When you think ‘startups’ you probably think young, white, male confers playing ping-pong and shooting Nerf guns during coding binges in someone’s apartment. This image is increasingly not representative of startups as a whole, and that’s a good thing.
The value of startup families
At trinket, four out of our six team members are parents. Five out of six of us have spouses. The median age is solidly in the mid-30s. We have plenty of fun, but there are no Nerf guns in the office. This composition not only makes us better able to realize our vision of everyone in the world teaching each other what they know, it’s increasingly common.
I don’t personally have kids but I’ve seen firsthand that the maturity and good nature required to care for kids has translated directly into a more sustainable, effective and forward-thinking culture for us. It’s a cliche perhaps, but “making the world a better place for our children” is indeed a powerful motivator and makes the vision we have of pervasive open teaching that much more tangible.
We’re not alone in this. I’m part of an occasional CEO breakfast of local companies that are post-angel, pre-VC. An informal headcount finds again that founders with kids are the majority. One of the great strengths of our community is our ability to combine our businesses, families and our philanthropic passions. I’m pretty sure that our experience on a recent snow day where kids *almost* outnumbered team members on a ‘daily standup’ video chat was more common than you might think. (See above)
My point in writing this essay goes beyond our company culture or our region’s culture. It’s a phenomenon that’s changing what it means to be a startup, and the results are already visible.
Twentysomethings are the minority of founders.
A Kauffman foundation report found that in 1996-2007, not only were founders aged 20-34 in the minority, but founders aged 55-64 outnumbered them in every one of those years! These measures are based on businesses of all types, not just high-growth startups, so you might argue that the data is unfairly biased by sole proprietorships and other traditional businesses. But according to California venture capitalist Aileen Lee, even in billion dollar startups (the “Unicorn Club” as she calls them), twentysomethings are the exception, not the rule. She wrote recently in Techcrunch that the average age of founders (at founding) for billion dollar companies is 34. And, since the average time to IPO now stands at about 9 years, this means founders will be well into their forties when their companies have reached these impressive scales.
And that’s a good thing: They’re also a minority, period.
As the startup strategy expands beyond its semiconductor and pharma roots and social network-fueled resurgence, diversity in founders is exactly what is required for these businesses to be relevant in our heterogeneous world. Dave McClure of 500 Startups recently wrote on Medium that, “Diversity is not just a strategy or a tactic…it’s what we’re all about.” 500 Startups has been a vocal leader in finding and investing in startups from all over the world, reasoning astutely that the majority of the earth’s 7 billion people are not white, male nor American; why would all of the world’s great businesses be built by this group?
And yet, judging again by Aileen Lee’s Unicorn Club statistics, this is the group that is currently building the majority of billion dollar businesses. I believe we will see this change in our lifetimes. The kinds of businesses yet to be built will have missions with even broader and deeper impacts on the world than today’s biggest tech successes.
Attaining purity of vision
This greater range of visions that come, in aggregate, from a more diverse group founders, is exactly the mechanism that makes businesses more broadly impactful. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, has talked about how the vision of a company is its “True North.” A company’s true vision has to come directly from its founders. Young, white male college students (or dropouts) may be able to found companies with visions of connecting everyone online (Facebook) or organizing the world’s information (Google). But it takes entirely different founders to build companies that want to create opportunity for every professional (LinkedIn) or bring a customer focus to enterprise applications (Workday).
And yet Reid Hoffman and Larry Page are, from a distance, stirkingly similar in many ways. What new, daring visions will be realized as more of the world’s seven billion people embrace the startup strategy, gain access to capital, and start connecting with customers who share their visions and are waiting to be served?
Startups: come as you are
The overarching message here is that everything you are – your familial status, your race, your gender, your nationality, your professional background, your first language – feeds deeply into the kind of vision you can set for your company. The world needs more companies with more big, powerful, benevolent visions. What will yours be?