Today marks my return to blogging here after taking a couple months off. I’m going to jump in with some thoughts from an event I attended last night at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.
The event was a reception for students and alumni from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Each year, Sloan brings a large contingent of students to Silicon Valley for its “Tech Trek.” They meet with a lot of interesting local companies, soak up some Silicon Valley inspiration, and get to build their networks. I’ve been invited several times to this event, but this was the first year I was able to attend.
After some introductory remarks about the state of Sloan, Dean David Schmittlein interviewed Sloan alum Douglas Leone, a partner at Sequoia Capital. They talked about the state of Silicon Valley, what Leone has learned in his career, and advice he had for students.
What struck me was a comment Leone made later in the exchange. I don’t have the exact quote. But essentially, he said that Sequoia’s portfolio of companies is dominated by founders under the age of 30. That’s no surprise, and a trend that’s been discussed in the valley over the past decade.
But then, Leone came right out and said they focus on people under 30 because people over the age of 30 can’t innovate. If you’re over 30, you can still be in management, Leone said, as a kind of consolation. But there it was.
On the face of it, the remark is absurd, of course. But what’s said is that it perpetuates the valley’s obsession with youth. It’s the kind of sentiment that leads to age discrimination among older programmers and developers. But it also is ridiculous to think that just because you pass a certain age, you stop being creative or radical. Jack Dorsey created Twitter right around the age of 30 (give or take a few months).
Leone made some other silly remarks. For instance, he said that he thinks the notion of start-ups needing “adult supervision” is wrongheaded. He said that it’s never the grey hairs that come in and figure out how to make money or make an idea work. Actually, that’s exactly what happened at Yahoo when the company hired Tim Koogle to be CEO in 1995. (As a random aside, how is it that Koogle doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry?)
Whether or not Leone really believes the age thing is hard to say. But if it’s really a guiding philosophy at Sequoia, then that’s not just an insult, it’s a lack of imagination that will probably come back to haunt the venerable firm down the road.