I am about to sound like a grumpy middle-aged man, but here goes. There is a certain youth-fetish I do not understand in the digital technology and startup worlds.

It appears to be mostly driven by media and ecosystem programs, everyone talks about the successful 20 something-year-old who created some widget that ends up being a multimillion-dollar business or transforms the world.

This is not only true for Silicon Valley, but in Africa too.

You hear stories of electricity generating urine powered widgets, apps that will solve corruption, and more by people under the age of 30. You even get listicles like the famous Forbes ones, 30 entrepreneurs in Africa to look out for under the age of 30 (why 30? why under 30? why not 1,000 under 50? Also, Forbes is becoming notorious for not checking their subjects, in 2019, one of the entrepreneurs they listed on their "Africa 30 under 30" list was arrested by the FBI for running a Business E-mail Scam for several years).

On 6 September 2019, Forbes published an interview and article about Compton raised Iddris Sandu of Ghanaian parents. Sandu is 22 years old and claims to have sold Instagram an algorithm at 16 years old, worked at Uber, and more. It turned out most (if not all) of this was false.

Pressure to succeed or appear successful

During September 2019 Forbes wrote and waxed lyrical about “the 22-year-old from Compton who’s merging hip-hop culture with the tech world” (here is the tweet announcing the article). Unfortunately, most of Iddris Sandu’s claims in the article such as selling Instagram a geolocation algorithm at 16 years old and claiming to have worked at Uber, proved to be false. So false was his claims that several days later, Forbes has pulled down the article (you can read the retraction of the article here).

There are many cases like Sandu’s and I think these happen as a result of the fetish with youth founded startups. Somehow, across Africa, we expect young people produced by our tertiary institutions to walk out of them and start businesses with no work experience and shower them with accolades and funding and somehow magically, expect them to succeed.

As a result, there is some sort of pressure for many young people in the tech startup world to look the part despite only just starting their first-ever business.

It's a marathon, not a sprint

The media (i.e. most of Main Stream Media) adds to this pressure too.

Instead of showing objective and factual stories about how most successful technology businesses are run and founded by people well in their 40s and 50s (most of them, not all of them), they’d rather chase the one-in-a-million story of a 20 something year old that has made a success of their business, when such stories are rarer than the norm.

Source: Harvard Business Review

I’m sounding like a grumpy ol’ man am I not?

Or is it hater as some younger people would say?

However, indulge me for a few more minutes if possible. What I am saying here is actually backed up by research. Apparently the average age of a successful startup founder is 45 years.

“Although there are many other factors that may explain the age advantage in entrepreneurship, we found that work experience plays a critical role. Relative to founders with no relevant experience, those with at least three years of prior work experience in the same narrow industry as their startup were 85% more likely to launch a highly successful startup.”

This does not mean you will not succeed if you are younger, it likely means it will probably take you longer as you navigate an industry you are new to. Perhaps getting an experienced mentor may help.

However, don’t beat yourself up if you are not driving that Bugatti by age 29. Relax, be patient, overnight success takes several years.

Share this via: