Friday, June 3, 2011

Age Bias, Part II

David Lee of SVAngel has a guest post at TechCrunch clarifying SVA's statements on the characteristics of their successful investments.


About a week ago, TC interviewed Ron Conway and David and they talked about 'early results' of a study they are doing about entrepreneurs they've invested in. As a youth-deprived 44-year-old repeat and solo founder, my jaw dropped around the end of the video...(you can search on the word "suck" to scroll to that).


Lee: Age. So it turns out that. 


Arrington: Old people suck and start ups. 


Lee: Yeah. 


Lee: Well, I can say that because I'm 41, so, for the $25 million exits, it 's hard to glean any pattern. It's about, let's say, you know, roughly 50/50. But for the larger exits, it looks like age matters. Just from this data, sort of being younger, sort of helps for some of the bigger exits. 


Arrington: You've told me that entrepreneurs sort of look like professional athletes in the terms of like their peak age, and things like that. I don't know if you meant it exactly one to one, but you seem to like entrepreneurs who are around 25 the best, is that right?


Lee: I mean, it depends on the sector, so I think for consumer Internet, we talked about it, it's sort of like football, having a lot of energy, being single minded, working harder, being smarter can really make a difference for other sectors. 


Arrington: Is that the main thing though, you can sort of talk them into working 24 hours a day because they don't have families yet? Or, do their brains more. I mean, just when you're younger, you tend to have less distractions, right? 


Lee: Right.


I typically don't talk about which firms I'm pitching to, but this is really interesting, and I don't have anything bad to say about them or my experience with them.

I like SVAngel. I like what Ron Conway had to say about the superangel pricefixing "scandal" last year (rumors of). I like what Ben Horowitz said about why a startup wants Ron Conway in their deal. I buy into it.

So when I was hanging out at Coupa in Palo Alto and saw Ron Conway crossing the street, I dropped my phone call and accosted him with a quick pitch. That led to getting his card, emailing my very drafty overview of Jawaya, and getting yesterday's phone call with one of his partners.

Today's post tries to explain the context, which it does to some degree.

My issue with the interview? It promotes age bias.

I'm not saying SVA has an age bias, and they will say they do not, and have said so directly to me in email and in the presentation yesterday (for which I was ill prepared as I waded through the detritus of a software meltdown).

I had thought about pulling the deal--cancelling--and suggested we call off the call given my shortage of youth.

Why?

Because, I wondered, is it possible they have an age bias after the deal? Let's say they invest--will they actively help move the company forward? Will Ron open his Rolodex for me? Will the cool kids invite me to their parties (unlikely, but I'm too busy anyway)?

So we'll see. Like I said, I like SVAngel. I don't like that presentation at TechCrunch. I understand that it's fun to invest in young entrepreneurs. And I understand that they still invest in old farts like me, because the bottom line has nothing to do with age.

For them, they're damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they do invest, well what the hell, they'll do great.

If they don't invest, then it's easy enough to claim age bias. Remember--it's a seed stage investment in a massive idea that will fundamentally change the web, and a serial founder with multiple successes. I'm very investable, as a VC friend said last month after seeing the awesome promise of Jawaya.

Here are some reasons they can pass:

1) I don't currently live in the Valley, though I'm actively looking at apartments. I'm looking around NYC as well. I can't imagine building this company in Lancaster, though that still might happen. It all comes down to where the funding comes from--I'll move when it makes sense, and if I can raise a full round then it makes sense. Either way I'll have desk space in both locations, because both matter.

2) I don't present very well, especially when I'm in the middle of a software meltdown (note to self: move your Rails implementation to Ubuntu and just follow what the smart kids are telling you). I stumbled around during the call and didn't really nail it.

3) The space is getting very hot, with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and a half dozen startups vying for some slice of this from some angle. None with the bigger vision that we're executing on, but still. People only have so much time in the day, and they aren't going to use 10 social search networks or 5 search engines.

For them, though, the safe thing is to invest. Why? Because then they get to say, for example, we invested in this fat old fart who doesn't present well and thinks he can launch a consumer internet company. And then it's up to me to prove that they are wise, insightful investors who don't have an age bias. I get to be the poster child. And of course we'll do very well, and this will be yet another great story.

Then again, let's say they have 10 old farts shopping deals. Then I'm screwed--I'd actually have competition. They can say well we're looking at a bunch of old guys with bad hair and no sense of style, and it came down to the one who lives around the corner and has a 17-year-old co-founder and didn't blow the phone call.

So what now? We wait.

I like SVAngel. I really should be raising a full Series A, but it would be helpful to have them in the deal. I don't think they won't invest in older entrepreneurs--they'll invest in what looks like a great idea with a great founding team.

But the TC thing was really a poor interview, and I hope other investors don't take the "old people suck at startups" line seriously. It makes it harder for us wonderful, successful, repeat entrepreneurs who have the experience to make big things happen.

Game on, folks.

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