This last week, Billboard ran their annual 30 under 30 list, identifying the “rising young executives who are driving our business forward with their artistic and business vision.” It’s a great inventory of up-and-coming power players in the industry, but it’s quite ironic that it ran the same week as this story in Newsweek, which effectively argues that most of our long-held assumptions and stereotypes of the youthful, risk-taking, and sharp entrepreneur are actually wrong. How wrong?
Citing research by Duke University scholar Vivek Wadhwa, reporter Stefan Theil writes, “the average founder of a high-tech startup isn’t a whiz-kid graduate, but a mature 40-year-old engineer or business type with a spouse and kids who simply got tired of working for others.” That number may sound a bit over the hill, but to get at that number, Wadhwa studied 549 successful technology ventures.
Also, it is understood that “older entrepreneurs have higher success rates when they start companies.” Of course, Billboard’s annual list doesn’t consist solely of budding entrepreneurs in the record and music industries. This research does however recontextualize or, at the very least, challenge some of the underlying thinking behind the concept of 30 under 30 list. It’s worth considering the predominance of the digital divide between young and older entrepreneurs too.
Is it possible that while the older entrepreneurs may create more successful startups, those a shade or two younger may have a better grasp on how people their age are interacting with and consuming media and music content?
In the words of Wadhwa, “Older entrepreneurs are just able to build companies that are more advanced in their technology and more sophisticated in the way they deal with customers.” But, the discrepancies and possibilities for an older list of industry power players don't stop there. The Kauffman Foundation has released data that, “the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America has shifted to the 55–64 age group, with people over 55 almost twice as likely to found successful companies than those between 20 and 34." The new 50 over 50 list...
Alright, at this point, I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking. Ol' grandpa isn’t going to create the next Spotify, nor is he dreaming up the next best way to compile direct-to-fan marketing analytics, but it does make you wonder—are we missing out on giving some older entrepreneurs recognition by focusing only on those under 30? Better said, what do you think are the limitations of such lists and should there be a list that takes into account older players?