Silicon Valley: Rise of adolescent CEOs

Venture capitalists say they are funding more CEOs under the age of 21 than ever before.

Written by Reuters | San Francisco | Published:February 22, 2012 2:23 am

Josh Buckley,chief executive of an online gaming start-up,is looking forward to next month’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco,particularly for the parties and the accompanying schmoozing with industry A-listers.

There’s one problem: Buckley,who will turn 20 this week on February 22,may be turned away from many of the parties because he is not old enough to drink. His fake ID was recently confiscated,and two new ones he ordered from a company in China have not yet arrived.

Such are the dilemmas facing the ever-younger entrepreneurs that Silicon Valley investors are backing these days. Venture capitalists say they are funding more chief executives under age 21 than ever before.

“They can’t get much younger or we’re going to be invested in preschool,” quipped Marc Andreessen,whose venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz is one of several that backs Buckley’s company,MinoMonsters. Andreessen and other venture capitalists say the entrepreneurs they fund at 18 or 19 typically have been prepping for years — learning computer code,taking on ambitious freelance projects and educating themselves on the Internet.

Some are self-consciously moulding themselves in the image of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg,27,who created computer games as a child and took a graduate-level computer course by his early teens.

Internet businesses is a sweet spot for the baby-faced,because online companies often require relatively little capital,notes Joe Kraus of Google Ventures. Kraus helped back Airy Labs,an educational social-gaming company run by 20-year-old Andrew Hsu that raised $1.5 million. Hsu is now learning the same hard lessons as his elders: the company recently laid off staff.

Kraus said his biggest hiccups with young entrepreneurs are the business references they don’t understand. “I was 9 years old during the first Internet boom,” says Brian Wong,20,who runs reward-network Kiip. The first time he heard the name Webvan,a legendary dot-com failure,I had to look it up,” he recalled. Wong has raised over $4 million .

Sahil Lavingia,19,recalls a day when he had several meetings scheduled on Sand Hill Road — home to leading venture-capital firms — and no car to get there. The journey of just a few miles took hours by the time Lavingia rode a train,caught a bus to Stanford University and then hopped a shuttle bus to Sand Hill Road.

Another time,he pulled on a pair of shorts,even though he was heading to a meeting with blue-chip VC Accel Partners. The outfit — casual even by Silicon Valley standards — didn’t stop Accel from investing. Lavingia raised $1.1 million for his payments start-up,Gumroad.

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