Feeling Younger Every Day

I had an interesting chat with a local Internet Media company founder late this summer. He told me that he needed to hire a “face” for the organization that would be more appealing to the masses, specifically the real-time web, social media (Web 2.0) masses… more commonly referred to as Generation Y. He figured that youth trumped experience from the point of view that anyone over the age of 35 would not be acceptable to the Gen Y users of his site. Twitter’s guy, Biz Stone, not only has a comic book hero name, but he is under 35. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg still shows ID at the liquor store. Vancouver’s own Super Rewards face is Jason Bailey… born after 1980. His point: you can’t have a “hip” new social media start-up with a guy creeping up on 50 running the show.

I remember (fondly?) the dot-com bubble of a decade ago where youth was all the rage. Two twenty-five year olds took theGlobe.com public on the NASDAQ. Kids were dropping out of Stanford’s MBA program to raise $20 million to start a company. Then, as now, new trends in consumer software, electronics and media have been adopted rapidly by youth and filter out to the older demographics over time. My friend’s point is that by the time the over-45 crowd is playing with a consumer technology, it ain’t cool anymore and kids drop it like a hot potato. It’s just not right when your Mom is your Facebook friend.

Does youth trump experience? If the goal is to create a corporate persona, embodied by a charismatic leader, then the face must appeal to the audience. If the goal is to convince investors, corporate media partners/advertising buyers and potential business partners that you are credible, go with the experience… and hire the youth to be the corporate evangelist. That was my advice to him.

Some older fellows have pulled off the charismatic “face” of a cool consumer technology company. Steve Jobs gets a liver transplant and looks 75, but the young (and old) audience loves his gadgets. Don’t get me wrong – or assume that because I am not a youth anymore that I am somewhat biased towards my aged peers – young CEOs or senior managers can be brilliant. (Technology’s long list: The aforementioned Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Sergey Brin, Jerry Yang, etc.). Heck, I had raised a venture capital fund by age 29. I look around the city at up and coming Internet media companies and I see many youthful faces… names that you don’t know yet like Milun Tesovic, Mike Tan, Amielle Lake, Ryan Holmes, Jamie Cheng and many others. My sentiment is more related to the blatant reverse self-discrimination of my friend based on his age, because investors and shareholders always prefer experience in starting and running a business.

Perhaps it is just a sign of the times, now that everyone has adopted Web 2.0, that we look to youth to lead innovation. But as the Web 1.0 (dotcom) story developed, it was mostly experienced managers that took over and grew the revenue and profits of the companies we know today. My hunch is that it will be that way again.