Median Age of Startup Founders Is 34 — a New Study Shows

By Adriaan Brits Friday, May 21, 2021

According to the latest findings published in the book “Super Founders: What Data Reveals About Billion-Dollar Startups,” the most successful startup companies are typically founded by individuals aged 30 or older.

Young entrepreneurs working on a project together.

Age Doesn’t Matter

The study says that among startup companies that are worth $1 billion or more — the so-called “unicorns” — the average founders’ age was 34 at the time the companies were started.

Ali Tamaseb, the author of the book and a partner at DCVC, pointed out a few advantages brought on by founders who have some experience in the business.

“There are, indeed, many successful billion-dollar startup founders in their early twenties,” Tamaseb wrote in the book, “but most of them aren’t.” His takeaway: Age doesn’t matter.

However, there are exceptions. Steve Jobs was only 21 when he co-founded Apple, the biggest tech giant in the world today. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were even younger, 19, when they quit college to start Microsoft and Facebook, respectively. But on the other hand, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk were already in their 30s when they founded their businesses.

Three years ago, a study published in the American Economic Review (AER) showed that most company founders of tech businesses nowadays are college dropouts. Meanwhile, the average age of a successful company founder was 45. The study was based on growth rather than the business valuation of the 1,700 fastest-growing startup companies in the United States (US).

“Super talented people are going to do great things even when they’re young. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to even better things when they’re older,” said Pierre Azoulay, a lead author and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management. He pointed out that Apple’s arguably biggest success, its iPhone, didn’t come until Jobs was 52.

However, most people still believe that startup founders were much younger when they started a company. That’s why Tamaseb opted for a different approach to conduct his research and explored multiple factors, including age. In his book, the pool of entrepreneurs he was looking at included about 200 companies, and his research showed that the top business owners were already experienced before they started their most successful businesses.

For instance, Eric Yuan, founder of the video communications company Zoom, founded the tech business at 41 after quitting Cisco Systems. Also, the co-founder of WhatsApp, Jan Koum, developed his messaging app when he was 32. Before that, he spent ten years working as an engineer at Yahoo.

Tamaseb’s book also showed that founders of health and biotech startup companies with a business valuation of more than $1 billion were even older on average than those of other types of businesses. For example, Philip Greenberg, founder of Juno Therapeutics, was 68 when he founded his company, which was later sold to Celgene Corp. for $9 billion.

Summary

The median age of a successful company founder is 34, a new study shows. Although there are many successful startup companies founded by people in their early twenties, there are also numerous cases that show successful startup companies can be started by older founders as well. For Ali Tamaseb — who conducted the study and wrote the book “Super Founders: What Data Reveals About Billion-Dollar Startups” — age doesn’t matter.

About the Author


Headshot of Adriaan Brits

An analyst of global affairs, Adriaan has an MSC from Oxford, with diverse interests in the digital economy, entertainment, and business. He is a specialist trainer in advanced analytics and media.

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