There is a tendency to believe that startups have a bias against older people. While ageism is alive and well, I’d argue what appears to be a bias against older teams is actually a bias against teams with experience. No one wants to invest in a team who don’t fuck around. We want teams that will find out.
One of the reasons I work with early stage startups is because their trajectory is not yet set. Every conversation has a hint of “fuck around and find out” because your vision is far away. You need to experiment, test, throw spaghetti against the wall. Pick your metaphor. The bias towards action and the bias for momentum exist in investor minds because the alternative is death.
This has the second order effect of selecting against teams with experience. It isn’t ageism. It is a bias against a certain kind of professional that knows too much. It’s not that anyone thinks experience is bad. It’s harder to fund teams with no exposure to the industry they are working in. It means that some types of experience will function as negative signaling. We think you know too much to solve the big problems. We are afraid you aren’t flexible enough to do the work of throwing out all existing assumptions.
While being an expert in a field means you have a better sense of how you will get from point A to B, it also means you have a less flexible mindset. You have seen what hasn’t worked. You have opinions about can or cannot be done. Even worse, you have an idea of how things must be done. Simply put a certain kind of battle tested, “expert in their field” persona isn’t trusted to fuck around enough.
If you are one of these founders, you have to fight against this signaling issue. Show investors your commitment to fucking around and finding out. Telegraph that all your experience and knowledge from your past work could very well be bullshit. Show us you will be committed to testing even more rigorously every hypothesis of how your roadmap will unfold. Then your experience becomes an asset.
We will trust that you have more opportunities to fuck around and find out than a less experienced founder because you plan to test what you think you know. Which is a lot! Show that no truism of your space will be held sacred. While a neophyte team will need to discover all the truths of a space to even begin to test. you will be ahead of them running test after test. Jujitsu that shit. Use the energy of your experience to show that you will bring the maximum amount of flexibility to finding new outcomes. The unbiased but experienced mind has the best chance at achieving momentum.