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Summary:

The key to success in startups is making sure you’re young, experienced and not the only founder. That’s the takeaway from a new survey being conducted by SV Angel of successful startups that have gone on to or are projected to have big exits.

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The key to success in start-ups is making sure you’re young, experienced and not the only founder. That’s the takeaway from a new survey conducted by SV Angel of successful startups. The survey, which has gotten response from 300 start-ups that have been funded by SV Angel, looked at what goes into a successful entrepreneur and what type of founder profile makes for success.

One could argue that the data provided has an obvious bias, given it only documents companies that have made it past the hurdle of getting funding from SV Angels, and typically angels and venture capitalists subscribe to narrow views of what makes a successful founder. So based on this sample, the survey found 90 percent of companies that had either a $500 million exit or a projected $500 million exit had repeat founders. For smaller companies with a real or projected $25 million exit, 63 percent were repeat founders. SV Angel’s Ron Conway ticked off a number of entrepreneurs who found success as repeat founders including Marc Andreessen, Evan Williams and Dennis Crowley. “The more experience the entrepreneurs have, the better,” he said at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference.

While experience is an obvious plus, it also appears that younger entrepreneurs are having more success in larger exits, something that’s often odds with experience. According to the survey, 67 percent of founders of large $500 million companies were younger than 30. For smaller companies, it was more tilted toward older entrepreneurs with 53 percent of $25 million companies older than 30. It seems like the emerging profile of a successful founder is someone who has managed to gain a lot of experience while still being young enough to be patient and still embrace risk.

“Younger entrepreneurs are willing to slow-grow their company and take more chances,” said Conway. “Facebook is a good example of that.”

Finally, it appears co-founders are better for successful startups than single founders. The survey found that 89 percent of large companies had co-founders while 84 percent of smaller companies had more than one founder. Conway said it helps to have multiple founders who complement each other like Larry Page and Sergei Brin did at Google. We’ve also recently written about this why co-founders are favored.

SV Angel didn’t ask a specific question on the gender of founders, but David Lee, managing member of SV Angel said 95 percent of respondents had male founders.

This is still just a slice of data from SV Angel and as I mentioned, some of this can be self-fulfilling prophesy. And there are plenty of examples of companies that have succeeded by bucking these trends.  It still takes a smart team with a great vision and an ability to execute. And that can come from anywhere. But it’s interesting to note what’s gone into the success of some of SV Angel companies.

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  1. Jeremy Toeman Monday, May 23, 2011

    “young” AND “experienced”… well that’s an easy combination. because there’s nothing that youth brings more, than experience.

    1. Yeah, no doubt, it’s a rare combo. I knew I was experienced when i was no longer young… ;)

  2. I’m looking for a co-founder. Someone under 25 and with 15 to 20 years of startup experience. Thanks.

  3. Are this data normalized ? Because if 90 % of the people funded are under 30 it shouldn’t be a surprise that they have the majority of the large exits.

    1. Good question, we didn’t get a break down of the ages.

  4. Exactly. Are there any numbers on a “bad” exits (failures)?

  5. @remcovrOOm Monday, May 23, 2011

    I just think one of the key characteristics of a successful entrepreneur is that you can put your money where your mouth is.

  6. Mike Borozdin Monday, May 23, 2011

    I think when you ask for “young and experienced” you actually end up with one very key quality – it’s the people that grew up with technology.

    I am 31. Computers have been in my life or a part of my life for *most* of it. It wasn’t a tool it was the way I viewed the world. It still is.

    My generation is also more apt to introduce creative destruction into our own environment. We have the restless mind that is constantly looking to learn, to try new stuff, break it or “hack” it. That’s how you come up with new breakthrough ideas.

  7. Ralph Haygood Monday, May 23, 2011

    I’m bookmarking this post with the tag “entrepreneurshit” in Delicious, a company founded by one person, who at the time was about 30 with little previous startup experience.

  8. Ryan Lawrence Kim Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    Great article and name. I could not agree more with the content, as a young entrepreneur myself that helps early stage companies seek capital through providing the necessary tools to get through the gauntlet, I find that many young founder’s are underestimated. It’s far too often that VCs or sophisticated investors will base their judgement of success upon age rather than drive, passion, and raw intelligence versus wisdom.

    The article makes a great point stating the risk tolerance of young people which can make an awesome play for someone with solid core skills. In our 20’s we can handle twice the risk levels of someone in their 40’s, 50’s and up, based on lack of commitment to significant others. Our generation grew up on Google and social media building innovation into our bloods, I’m glad it’s not getting unnoticed and hopes it continues to make an impact.

    -Stratacution Ventures

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