I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say when most people think of Internet start-ups they usually visualize fresh-faced twenty- or thirtysomethings running the show. Photos of young dot-com CEOs continually grace the pages of Canada's business magazines and dailies. In fact, you'll find such a photo as part of our profile of Geoff Clendenning, the youthful CEO of EPod Corp. Clendenning started down the entrepreneurial path as soon as he left university, founding a couple of technology start-ups before meeting fellow ePod co-founder Jeff Ungar, a computer whiz who graduated from the University of Waterloo at the age of 19.
While business stories like this abound in today's economy, there appears to be an underlying feeling among many people -- certainly investors -- that dot-coms and their relatively inexperienced CEOs are mere flashes in the pan. However, there's another school of thought that suggests it's short-sighted to dismiss a start-up's chances based purely on the age of the business leader or of the business itself. Instead of viewing its lack of experience negatively, it may be more constructive to look at whether a company has developed a sound business plan likely to succeed in the new economy where the old rules don't necessarily apply.
Last spring I attended my nephew's confirmation. Apart from signifying the reaffirmation of a young person's faith, confirmation also symbolizes a rite of passage into adulthood. Toward the end of the proceedings, the priest overseeing the confirmation of my nephew's Grade 8 class turned to the students and asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. He went through a list of possibilities: doctor, lawyer, teacher, engineer, etc. As each possible career was suggested, hands were raised in unsurprising numbers, although engineering generated the greatest response. The priest paused, apparently coming to the end of his list, and then made one more suggestion. "Who wants to own their own business?"
One young fellow's hand shot up, which was met by a short burst of laughter from the adults in attendance. Then gradually a couple of the other students decided they also liked the thought of running their own company. As a few more hands went up, a soft titter rippled through the congregation. I'll admit my own first impulse was to smirk, as the voice of adult reason in my head thought, "As if 14-year-olds have any idea what goes into running a company."
And the truth is they don't for the most part. But nor do most new business leaders in the beginning.
I don't know if the budding entrepreneur in my nephew's class will ever own a business, but I like to think someday he will. I just hope, when the time comes for him to shop around his business plan, his ideas are greeted with enthusiasm from an investor with the foresight to see beyond his youthful complexion.
Linda Stuart is editor of CxO.ca. She can be reached at email@example.com