Silicon Valley: The rise of the adolescent CEOs

Tue Feb 21, 2012 9:00am EST
 
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By Sarah McBride

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - 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 the 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. While little data on the phenomenon exists, venture capitalists say they are funding more chief executives under age 21 than ever before.

"At a certain point, 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 molding themselves in the image of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 27, who created computer games as a child and was taking a graduate-level computer course by his early teens.

Internet businesses that target consumers make a sweet spot for the baby-faced, because online companies often require relatively little capital. A semiconductor start-up might require $10 million to $20 million in the early stages, noted Joe Kraus of Google Ventures, and that would be tough even for the most talented youngster.

"If I'm going to write that big a check, I'm going to invest in people who've done it before," he said. "But if you look at it as, 'Hey, I'm going to raise $500,000,' there's a lot of ways to raise that."   Continued...

 
Tim Chae poses for a photo in a conference room where he attends "500 Startups," a crash course for young companies run by a funding firm of the same name, in Mountain View February 16, 2012. Chae, 20, a Babson College dropout, has raised a small amount of capital for his company, Post Rocket, is seeking more and is hoping the upcoming Facebook IPO will help investors look more kindly on all young entrepreneurs. Photo taken February 16, 2012.  REUTERS/Robert Galbraith