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Looking for Two Startup Partners 35-plus years Old


At first, that might seem like an odd announcement. But when Dave Winer made a recent post about ageism, I decided that I would try a little reverse ageism in finding startup partners.

Since I am not hiring employees, I am not breaking anti-discrimination laws. I am not making job offers. I am searching for business partners with whom to start a business. So, I can use whatever criteria I want in selecting my startup partners.

In the days that followed that post, Dave brought up more issues of ageism—in particular venture funding in the realm of tech startups. On Wednesday, January 13, 2010, Dave tweeted this quote, taken from an article about Douglas Leone, a partner at Sequoia Capital:

“Sequoia focuses on younger entrepreneurs because people over 30 aren’t innovative.”

Wow! I guess Pablo Picasso, Richard Feynman, Steve Jobs, James Cameron, and hundreds of thousand of other post-30 innovators, never realized that their creativity and innovative spirits had dried up once they hit 30. Shame on them. They all should have been sent to the Soylent Corporation’s processing plant once they hit 30-years old.

If you read the article linked to in the tweet, you’ll get the full picture of what was being said. But the point is, that when it comes to web startups, especially those in the social media space, ageism is an issue.

( N.B. If you have made it this far in the article and your blood is beginning to boil, read this newer post for a sneak peek at the message behind the headline.)

Fifty is the New Forty; Thirty is the New Twenty

So, why am I looking for founding partners 35-plus years of age?

In my two previous jobs, I managed teams of people; I managed managers who managed teams of people. It was a rare exception when I found someone under the age of 30 who was sufficiently focused, task-oriented, dependable, experienced, and knew what they wanted. When I did find someone like that, I knew that I had a potential project manager and someone who might be able to be mentored to become a possible future executive.

Now that does not imply that most people over the age of 30 have what it takes to manage projects, to lead a team of people, to start a company. Most of them do not. It is simply that my empirical evidence convinced me, when it came to a professional life, most people under the age of 30 still had some growing up to do—and some of those had a long ways to go.

All under-30, professional-level employees have fewer than 10 years of work experience. Most are still very green and have much to learn about work ethos, teamwork, project management, and leadership. The other big issue is that many under-30 employees have yet to perfect an effective, proactive communication style. Finally, experience comes with discipline, hard work, learning from mistakes, and age. And experience is more valuable than raw, young talent in my book.

Don’t get me wrong. Young employees are important to a healthy, vibrant business. But a company full of only young employees is a company that is most likely inefficient and prone at making mistakes that a business with a diverse, well-seasoned workforce would never make. This applies to old firms as well as new startups.

The Company, The Opportunity

My startup is in the Publishing 2.0 space. That is all I will say for now.

I have an detailed concept paper describing the underlying vision and functionality. It is not a business plan. At this stage in a startup’s life, business plans are not necessary. If you don’t understand that statement, or understand why, then this opportunity is not for you.

You must know the differences between working at a startup and working for a small business. Whereas all startups are (usually) considered small businesses, very few small businesses are startups. If you do not clearly understand the differences, then this opportunity is not for you.

Each founder is required to provide their own hardware and software. As we will be using a number of Open Source tools for designing, coding, implementing, managing, and running the platform, the need for proprietary software should be limited.

The earliest stages of this startup will be self-funded. It should not require much initial infusion of capital beyond what is needed for hosting and membership in a few select collaborative services. I plan to run a very lean startup. The mid-term goal is to bootstrap the startup, thereby not requiring any angel or venture funding. However, I am not opposed to either if it makes sense down the road.

As this is a startup with zero outside investment and will initially have zero cash flow, founders will not receive any salary or benefits at first. You must be able to meet adequately your personal financial responsibilities and have a sufficient savings cushion to live in this way for at least 6 to 12 months. If that is not possible, if that concerns you, then this opportunity is not for you.

Founders will be owners of the company. Percent ownership will be negotiated with me on an individual basis. Stock options will also be made available.

Our company will strive to determine as quickly as possible the right fit of functionality and service for our intended target demographic. We will do this through analyzing metrics and customer development data obtained over a series of incremental launches (iterations of our platform). The initial goal will be to get a minimally viable service built as quickly as possible so that we can begin this process. We’ll then scale up our platform and service, leveraging our learned intelligence.

What I’m Seeking

In particular, I’m looking to create an energetic team that will function as generalist. We will build the initial, working technology platform, and create the business foundation.

Whereas each member of our team will have a specific, unique skill set that complements the overall startup process, there will be necessary overlap in the area of coding knowledge. This means that each team member must have sufficient Web coding experience, although only one of us truly needs to be an expert-level developer.

In the earliest stages of a Web-based startup, generalists often perform better than specialists. But, as we begin to successfully acquire members and bootstrap the business, we will hire (additional) specialists.

