Tag Archives: Age

A few lessons from disruptive innovators

My friend Jean-Jacques (thanks :-)) sent me a link about the CNBC Disruptor 50, a list of 50 “private companies in 27 industries — from aerospace to enterprise software to retail — whose innovations are revolutionizing the business landscape”. One could criticize the method, the fields, what is disruptive and what is not, but the list is by itself interesting. And I have done a few quick and dirty analyses. (I mean by Q&D a very fast analysis on the age of founders based on available data – their age or the year of their bachelor – my full analysis is available at the end of the post)


I found the following:
– Disruptive innovators are young (33 years-old)
– They raise a lot of money: more than $200M!!!
– and yes, they are mostly based in Silicon Valley.


Disruptive innovators are young

The average age of founder is 33 (whereas the age of founders of start-ups is closer to 39 – see my recent post Age and Experience of High-tech Entrepreneurs). As it was the case with that general analysis, founders in biotech and energy are much older than in software or internet. This was something I had already addressed in that paper: disruption might be the field of young creators.

They raise a lot of money

A really striking point is the amount of money raised by these disruptive companies. With an average age of 6 years, these companies have raised on average $200M… In energy, it is more than $400M and even more than $250M for the internet.

Silicon Valley leads

Not surprisingly though, Silicon Valley seems to be the place where to be. 27 companies are based there (a little more than 50%). It is also where they have access to the most capital ($280M on average). Then comes the East Coast (25%). Surprisingly they are based in NYC, not in Boston anymore when East Coast is concerned. Only 3 are Europeans… (Spotify, Transferwise and Fon) even if a few Europeans have also moved to SV…

Here is my full analysis which as I said before might contain mistakes (particularly on the founders’ age…). You might also disagree with my field classification…

click on picture to enlarge

Age and Experience of High-tech Entrepreneurs

Every other year I go to BCERC, an academic conference about entrepreneurship. Not only to listen to researchers but also to add my own contribution. (You can find my previous contributions with tag BCERC). It’s also a way to confront and share ideas and results with others. This year, I wrote a short paper about Age and Experience of High-tech Entrepreneurs. The slides are available on slideshare and here they are:

The paper is available on SSRN. Why did I do this, well, you can have a look at the slides or even read the 15-page paper. But my point was to react to recent claims that high-tech entrepreneurs are on average about 40-year old. I was surprised and did my own analysis based on about 570 founders… and yes, the average age is about 38. But… the devil is in the details. It is sector-, time-, region- dependant. And even more surprisingly, the higher the value creation, the younger the founders. here are just a few tables as a quick conclusion…




Lessons from Billion-Dollar Start-Ups: Unicorns, Super-Unicorns and Black Swans.

A couple of colleagues informed me about Welcome To The Unicorn Club: Learning From Billion-Dollar Startups by Aileen Lee. I understand why. The article is closely connected to some of my main interests: high-growth start-ups and dynamics of entrepreneurs. Aileen Lee has analyzed start-ups in the Software and Internet fields which have reached a billion-dollar value while being less than 10 years old. She calls them Unicorns, whereas Super-Unicorns are companies which reached a $100B value!


All this reminds me of my analysis of 2700 Stanford-related start-ups (you can check Serial entrepreneurs: are they better? as well as High growth and profits) and to a lesser extent about the link between age and value creation: Is there an ideal age to create?

Aileen Lee has interesting results:
– out of 10,000+ founded companies per year, there are 4 unicorns per year (39 in the last decade – that is .07% of total) and about 1-3 super-unicorns per decade,
– they have raised more than $100M from investors (more than $300M for consumer-related). They may have been lean in their early days, but they grow fat!
– it takes 7+ years for an exit,
– founders have an average age of 34,
– they have 3 co-founders on average with a long experience together, often back from school,
– 75% of the founding CEO lead the company to an exit,
– many come from elite universities (1/3 from Stanford),
pivot is an outlier.

