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In 2003, during the dark years, we had dinner with the former chief executive of Plaxo, Sean Parker, then 23.

Between us, we couldn’t think of more than two 20-something chief executives in Silicon Valley running venture-backed companies.

The reason: Venture capitalists, panicking after the bubble burst, did their typical herd-mentality thing. They funded only mature, experienced teams.

Now, it’s difficult to find a recent company backed here in Silicon Valley not run by a 20-something.

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YouTube’s Hurley (photo: Karen Borchers)

So here’s our story in today’s paper (free registration), where we catch up with Facebook, YouTube, Meebo and Tagged. Just last year, Accel Partners’ Jim Breyer couldn’t buy Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg a drink at the Woodside Pub because he wasn’t 21 yet. Now Zuckerberg is managing more than 75 employees, and of course, holds beer nights on Fridays at his new digs on Univ. Ave. in Palo Alto.

As usual, couldn’t get everything into the paper version. Ben Casnocha, for example, is just 17, but he’s running San Francisco software company Comcate, which he started when he was 12.

We didn’t include him in the story because he hasn’t raised any venture capital yet. He tells us he’s still tweaking his business model. But folks, when you have him on the phone, this kid doesn’t sound 17. Check out this USA Today story, where we liked this…

…paragraph:

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Casnocha

Since then, he’s become more comfortable with his teen alter ego, crediting a sojourn into Buddhism and meditation. For 15 minutes a day, Ben plops into a seat, spine erect, and relaxes. He controls his breathing and concentrates on the word focus. His journey to self discovery has taught him the importance of the big picture, and he cringes when he is called a whiz. “I’m just the smallest dot in a big map of human history,” he says.

We want to follow up with him more in-depth later. Meanwhile, check out his blog here.