you face and overcome. What could have possibly gone wrong for a twenty year old? Getting dumped?
When you run a startup you must have around some people you can trust and who would be available for consulting and unbiased advice when you need it most.
You don’t just buy these people at Walmart or Amazon, you connect with them as your professional careers cross over the years.
How many such people do you know when you are twenty?
The Y-Combinators and the Techstars are supposed to bridge this gap, but do they really? How can you judge the advice you get from people you just met and who will disappear in three months? Do they really care whether your startup will be successful?
Time is Running Out
Many tend to believe that young people execute better because they have the enthusiasm and drive to succeed. Well, that might be true but on the other hand a young guy knows he still has a full life ahead. Even if this venture fails there will always be another one, two or five. An older entrepreneur on the other hand, knows that this one must happen. It is all about the sense of urgency. The focus it gives you is just unbelievable.
Getting it Done (Fast)
One of my hobbies is sleeping. With current state of affairs I don’t really have much time for it but I used to be a true winter polar bear. This habit of mine used to drive my mum nuts especially during the summer vacation. A usual morning scene would look like this:
Mom steps into my room. I am obviously still fast asleep. She yells something about it being almost 8am and she must rush to work. She would then ask me to take the pile of clothes she has just folded and put them in my closet. Nine hours later she would come back and usually see me still getting up. Never happened, not even once, that I took the folded clothes and put them in the closet. Never.
Why you must be asking. Why not? I would answer. Who cares where my clothes are? And what’s wrong with tomorrow? Why must I put them back today?
Twenty years later a usual evening scene in my house would like this:
Me coming home from work usually tired and frustrated. Wife says she has to go and asks me to take care of the kids, fix them some dinner, get them washed, and make sure they are in bed by 8pm.
I would then argue that to do all of that with 4 kids in the next 45 minutes is not doable.
She would then kiss me goodbye and leave.
57 minutes later they are all well fed, properly washed and fast asleep and no, no alcohol was involved in this phenomenon.
I am no magician and there is no magic here. Life just forces you to optimize. You get things done and you get them done fast. You have no real choice.
I, by no means, underestimate the power of young entrepreneurs; I myself started my first company at the age of 23. I definitely think though, that age gives you quite a few benefits people tend to ignore or play down.
About the Author
Chaim’s dream job is staring in a Tarantino movie. Till then he serves as the CEO of eDealya which enables brands to monetize their social media investment.