I found this article interesting, important, and I even felt empathy and let me tell you why. We have a tendency to underestimate the importance of hyper-growth and hyper-fast. Growth is extremely important for start-ups; reaching $100M in value is a success. Looking at the small group which reaches $1B and then $100B is interesting. You need money for this (VC), you do not need that much experience but you need trust from co-founders. The founders of super-licorns seem to be the explorer of unknown territories. You need passion and resources.


On Unicorns, I have done a similar analysis in “Is there an ideal age to create?” I also have an average age of 34 for 1st start-up experience of all founders, and regarding Super-Unicorns which I call Black Swans (highly unpredictable outcome according to Taleb), I have identified 10 Super-Unicorns (see below) and there are 1-4 such companies per decade since the 60s. The average age of their founders is 28 and even 27 if I count the 1st experience.

[My Black Swans – Ancestor: HP (1939); 60s: Intel (1968); 70s: Microsoft (1975), Oracle (1976), Genentech (1976), Apple (1977); 80s: Cisco (1984); 90s: Amazon (1994), Google (1998); 00s: Facebook (2004).
Age of founders: HP: Hewlett and Packard (27) – Intel: Noyce (41) and Moore (39) (but they had founded fairchild 11 years earlier). Andy Grove was 32 – Microsoft: Gates (20) and Allen (22) – Oracle: Ellison (33) – Genentech: Swanson (29) and Boyer (40) Apple: Jobs (21) and Wozniak (26) Cisco: Lerner and Bosack (29) Amazon: Bezos (30) Google: Brin and Page (25) Facebook: Zuckerberg (20) – Cofounder was 22.]

Now more data and statistics based on the Stanford-related companies. You can have a look first at my past slides and then I look at the Unicorn statistics.

Microsoft PowerPoint - BCERC-Stanford HTE-Lebret.ppt [Mode de co

Basic analysis of Stanford-related unicorns

Stanford unicorns by decade

Stanford unicorns by field

There are 3 super-unicorns in that group (HP, Cisco & Google). Out of 2700, there are 97 unicorns, which is a huge 3%! It probably means my sample is not exhaustive! Indeed Prof. Eesley estimates that 39’900 active companies can trace their roots to Stanford. This means now .2%. Now these are real exits whereas Lee includes private companies with no exit but a value provided by their investors. Whatever the ratio, unicorns are rare. Mine are less fat than Lee’s: they raise $30M with VCs.

I have less than 2 Stanford-related founders per company (but I do not count the ones with no Stanford link. It confirms Lee’s comment that many founders have roots back to school. It takes 8 years for an exit (fewer in recent years though) and 7 years for a graduate to decide about founding a company.

Unicorns and high-value creation is an interesting not to say important topic. Billion-dollar companies are not just a rare event, they tell us something about the impact of high-tech innovation & entrepreneurship. They are possible and desirable!

Is there an ideal age to create?

Here is my new contribution to magazine Entreprise Romande, which they entitled “Let the Expression of Energies Emerge from the Youngest Age.”


In recent years, there’s been a recurrent debate: is there an ideal age to create? I ‘m not talking about artistic and scientific creativity, even if the question deserves a study in itself alone. What artist has indeed produced a major work after 40 years? The Nobel Prize is often awarded for the culmination of a career, but the work had been produced decades earlier. Finally, the Fields Medal, the highest prize in mathematics, is given to individuals who are under 40 years. Is it the same for the creation of business? In a few months, Scott Shane [1], and Vivek Wadhwa [2] have recently denounced the myth of the young under-30 entrepreneur that Silicon Valley would have unduly celebrated. Shane finds entrepreneurial activity twice as much with individuals in their fifties, including in high technology, as with young entrepreneurs. Wadhwa concludes with an average of 40 years for those who succeed.

I will not hide my surprise with these new analyzes because my intuition and my experience made me move towards a cult of youth. In an analysis, – perhaps a little fast-, I had found an average of 27 years for famous entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley (those who founded Intel, Apple, Oracle and other stars of the Internet such as eBay, Google or Facebook ) and even 33 for their famous European counterparts (SAP , Logitech, etc.) The explanation seemed simple: if the experience is an important criterion of success for the management of a company, enthusiasm and energy will compensate for its absence when it comes to breakthrough innovation in markets where uncertainty is greater. In addition, the experience can be provided by surrounding oneself with experienced professionals. Finally one has nothing to lose and family responsibilities are seldom hard to bear when being 20-year old. Enjoy risk-taking as long as you are young!

