It’s been seven years since Mark Zuckerberg infamously (and supposedly) said, “Young people are just smarter.”
Zuckerberg turned 30 this year so, to me, he’s old. I’m 23 – just about the age Zuckerberg was when he said that.
To be fair, I have not reached the prestige, success or fame Zuckerberg had at this age. But I’m not fresh off the bus either. I’m an entrepreneur. I manage a Chicago-based venture capital fund of more than $9 million and have closed a handful of million dollar deals. Which means I’ve spent some time thinking about the risks and rewards of being young in the startup game.
Today, I wonder whether Zuckerberg thinks I’m smarter than he is because I’m younger. And today I think Zuckerberg was wrong.
That may not seem like a leap. His claim is somewhat outlandish. Being young by itself does absolutely nothing for you. To be fair, there are a few real advantages to being a young entrepreneur. People in the under-30 crowd never knew a time without smartphones – the first, IBM’s Simon, was released to the public in 1992. We intuitively get interactivity and to many young people, technology disruption isn’t disruptive at all. We plan on it. Even embrace it.
Young entrepreneurs also have a consumer advantage in that we are target consumers. Our peers are just entering prime buying age and making life-long brand loyalty decisions. In some ways, our market analysis is talking to our friends.
Being young, you can worry less about offending the old guard or protecting your reputation. If you’re wrong, you won’t damage a career you’ve spent decades building or risk losing your house. Which means we can take bigger risks, which in entrepreneurship can be a real advantage.
But the advantages of youth run out right about there. In just about every other way, experienced business leaders and entrepreneurs stack the deck.
Having more to lose, for example, also means you have more to risk and invest. When an older entrepreneur decides to go ‘all in’ on an idea, their investment can dwarf the resources a younger partner may be able to put on the table.
And still – no matter what – one of the most powerful business tools in any market is the rolodex. Ironically, the rolodex as a thing doesn’t exist anymore. It’s dead technology. But the contacts and connections they used to hold are still just as powerful. And older people simply have more of them.
None of that is to discount the value of plain old experience – going around the block a few times.
To me, being a young gun in the entrepreneurship and capital marketplace is more of a lack of some disadvantages than an outright advantage. My sense is that young people in entrepreneurship, and especially those in technology, aren’t better. We’re just different. We see the opportunities and challenges differently than our older colleagues may.
However you phrase it, I feel strongly that having young 20-somethings on your entrepreneurship team is an advantage. Not because they are better or smarter, but because it can expand the reach and depth of your team in a similar way that gender and social diversity do.
And I hope I still feel that way when I’m older – you know, like Zuckerberg, 30.
Vlad Moldavskiy is 23 years old and manages a (modest) VC fund of $9.5 million. He’s brokered investments of more than a million dollars three times and is an expert at digital marketing – especially search marketing for startups and new ventures. In his day job, Vlad is the COO of a digital marketing firm in Chicago.