The Perils of Premature Entrepreneurship


I spoke earlier this week with a young founder, a couple of years out of college, and the conversation has moved me to rant. Not a rant about inexperience, though. Inexperience has its advantages, and experience has its disadvantages. This is a rant about taking on life risk.

We have fetishized early entrepreneurship. Accelerators and incubators are disproportionately weighted towards young founders. We go to demo days and find ourselves in a festival of fresh-faced youth, all well-trained to present slides with graphs that rise up and to the right.

And then we have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg -- all college dropouts. If they can do it, so can anyone, yes?

Well, no.

It is really, really difficult to create a successful business in the technology world -- one that achieves the growth rates and economics that bring real monetary rewards. Almost all young men and women with the entrepreneurial itch are better off with a few years in a stable professional environment, learning skills that will serve them as a backup, and acquiring mentors who can transfer knowledge in a nurturing environment.

The majority of tech companies fail. What happens to their founders? What is their backup plan? Have they acquired valuable skills that allow them to go find a good job that gives them a strong foundation from which to take another whack at the entrepreneurial lottery?

In the case of this founder that I spoke with, the answers are: I don't know; none; and not really. It bothers me intensely because almost without exception these are wonderful people who do not deserve to fall off a cliff right at the outset of their working lives. But that is what is going to happen to many, if not most, of them.

Perhaps this Darwinian landscape is the essence of modern capitalism, but that doesn't make it any less painful to contemplate.