Age of founders

I decided to do again my own analysis by studying the 500 founders of 200 companies, mainly in the field of high technology in the U.S. but also in Europe. I got an average of 38 years, similar to that suggested by Shane and Wadhwa. But do not conclude too quickly that the debate is over! The devil is in the details… By considering only the first entrepreneurial experience, counting only entrepreneurs who commit their body and soul in the adventure (and not those who are advisers or early investors) it drops to 34 years. There is however a point of agreement between these analyzes: the average has been steadily increasing in recent years.


I still personally believe that youth is an asset, simply because entrepreneurship is about enthusiasm and energy, and sometimes unconsciousness. Entrepreneurship is not about being young so much as what motivates to be an entrepreneur, is to have certain qualities which, overall , are more often found in young people. Would there be an explanation that bring closer these rather discordant findings? An idea that is dear to me is to see that experience is useful for incremental innovation, where one improves what already exists. Creativity and adventure are related to disruptive innovation, which has created new industries for 50 years (computers, software and biotechnology for example.) Another remark: I think innovation has been less revolutionary in the last 10 years, since the maturation of internet technologies. As a consequence, large companies seem to have taken the hand, as some experts noticed [3].

Last observation: the average age of those who have created exceptional companies (I measure it with higher than $100 billion capitalization) is 27 years. Even the founder of Genentech, the company which was at the origin of biotechnology, was 29 years old. All these companies still had one of their founders as CEO at the time of IPO. The slowdown in major innovations correlated with the increasing age of entrepreneurs could unfortunately be a sign that our world is less creative because older. There is probably no ideal age to create, but we must encourage the expression of enthusiasm and energy from an early age by encouraging creativity, loose from the constraints of experience and knowledge.

[1] Entrepreneurship Is a Midlife Game http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/225843
[2] The Truth About Entrepreneurs: Twice As Many Are Over 50 As Are Under 25 http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2013/04/the-truth-about-entrepreneurs-twice-as-many-are-over-50-than-under-25.html
[3] The Empire Strikes Back. http://www.technologyreview.com/news/426238/the-empire-strikes-back/

On a similar topic, I was a little puzzled by a short article I mention here, from Swiss magazine Bilan. The future, a question of youth (link to French article: L’avenir, affaire de jeunes, by Stéphane Benoit-Godet)

The future, a question of youth
Google wants to extend the lives of people and defeat death. An event that has not been so noticed. Yet it is not only an announcement effect. The possibility of downloading our own memory in thirty years so that a part of us can survive represents a formidable challenge to humanity and creativity.
Is this crap? There are many “deniers of progress”, those who fight in vain their time because they do not understand its implications. There is however an exciting movement in the science that envisions o convergence of engineering, information science and neuroscience.
Patrick Aebischer is a pioneer in Europe with the vision he imposed at EPFL. Others work hard at the convergence of these different techniques to get to the mother of all scientific epics, the understanding of the brain.
If Google decides to work at this breakthrough, we must be interested because the resources the Silicon Valley firm dedicates to its special projects division are enormous. And when it comes to processing data on a gigantic scale, its founders are experts.
Henry Markram who has raised 100 million from the EU for his Human Brain Project at EPFL also fits perfectly in this revolution. What has been made possible here thanks to the will of one man – Patrick Aebischer had a good part of the establishment against him when he arrives at the EPFL – has spread further.
If Larry Page and Sergey Brin, at Google, dare to embark on this adventure, it is because they are immersed in the bath of innovation that is Silicon Valley. The place where are created start-ups that disrupt social interaction (Facebook), technology (Apple), how to learn (Twitter), move (Tesla and SpaceX) or consume (PayPal).
Ironically, the head of that company, David Marcus, a Geneva serial entrepreneur who moved to California, is shaping the future of money when Swiss bankers have never been in such bad shape.
This culture is still missing here. The trigger is perhaps encourage people in their 20s and under to start their own business. As the crazy visionaries in Silicon Valley who have a mission to improve the lives of people, the desire to create and the entrepreneurial enthusiasm could lead to huge success.

