Oct 12 2011

Is there age bias in VC investing?

I recently waked into a pitch meeting for a social networking related business and was surprised by what I saw. I had interacted with the entrepreneur over email – taking a look at the initial business plan and setting up the meeting – but we hadn’t met in person before. In front of me were three guys in suits, each in their late 40’s or early 50’s, with an older Dell laptop and a paper print-out of some product ideas. And as I sat there listening to their pitch I couldn’t help but think about how differently I might have reacted if this team was in their 20’s or 30’s, dressed in full tech/nerd hipster outfits (or at least jeans and sneakers), and whether there is a negative age bias in venture capital. Here were three guys with 20-30 years of business experience, but I was having trouble getting past my expectation of what they were going to look and act like, versus what was in front of me.

An LP of ours once asked a question that dealt with a similar subject (ironically, although we were in our Boulder office and the LP in question was in jeans, my partners and I were all in sport coats, as we always are when presenting to our investors). I can’t remember exactly how he phrased it but it was something like: “When do you guys get to be too old to do this? To relate to the younger entrepreneurs who are starting companies in the investment areas in which you guys focus.” To be quite frank, this question had never actually occurred to me before. Likely because I still think of my self as young and hip (although I am neither). And because I figured that as long as we are passionate about what we’re doing, we’ll relate to entrepreneurs who have that similar passion (some variant of that is how we answered our investor at the time).

But actually it’s true. Certainly there is some amount of age bias in venture. Early stage tech is considered somewhat of a young person’s game. And while I’ve worked with many very experienced entrepreneurs who were and are fantastic, I wonder if the initial pangs of question I felt on entering a room with 3 middle aged guys in suits pitching me their business plan is something that is deeper than a momentary hesitation.

I’d love your thoughts on this.