Here are the basic requirements (not listed in any particular order of importance):

Required of all Founders

  • Must be 35-plus years of age
  • High energy, positive personality
  • A killer work ethic (days will be long)
  • Ability to work independently
  • Adept at creative problem solving
  • Proven creative, innovative, independent thinking
  • Ability to work initially for zero salary or benefits (this could last 6 or more months)
  • Sufficient comfort level with back-end PHP coding and front-end design
  • Project management experience
  • Must live in the contiguous United States—for travel purposes
  • Must be a citizen of the United States—for legal purposes
  • Must have a computer with a video camera and high-speed Internet access
  • Thrive in taking measured risks
  • A healthy savings from which you can survive off of for at least 12 months
  • Respectful, proactive communication style
  • Easy to communicate with and a good, active listener
  • Understanding that there are no guarantees of success
  • Must be willing to travel to meet in person a few times in the first 6 months
  • You cannot be in arrears with local, state, or federal tax institutions
  • You cannot be a defendant in any pending or active lawsuit
  • Founders will share corporate risk and liability
  • Founders will sign shareholders’ agreement
  • Must be results-oriented, focused, tenacious, and driven

More Specific Requirements—Coder, lead-developer

  • At least one coder with significant experience in OOP MVC Python-based frameworks (PHP considered as well)
  • Experience and knowledge of DB design theory and practice—ERDs, normalization, sharding, etc.
  • Experience with PostgreSQL
  • Experience with Web security
  • Experience with agile development

More Specific Requirements—Designer

  • CSS and HTML guru
  • Ability to resolve browser-specific rendering issues
  • Keen eye for clean, uncluttered, Web-2.0 style design
  • A stickler for designs that validate
  • User-friendly UI/UX maven

Not Required but a Plus (one or more)

  • Previous startup experience as a founder
  • Previous early-stage startup experience as an employee
  • Extensive, high-level contacts in the New York book publishing Industry
  • Understanding of Semantic Web and experience with semantic technologies
  • Past P&L responsibility
  • Previous position as CTO
  • Law or MBA degree
  • You are a Mac person

Not An Issue

  • Married/unmarried with kids
  • Desire not to relocate
  • Desire to get some sleep each night
  • It’s okay if you’re a PC person 😉

I spent years in the PC world designing custom database solutions for big companies, I now prefer Macs. In fact, I have three Macs that I use for development. I no longer own a PC—which I have found to be a nice relief.

Now, I am not an ageist by any stretch of the imagination. So, if you’re an exceptional under-35 year old who is interested in this opportunity, send an email convincing me that you’re the one I should pick. You will still be required to meet all the requirements except age.

If Interested, Here’s What you Need to Know and Do

If you are not a highly-motivated, creative, driven, risk-tolerant, tenacious, tireless worker, then this opportunity is not for you.

This is not a job posting. It is a potential opportunity to become a startup founder.

If you are interested in being considered for a slot as one of three founders, ping me here no later than February 6, 2010.

In the body of your (brief) email tell me why this opportunity intrigues you and what experience and skills you bring to the table. Please include a link to your “About Me” page on your website (I prefer that over a digital resume). Include your Twitter and LinkedIn usernames. Finally, include your Skype or iChat contact details so that, if I think it desirable, we can have a video conference.

I will seriously review each potential candidate and make a short list of those with whom I wish to have a video conference. I retain the right to make the final decision on selection of partners. I do not guarantee that I will select any of the candidates who apply. I will not add another founder until I’ve found the right fit.

Article Comments

  1. I’m not a candidate for co-founder, Jeff, but your startup is intriguing and (as one who was brought up on FORTRAN IV) I love the twist on ageism. I truly wish you the best luck and outcomes.

  2. Jeff Sayre says:

    Thanks, Mark! I learned how to program in the mid 70s using a punchcard system. I’m probably showing my age (mid 40s).

  3. Jennifer Zaino says:

    Excellent post! Innovation is not exclusive to the under-30 set!

  4. Jeff Sayre says:

    Thanks, Jennifer! I’ve always thought of myself as creative—a few people would even agree with that assertion. I’ve discovered that my creativity and innovative spirit have actually increased as I get older. Even though I had a modicum of success in my twenties, I’m more focused now and, as a result, am able to leverage my creativity more effectively.

  5. Andrea_r says:

    Not a candidate either but I had a couple thoughts:

    Sticking to under 30s could probably also be sexist. Why? it’s the women who take the time off to have the kids. If they already have kids, they need job stability. For a woman to wait until after she turns 30, there are higher risks to childbearing.

    For me, when I was 30, I was busy having my last child. Every single accomplishment I have made professionally in the WP world has been post-35.

    How’s them apples? 😀

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      That is an excellent point! There is a lot of real world experience mothers can bring to the business world. It is a different type of management training, but it definitely applies.

      One on the issues I struggled with at my most recent firm, and fought very hard for, was hiring, grooming, and promoting more women and minorities into management positions. Believe it or not, this was a difficult challenge even though I was a partner. Some of my partners thought it important, while others did not.

  6. Bast Hotep says:

    If you’re really looking for people in this age bracket, may I suggest that you change your CSS so you’re not posting in wispy light gray.

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Ha! I actually have that on my list of things to change. I’ll stick with gray but change it to a darker shade.

      But, as might be apparent, I’m not a designer. UI and UX, as well as CSS, is not my strong point.

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