When age does not hinder creativity: a rare example in mathematics

I seldom (but sometimes) talk about Science or Mathematics. Mostly when it helps me illustrate what innovation or creativity is about, and sometimes when I see analog crises in all these fields (see for example the posts on Dyson, Thiel or Smolin). And there is another related point: it is often claimed that major scientific discoveries or entrepreneurial ventures are done at a young age.

Yitang Zhang

You probably never heard of Yitang Zhang who has stunned the world of mathematics last month by proving a centuries-old problem. He is a totally unknown mathematician and more surprising, he is (over) 50-year old. For those interested in the problem, you can read Nature’s First proof that infinitely many prime numbers come in pairs. Basically, Zhang proved that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that are less than N apart. Mathematicians still dream to prove that N is equal to 2 – the twin prime conjecture -, but Zhang was first to prove that N exists … even if N is 70 million!

French start-ups (again)

I am attached to France for obvious reasons. And recently, I have read a lot about French innovation. It’s not as bad as the general public may think but it is not as good as I would like. Still there are reasons for hope. Let me comment two recent works:
– an article from Le Monde newspaper, entitled Heureux comme un patron de start-up en France
– a report from OSEO (the French Innovation Agency) which I had mentioned before in You have to go global, and right from the start, but which I had read too quickly!

The article from Le Monde is about French Accelerator Le Camping. The article is optimistic (maybe a little too much), but you should read it if you understand French. What I noticed was:

– “The Hexagon can also count on experienced funds such as Partech (but also Idinvest, Apax) who continued to irrigate the area after the bursting of the Internet bubble in 2000. About fifteen venture capital funds finance about a thousand start-ups and inject 200-300 million euros per year in the digital field, said Philippe Collombel. The French industry is one of the best in the world, judges Christopher Bavaria, president of Idinvest. And there are many areas where a little “Frenchy” managed to make a name alongside the leading Anglo-Saxon player: Dailymotion vs. YouTube, Viadeo behind LinkedIn , Deezer on the heels of Spotify …” I think this is dangerously optimistic but nice! We should not be just a copy-paste version of the USA though.

– “Another asset of the Hexagon: its serial entrepreneurs. The first generation began with the Minitel, has launched the digital era in the late 1990s, and overcame the bubble. They include Marc Simoncini (iFrance, Meetic), Jacques-Antoine Granjon (ventre-privée), Patrick Robin (Imaginet, 24h00), Xavier Niel … Twenty years later, they play the “business angels” for the younger: PriceMinister, Dailymotion, Criteo, or Deezer.” Quite true.

– However, “the Business Angels do not support enough entrepreneurs” […] “There are not enough funds enbling jumping from start-up to that of medium-sized companies.”

[You may also be interested about an analysis of the Acceletor trend from the Financial Times, which is also quite good: Start-ups put their foot on the accelerator. “In the past they could have been labelled an incubator, which is apparently different from an accelerator.” […] “Probably the first accelerator was Paul Graham’s Y Combinator in Silicon Valley. Since 2005 it has fostered almost 500 start-ups, including big successes such as AirBnB and Dropbox.” […] “This method of building new companies at warp speed is fascinating. The philosophy is to try lots of different ideas, fail fast, and pivot if something does not work. I like the sense of urgency, the work ethic, the high-pressure environment that helps drive rapid progress, and the incredible opportunities to network and cross-fertilise.” […] “However, in general, I think start-ups take a long time to become viable – years not months – so trying to achieve so much in such a concentrated period of time feels unrealistic.” […] “There are now an estimated 123 accelerator programmes around the world.” […] “Some veterans think many will close, just as many of the projects they incubate will fail. But all this frantic activity will surely boost entrepreneurship, stimulate jobs, and – in the long run – create wealth, so it deserves applause”]

You can find (in French) the OSEO report by clicking on the picture. I was wrong in my previous post, I learnt a few things! And it has more depth than the good Le Monde article. The first one is about the fears and difficulties of entrepreneurs.

