Business Strategy · Fundraising

Ageism, your thoughts? Magazine Founder and Researcher, Department manager and producer for events, film, music.

Last updated on March 9th, 2020

This actually a few questions, because it is a big topic and important for millions of business owners and recruiters.

First some context:

I see a lot of team pages with teams all under 50 years of age. Ageism is rife in the startup industry. Many real experts stay away from companies because of it. This is because - Would you want to save all that time and effort, rather than be insulted and demeaned?

Some founders just want to improve their business and create more jobs. They don’t want to be another Amazon or Facebook. Those companies super boosted global warming, put millions people out of jobs, super boosted homelessness, and made everybody lonely. There are eye watering charts about it from multiple independent studies. All because those companies didn’t take the advice of people with enough life experience to see trouble coming.

So you can imagine when a business or professional with an established background and a founder over 50 sees your team page. They get scared or angry, because of ageism, and avoid you with a barge pole. You lose a lot of great businesses with solid research and top experts in their field, because your company outwardly appears ageist.


  • Does your company have any founders over 50 years of age?
  • Does your company have any staff over 50 or 60 years of age?
  • Is it because of ageism that they are not on your team page?
  • How many founders have you helped who over 50 years of age?
  • How many of those are women?
  • What are your thoughts on ageism in business?
  • What are your thoughts about what I said?

Thank you for you input. It is an interesting topic and important for all businesses.


Gary MacDougall Technology Entrepreneur in software / e-commerce

Last updated on March 10th, 2020

I'm 54, I'll be 55 in 2 weeks. I'm an architect level full-stack developer that can code professionally in all the modern stacks (Node, React, React, etc.). I had a nice small exit with my startup (which was 12 years old!) in 2014 and have been seeking a "hands on" technology leadership position at various startups and have been down the wire (final round) on four different places. All decided they would "go in a different direction", "went with someone with a little different experience" and/or just never had a good reason, they send me email (couldn't even call) to turn me down after 3 and 4 interviews / calls.

I can promise you, if you've hit 50, you're the walking dead in this industry -- God forbid you show some gray / white hair. If you're not wearing skinny jeans, have tat's and wear Van's, you're not going to get hired. Not at a startup.

The reality is: On paper, they want my experience, my history and my knowledge. What they don't want is "Dad" coming into their culture and changing it and they certainly don't want what they THINK is my salary requirements -- they want that $80K a year rock-star 10X guy who's going to code for 15 hours a day and be on Slack for 24....

They want what doesn't exist: The perfect candidate in experience (which can deliver and execute) but also someone who's under 30 -- neither of those things exist in software development and this industry is going to start creating problems for this industry when they have to continue to recruit offshore (for lower salaries) and continue to hire inexperienced "leaders" who will continue to make grave business mistakes because they simply do not have the wealth of knowledge that someone who's 45+ has on them.

So why not target bigger companies you ask?

If you're trying to go for a bigger company, you'll find that you're not even going to get an interview because these bigger shops are "going young" for all the same reasons but are spinning it as "We are trying to create a startup culture" -- which translates to: "We have a company unwritten rule that we're removing anybody over 45 and replacing them with 28 year olds, anybody with 20 years or more experience is not going to get past our AI filters..."

It's ugly out there for people like me. So what to do?

I think I'll start another company or consult or both. Not great options if you really like to work with people and be a leader at a company...

Dane Madsen Organizational and Operational Strategy Consultant

March 10th, 2020

Yes, its a real thing. In SV, 40 is the new 50 and 50 is the new dead. I am 61. Dead PLUS 11.

Ironic is that the average age of a successful startup founder is 45. A 60 yo founder is 3x more likely to build a successful business than a 30 year old.

It is anybody's guess, but the younger seem more funded, perhaps, due to a closer connection with the cohort the VCs want to tap, or the decision makers are way younger and like to be around people "like them". It may be as simple as older decision makers like hanging out with younger founders because it makes them feel less old. Magazine Founder and Researcher, Department manager and producer for events, film, music.

Last updated on March 10th, 2020

Hi Dan, Folks in their 50's are empty nesters. Their kids have left college and their mortgages are paid off. And they are young enough to do it again and old enough to know better. I used Amazon and Facebook as examples, because they are the companies that register the biggest eye-watering spikes on the charts and everybody knows who they are. And regards to health. Ask a doctor. People in their 50's are as healthy as people in their thirties. In my industry there are professional dancers who are over 100.

