Youth Is Wasted On The Young

June 16, 2007

I guess I should post some thoughts on the subject of twentysomething entrepreneurs as I did before, as the meme has been reignited over at A VC.

As a survivor of the Web 1.0 implosion: I really hope people don’t ahead of themselves here. The idea should come first. If you have a great idea, do it. But the issue I have is when things get flipped around. Meaning, people start thinking: “Well, I’m young, so my idea must be great.”

This is sadly reminiscent of “Just buy any company that has ‘.com’ in the name.” It didn’t matter what your business model was, as long as it had to do with the Internet and usually, selling something on it.

There will be some mega successes started by young entrepreneurs. Thirty years ago it was Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, two visionaries I still admire. Along with them were Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Steve Ballmer. Next I suppose comes Jerry Yang, David Filo, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and more recently the YouTube guys.

But need I remind people of all the companies that crashed and burned? The scores of PC makers that bit the dust and now nobody remembers. Shawn Fanning of Napster was on the cover of TIME as a young visionary.

Generation X (my age group) was largely seen as driving Web 1.0, starting companies, and while youth was seen as an asset on the way up, it was openly mocked on the way down as more experienced baby boomers came in to try to save the “mismanaged” companies. This quote is from a Business Week article from 2003:

It might be hard to muster sympathy for the same dot-com wunderkinder who made you feel hopelessly lame and risk-averse for slogging it out in your corporate job during the apex of Internet insanity. Gen X certainly isn’t the first generation to suffer setbacks… Just three years ago, educated Gen Xers seemed set to rule the world. But since the downturn, it’s evident that many are getting their comeuppance. Indeed, the young are getting poorer. From 2000 to 2002 alone, the household income of those under 35 dropped 14% — the biggest decline of any age group, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

To those watching this new admiration of youth from the sidelines: Don’t worry, if history is any comfort, the kids always get put back in their seat, if not from failure, from the realization that you can’t stop the passage of time. Now in my mid thirties, finally back on my feet after Web 1.0, looking around at all this boomy activity, and thinking it’s quite familiar – but I still remain subtly fixated on the bad parts. What comes with age is risk aversion. I’ll be the first admit that.

I’m also going to reiterate my desire for a true computing paradigm shift. Maybe I’m just blind, but I don’t seeing anything out there really mind blowing; that makes me think “holy hell I need to upgrade my whole system.” There are glimmers of cool, useful stuff like YouTube and Twitter but are these things paradigm shifts? They all seem like fun ways to waste time, not get stuff done.

Maybe I’m just too old and I’m missing something. I’ve always thought computers were productivity tools and means to an end. That’s why I’m much more impressed with actual applications like Adobe CS3… or StarCraft II. Or products put out by Google and Apple. None of them are being created by 16 year olds.

Additional Reading: Duncan Riley, Dave Winer


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