Is the young tech founder an anomaly?

My friend Paul Kedrosky over at Infectious Greed loves nothing better than a nice juicy research report or scientific study with lots of juicy data points in it (the way some people are with Tim Horton’s double-double coffees and apple fritters, Paul is with data). So anyway, he’s got a post up about one from the Kauffman Foundation — a private fund he is an advisor to — that looks at the median age of founders of technology companies with at least 20 employees and over $1-million in revenue.

The actual study itself (which is here) is about the level of education that most successful company founders have, but Paul was more interested in the age thing, in part because of a series of posts that Fred Wilson wrote about how most of the entrepreneurs he meets are in their 30s and how that could be because young people have a mindset that makes it easier to be entrepreneurs, and that made a lot of people mad. As someone who is… well, not in their 30s any more, I must confess that I was kind of interested in those posts of Fred’s too.

So the data from the Kaufmann study shows that the median age for founders is 39 — and according to the preamble to the study, twice as many were older than fifty as were younger than 25. The comments on Paul’s post are well worth a read as well (as usual), since they continue the debate. Is it something about the Web startups that Fred meets — the ones without much in the way of revenue or business models — that they attract younger founders? Do older founders not need as much in the way of VC money, so they never see people like Fred?

One of the authors of the study even gets involved in the comment thread, at Paul’s urging, and responds to some of the points. Fascinating stuff. My friend Leigh has some thoughts about it too.

Facebook: The startup sandbox

I think it’s a bit much to be calling Facebook’s platform the “new social operating system,” but then I guess when your blog is called Knowledge@Wharton you kind of have to pump things up a bit. What I do think has been happening is that more and more companies are treating it as a kind of sandbox for ideas — a place to try out a small feature or even a full-fledged app, to see whether there’s enough response to make it an actual business, or to seed an actual business.

You can see this happening with all kinds of different companies: Alec Saunders is doing a kind of online podcast/conference call to publicize the free-conference-calling app that he and his team at Iotum in Ottawa have put together; my new friend David Gratton from Project Opus in Vancouver has an app called MixxMaker that is a kind of proof-of-concept for a music-sharing technology; and along the same lines, Ian Andrew Bell of Something Simpler in Vancouver recently told me about his app, Pul.se, which is a kind of recommendation engine.

I’m sure there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other examples. As more than one person has pointed out, however, getting so firmly attached to the Facebook economy can be a Catch-22: you start your app there in order to experiment and gain users, but then once you gain enough to make it worthwhile, you are stuck fast to Facebook and it’s hard to end a symbiotic relationship like that. Companies such as iLike eventually decided to hitch their wagon entirely to Facebook and de-emphasize the standalone service. But is that a wise decision?

Update:

Pema Hagen, a co-founder of GigPark, mentions in the comments here that they just launched their Facebook app last night. GigPark is a social recommendation engine for goods and services. And this news could make developing apps for Facebook even more appealing: the site is apparently making the F8 platform part of its API, so apps could theoretically be made to run anywhere.

Mounties, maple syrup and Web 2.0

snipshot_d41bt6skln0s.jpg Tara Hunt of HorsePigCow and Citizen Agency, who joined us at the last mesh conference, has a great post up showing some love for Canuck startups — including the Shopify.com guys, the ConceptShare.com gang (just one minor correction: they’re from Sudbury), the Freshbooks.com team (which includes mesh organizer and Ultimate star Mike McDerment), StumbleUpon.com (now based in the Valley but Calgary-born), Tom Williams’ GiveMeaning.com, and a roster of equally great young companies such as CambrianHouse.com and NowPublic.com. Thanks for the props, Tara.

Yes — but a smaller, less frothy bubble

Bubble-ology has become a more popular topic than ever now that Time magazine has named You as its annual Person of the Year (no, not you specifically, but the collective you — or us; oh never mind). In fact, there’s quite a bubblicious debate going on between my friend Paul Kedrosky and Josh Quittner of Business 2.0.

Josh wrote a piece for Time that boils down to the old “it’s different this time” argument. Yes, it’s kind of bubble-rific out there, but it’s okay because it’s different. As Paul notes, the most ominous words in the investment business are “it’s different this time” — words which are usually a prelude to all the same mistakes being made, but with different names and by different people.

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Paul counters that, if anything, this bubble is actually worse than the first one, because “it’s cheaper this time to get yourself in just as deep — and this time there is no IPO market to bail you out.” And he is right — but then Paul is also the one who told our mesh conference back in May that as a venture capitalist, he is a big fan of bubbles because they speed up the pace of development, and that it “takes a lot of dead bodies to fill a swamp.”

In the end, the debate over where we are on the bubble-ometer comes down to a debate over what was wrong with the first bubble. Was it that entrepreneurs got taken advantage of by venture capitalists eager for a big-dollar IPO exit? Or was it that the combination of those two factors wasted billions of dollars of investors’ money? If you think that VCs and Wall Street brokers were to blame (as I do), then the lack of IPOs is probably a good thing.

Then the only ones losing money (assuming they are losing) are big companies like Google and eBay. Does the current bubble make it easier for entrepreneurs to get in over their heads? Sure it does. But I don’t think they can get as far in, because there isn’t as much incentive, and because it’s a whole lot cheaper to scale up to acquisition size than it was before.

Web 2.0 is dead — long live the Web

My friend and fellow mesh organizer — and all-around smart guy — Stuart MacDonald has a great blog post up today on the end of Web 2.0. But don’t get depressed, all you fans of blogs and podcasts and wikis and social media. All Stuart means is that Web 2.0 as a hot new concept (albeit one that tends to be poorly defined) is over, and what we’re seeing is the start of Web 2.0 as something that can really mean something to the general populace.

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In other words, instead of just being something cool that goes “ping,” all the things that we associate with Web 2.0 are becoming part of how people use the Web, whether they realize it or not. People are reading and commenting on blogs and using social media and those kinds of tools without knowing that they are doing something Web 2.0 — and that’s a good thing. That’s why mesh is called Canada’s Web conference, and not Canada’s Web 2.0 conference (no, it’s not because O’Reilly sent us a C&D letter).

Remember when every company sent out press releases to say that they had a website? Those days are gone (thankfully), and now the Internet is something millions of people use without ever really thinking about it. And it’s no wonder that Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the guy we have to thank for the Web, got a little testy in an interview awhile back when asked about Web 2.0. There is no Web 2.0, he said — there’s just the evolution of the Web. All that interactivity (and more) is something he envisioned in the first place. It’s just taken us awhile to get there.