Addendum: Just to bring the point home. (Plus the amount of drugs and alcohol that has gone through their systems;)

jayashree venkataraman Founder and CEO @Appreiz, HRTech SaaS Startup, Speaker, Author, Executive Coach, Leadership trainer

March 10th, 2020

Both me and my cofounder are above 50. Having said that we are a bootstrapped startup.

Matthew Fleck Consultant at Fleck Consulting

March 9th, 2020

I believe it is very real. A amazing book on this subject is Bolder by Carl Honore . It covers a lot of topics related to the myths associated with aging including the bias against 'old people' within the startup community.

Dan Rumney Engineer, architect and CTO

March 9th, 2020

I think this is a really interesting question.

Answering your questions directly, my company is just me and my co-founder. We are both in our 40s. Our company is a pediatric telemedicine platform, so we're targeting young patients, but our doctors run the gamut of ages.

I think there are structural biases at play, as well as ideological ones.

Focussing on the US (because I'm not really in a position to provide sensible opinions on global trends), there's definitely going to be a bias in the cohort of folks in their 50s due to their amenability to financial risk. Folks in their 50s are more likely to have children of college-age and are responsible for the cost of their education. Folks in their 50s are more likely to require healthcare, so they are sensitive to the loss of insurance that comes with founding a startup.

These structural issues are woven into the fabric of US society. Are the moment, there's a strong bias against anyone without access to capital and the ability to survive on a lean income. This strongly favors young, white men.

As you point out, this is a problem, since industry and domain experience tends to be found in older members of the workforce.

TBH, I think your comments around Amazon and Facebook are a bit of a red herring. Most startups are not going to be anything like these two companies and any founder that is looking at those two as a model for their own work is somewhat deluded. However, I think your concerns about ageism are well-founded. Magazine Founder and Researcher, Department manager and producer for events, film, music.

March 10th, 2020

My magazine is bootstrapped, because I know how to make the backend of a website do the work of five people. And I can research and write. Not everybody can do that, because they have other fabulous skills that are worthwhile... like you guys have:)

I am inspired to write these questions, because of several friends' real life experiences. They told me they get nervous or pissed off when a team page doesn't have any gray hair. They try to avoid applying to jobs or doing business with those companies. A little research brought up quite a few articles about ageism in startups. The irony is that startups all want mentors and are requested to have mentors with more experience.

Warning: the rest is me letting off steam. I get a bit straight up Ozzie from here and use a touch of bad language.

I love research about all kinds of things, not just my industry and business markets. Including causes, such as homelessness and climate change. After a while I start seeing patterns in how things happen, empirical evidence. At times the empirical evidence blows my mind.

My theory of ageism, it's a sociology thing to do with how people are educated as children and in school and influenced by media. If you blow sunshine up kids' asses you are going to get self entitled assholes. Stupid people who rudely think they know better, as they stupidly trip over their shoelaces and fuck up the planet.

To find proof of how bloody stupid: Have you ever researched the real number of superfund sites in Northern California? (The so-called fixed sites are actually just paved over - no budget for real fix.) And the skyrocket rise of real estate prices and cancer in areas affected those sites, that young startup folk buy up? And how unaffordable real estate is a big cause of homelessness, which those same stupid people cry about as a cause? That's how bloody stupid.

My field work puts me in managerial positions in festival and concert productions. In San Francisco I have to hire college grads to be roadies, because high school grads can't do basic math. Nor could they solve simple problems laterally. Roadies are jobs for high school dropouts in Australia and Europe. The college grads still had to use calculators and be herded like cats. What happens when a company's management are like that? What happens when a governments's staff are like that?

All of us being able to sit here and chat makes each of us very lucky. But if the Earth and civilization were a koala, how much can she bear?

David M

March 11th, 2020

I'm lost honestly, but I don't think this forum is the correct place for profanity or psychological ramblings. And quite honestly, your attitude is more likely what is affecting your interactions than your age. Talking down on recent highschool graduates and stereotyping that all of them can not do "basic math" is as ignorant a use of ageism as the individual who discriminates against older professionals.

