Recently I had an interesting conversation with colleagues in the investment community. One Business Angel highlighted a particular trend of interest: StartUps with older founders are frequently overlooked by investors. Following our common ground of working with older teams, I thought it was important to highlight the benefits of this demographic of professionals, and acknowledge some obstacles they face in contrast to younger teams but are far outweighed by the strengths they bring to the table. While I fully support financial backing of strong ecosystems which equip the next generation to bring their ideas to fruition, more experienced businessmen frequently are not dependent on requiring a strong startup ecosystem as a factor in their success or failure. Both this Business Angel and I agreed in terms of decreased risk and confidence in business operations and projections, we almost prefer working with more experienced professionals. While I can understand that many VCs want to direct the quick turnover of their portfolio companies, it would be a potential reason why founders with less experience would be more malleable to that direction. I also highly recommend working on business projects with older professionals and have included my insight on ways to overcome some of the obstacle trends which might be unique to these teams. In my opinion the pros of working with experienced professionals far outweigh the cons which are easily addressed in many cases.
- Know how to run a business. One of my clients has an executive team with combined executive experience of decades. They know what their goals will take on an operational level, and there is much less guesswork.
- Target Industry Network and Knowledge. Experienced industry executives turned founders already know the market behavior of their target industry. When they say they will approach the decisions makers at Fortune 500 global corporations, they likely worked with those executive team members in previous roles. They frequently do not depend on the relationships or introductions of other people with hopes and prayers that the decision makers will pick up the phone when a less experienced team calls. Those existing relationships are the best risk mitigation toward revenue projections in my opinion, because a team of older founders with experience in their industry know what the decision makers will need to hear and do not require training on professional communication or presenting their product in business language their audience needs to hear.
- Less Trial and Error. Want to identify and focus on what works and previous executive experience makes it a priority to identify those sooner than later.
- Less Drama. Years of Professional Experience in business prepares many individuals in this demographic how to handle conflict and uncertainty. If you need to have tough conversations with them, in my experiences, they are less thin skinned, and less prone to react by lashing out whenever there is a misunderstanding.
- Have long game goals. Unlike young founders who have a hard time imagining the real world or industry uses of their product, business professionals with more experience understand the implications of their product or technology in the real business world. They can identify the low hanging fruit and focus on the starting point rather than being distracted by too many options available to them. They will also focus on building a foundation which will look at 5-10 year projections and how to maximize the growth by adapting new technologies and applications.
- Not familiar with “normal” StartUp Lifecycle. They are not living in coworking spaces with guys in their 20s in Tshirts attending seminars on investment round progression. They may need support to understand that what they are experiencing in their early stage company is relatively normal for other companies in similar stages.
- Want to be living in their 5 year projection now. Need assistance to focus on the reality of current stage and progression stages in between. Yes, their technology has amazing potential and they see the size of the market and returns they will receive with their clear business adaptation trajectory, and they want to live in that reality that has not yet
- Think they know everything. Because they know how to run a business, gaining their trust or helping them understand the strengths and skillsets you or your investment team bring can take time for them to see where they do need support and assistance. Creating a safe space where it is ok that they do not know everything and you are prepared with solutions for what they might not know is a proactive way to build team relationships. This is not a trait unique to professionals in an older demographic.
- Might be insecure. I do not ask why they have turned founder rather than remained in executive roles. If downsizing has occurred or ageism in their previous company, they might be looking for support in their abilities a successful consultant or investment partners should be prepared to acknowledge their strengths and abilities to produce the strongest team possible.
- Have long game goals. Unlike younger founders who are malleable to direction and instruction how to get their business exit ready, experienced professionals see the potential of their products and services and will spend the time building the foundation for long term. For VCs which just want quick growth and exit strategies, these agendas can be in conflict, and this would only be a Con for those parties.