Click on picture to enlarge.

Click on picture to enlarge.

Fear of failing with its attached stigma remains high. Finding customers is the biggest challenge, higher then finding investors. Interesting. Then there is an interesting lesson about the age of founders, which you can compare to an analysis I have made on 165 public companies.

Click on picture to enlarge. Source: personal data

This is a popular topic, and you might read again Wadhwa’s study, his Washington Post article or Is There A Peak Age for Entrepreneurship? I am not sure how to read all this, but I have the feeling there is a tendency to higher age recently… The average age of French founders is 41 whereas the public companies I have have founders with an average of 36.5 (and 34 for the companies founded before 1995).

Finally there is an analysis of “models of development of start-ups”.

The authors compare 2 main classes of start-ups (out of 5), the ones being the most common (classes 3 and 5 in the figure). [Class 4 is more an intermediate status en route to either 3 or 5; class 1 is M&A and class 5 have not developed at all.]

“In class 3, 41% of the total population, companies have a lower level of development because the company is “self-centered”. 50% have no partner, no subsidiary. The project leader is still a dominant position in the capital: 68% have a stake greater than 75% in this class; 1 out of 2 still 50% to 75% of capital.”

“In contrast, firms in class 5, have a proven open behavior. They have opened their capital to have the resources to advance an innovation project. 60% of project owners have less than 25% of the start-up in this class, as well as half of them with between 25% and 50% of the capital. Moreover, almost all listed companies are in this class. 80% of these companies are internationalized (export or implantation).”

“These are companies that have had time to grow: almost half who them are more than 8 years old and almost 40% are between 5 and 8 years old today. The maturity only does not explain, however, their momentum. Indeed, they were faced, too, with problems of redefining their business plans as well as those of class 3, even a little more frequently. However, they saw this less as a constraint.”

“In addition, Class 3 focuses more on public funding which is considered a main lever for growth. The youth of this population and the lower opening of their capital can hypothesize that the public support at the pre-seed and seed stages is an essential substitute to private capital.”

“The statistical comparison classes 3-5 on these variables reveals that:
• The median Class 5 has a higher workforce than class 4, which employs, more people than class 3 (respectively 10, 6 and 4 employees);
• Classes 4 and 5 achieve an identical median turnover (about 580k€) higher than the median Iclass 3 (390k€);
• On the median level of equity, it is still significantly higher for class 5 (409k€) than for class 4 (284k€) and Class 3 (149k€), and more than €1million for the upper quartile of the class 5 only 389k€ for the class 3)”

Of course the conclusion of the report is to encourage the filtering and then development towards class 5. but myless optimistic conclusion is that even class 5 companies are not big success stories…

Biotech IPOs, not so different

I just read Biotech IPOs Start to Show Some Modest Signs of Life from Xconomy. It’s an interesting article because it focuses on Biotech, a field that many people consider as very different from other high-tech start-ups such as Internet, Software or IT in general. The general idea is that it takes much longer to succeed in biotech. You should read the article if biotech is of interest for you and I will not comment it more than mentioning that the good news is that there have been recent biotech filings and IPOs, the less good news being that the market capitalizations are not huge.

What I am more interested in is updating my regular analysis of start-up data (I have now 131 start-ups; see my latest analysis in March 2012 for example with 116 companies) and see how biotech behaves. Here is the synthesis (if you are interested the detailed list is provided at the end).

So what do I see as specific to biotech start-ups? First it does not take them longer to go public. 8 years vs. an average of 7 years. The difference is not in the exit time. They raise $98M on average, but this does not look so special either. But, and here is the but, their sales are only $11M when they go public. So, it takes them much longer to reach revenues. But it does not prevent them from going public (or even be acquired when they begin to have good results in clinical trials).

Another specific element is about founders. The founders’ average age is 41 (similar to medtech and semiconductor) whereas it is 35 on average. Why is that? because many founders are established, recognized university professors. Often times, they do not work full-time in the start-up but have a role of chief scientist. Indeed, the ownership of founders in the start-up is smaller than average (8% vs. 15%).