David M

March 10th, 2020

Valid evaluation though your positioning is flawed. “many real experts stay away.” Unless you are qualifying that with numbers, it holds no value. Who are these “experts” because I don’t know any qualified people who are staying away from startups because of age of founders, young or old. People look for experience and operational competence and potential for financial success. I don’t think the average investor is looking for the next amazon or facebook…hoping for it, perhaps. But they do seek value and if it is not financial value, the social value has to align with their desires. As long as we live in a free society, that will be the case and thank goodness.

Like most isms ageism often comes from stereotypes which exist because a majority evaluation can be made but also discriminates against the minority for which the stereotype does not hold true. I am reminded of Ronald Reagan’s famous debate statement about not holding his opponent’s youth and inexperience against him. Politically speaking, many are concerned about Joe Biden’s age because of his numerous complications while speaking. He seems off, disoriented often. Then there is Bernie Sanders who seems very focused and cognizant. Regardless that he falsely claims to be a democratic socialist, of which there is no such thing, most don’t listen to Sanders and wonder if his mental acuity is still functioning like with Joe Biden. But the younger candidates were also dismissed on the other end of the spectrum for their age because they were too young and too inexperienced and rightly so. So ageism goes both ways.

The health concern is an issue in any job purely from the financial aspect of it, but it can be argued that younger people are a greater cost because they will likely have children which run up hospital bills for insurance, and anyone of any age is susceptible to high cost illnesses. Younger people with kids will be distracted from work with activities and be a cost. This is something the young people starting families conveniently overlook when they use the argument that older people’s health will cost more. All it takes is one screwed up meeting/pitch because a parent promised a trip to Disneyland at the wrong time…

Ageism especially with regard to older individuals is the most overlooked form of prejudice. My subjective approach to it is that I want experience. I don’t care about young or old but experienced. I believe most “real experts” (Who btw never self label as “experts”) would agree. When I was 25 my partners were 60, 70, 58. I didn’t get the job because I was young but because I was competent. I occasionally experienced ageism when I would be meeting with execs in their 50’s or 60’s but I am not a liberal so I never saw myself as victim but saw it as an opportunity to play the game. Sometimes it was frustrating, other times it was fun. It really is combating ageism on the other side of things to be young and point out why an experienced veteran’s numbers or strategy is off. All in all a waste of energy though. I can also say that I stood against ageism a few times when younger execs displayed it toward my partners. I didn’t tolerate it.

I want experience. More times that not, young entrepreneurs quickly prove their inexperience. But if they are open to learning as I was, and as important open to work hard with that passion, I will take that any day over an older entrepreneur who thinks their age automatically grants them experience or wisdom. I don’t know that I see one more than the other in the world of entrepreneurship. All about attitude. I have met 80 year olds who have more energy than most 25 year olds, but that is not the norm.

We all have our biases though no matter how hard we try to limit them. The thing many young people overlook is that while they can gain more experience than someone twice their age in a new technology or process, they will not have the life experience that comes with time. That life experience is often the foundation that is necessary for longevity. But the reality is some people are just idiots…young..old. If the older persons life experience is rife with moronic actions and experiences just because they have age under their belt doesn’t mean a younger person should listen to them…and I could tie that back into politics but will refrain lol. Magazine Founder and Researcher, Department manager and producer for events, film, music.

Last updated on March 12th, 2020

Hi David M. Like I said I was venting and I did give a warning. The facts are there in multiple independent studies. Enough to make your eyes water and vent. Think about a business as a piece of software. The software that works the best is the software that is most developed, yes?

Plus the category of this section is Discussion. The point of discussion is to let folks speak to get different angles on things. Angles that you may shy away from otherwise. Every industry is different and has different ways of communicating. The job of a good director is to take it all in unfiltered and see the patterns in the information. So if I am giving voice to something that is a bad pattern, the point is to let people talk about to find the problem, cause and solution.

Even if it is a skeptical promoter who sometimes uses bad language:) I loved listening to Angela Bowies' advice. I organized a book signing for her in San Francisco. What kind of language do you think she uses?

Something I've noticed in the boardroom is that being uptight doesn't help communication. It makes everybody guarded and new ideas don't flow so well. Serious business is heavy enough as it is. I have to remind myself to lighten up;)