I should also add that the founders/employee shares ownership is much smaller too (25% vs. 40%) and the reasons are manyfold:
– founders have fewer shares as I just mentioned
– investors have more equity (50% vs. 45%)
– IPO shares are higher (25% vs. 16%). This comes from the fact (I think) that in order to raise the same amount of money, it is more dilutive for a company with less revenue…
– I did not mention another statistical element, which is they have fewer employees. The detailed table below imples about 100 employees (and you may see many of them have even less than 50 or 20 employees). This induces a smaller amount of stock options… (On average my 130 companies have 500 employees when they go public).

I thought this data was of some interest. Please react or comment!

Appendix: detailed data (notice that I am missing the Amgen data)

click on table to enlarge

Now it’s Yelp! IPOs in 2012… and again founders’ age

IPOs do not seem to stop in 2012. Now it’s Yelp before Facebook! You’ll find below my usual cap. table format. As with many stories, there is no data on one founder. He left Yelp before the IPO, I am always surprised where there is nothing on him in the prospectus…

The Founders and Their Army Russel Simmons (left) and Jeremy Stoppelman, plus a few of the hundreds of thousands of Yelpers who post regularly on their site. Ref: Inc.

More interestingly is statistical data, that I have updated with now 116 companies. You can check founders’ age, years to IPO or VC amounts relatively to fields, geography and times of foundations. I also add % ownership of founders, employees and investors after IPO.

As a reminder, you can have a look at the full data in the attached pdf (or by clicking on the picture),

Click on picture to access full pdf data

Some final graphical illustrations about
– the age of founders relative to year of foundation

– some correlations (or not) between sales, VC amounts, nb of employees.

More data on IPO and founders.

Following a recent post on the age of founders, I just did a more systematic analysis on the topic and at the same time analyzed more elements on the cap. table of many companies. I had 47 companies in my previous post. Here I just have 100!

The two tables give the founders’ age, the number of years from foundation to IPO and the founders’ remaining equity at IPO by field and geography.

Now if you want to have a look at the full record, just click on the next picture, you will get a 107-page pdf with all data. But please be aware of some of the following difficulties. All this is best effort! The cap. tables are subject to mistakes and comparisons are tough to make. For example:
– Founders do not always share equally the initial stake.
– There is no real definition of founders but the group of people who recognize themselves as such.
– ESOP reserved for future grants is a quite artificial part of the overall picture.
– When age was not available, a indirect measure was to consider a BS is obtained at age 22.
– Directors include independant directors only, not the investors.
– Finally not all companies went public, some were acquired and some filed but did not go public (yet)

Is there anything worth noticing? Well Biotech/Medtech founders are the oldest whereas SW and Internet entrepreneurs are the youngest. Surprising? Not really, but remember, these are not statistically valid data, this is just a compilation…

Age of founders

As I just mentioned in my previous post on Carbonite, I promised to have a look at the age of founders again. This follows some challenging comments from Pascale on a recent post, Is There A Peak Age for Entrepreneurship?

I have data, the ones I may bore you with when I publish cap. tables of IPOed companies. Well, the companies publish the age of their officers so when the founders are still active, you can get their age at IPO and getting the number of years from foundation to IPO, you have the founders’ age. Usually, the biographies also give the previous companies founded by these people. So I did yesterday the exercise in two broad groups: companies which went public recently (mostly in the last 5-10 years) and companies which had gone public in the 90s or even before. Just remember that in my book, I had compiled the age of the “famous” entrepreneurs and it was 27.

First the group of recent companies (52 founders from 25 companies):

Then the older companies (53 founders from 22 companies) with the average of the group but also of the two groups at the end.

These are not stats, just anecdotes and you should also see that when I did not have the age, I looked at academic background with the idea that you have a BS when you are 21… So the average is 34, increasing from 33 to 35. Definitely not the 27 I had, not the 40 either claimed by recent analysis. Is the glass half empty or half full, I will let you decide! I still wonder why the big successes seem to induce a lower average (if true!).

A final (and not related comment): “years from foundation to IPO” has increased from 3.7 to 6.8, being 5 overall. Still very far from what I had in Europe, which was closer to 9 or even 10 years.