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Silicon Valley: the rise of the adolescent CEOs

Sarah McBride (via SMH) | Feb. 22, 2012
CEO of a gaming start-up, Josh Buckley, 20, is looking forward to March's Game Developers Conference. There's one problem: he may be turned away from parties because he's not old enough to drink.

Minomonsters CEO Josh Buckley, who turned 20 on February 21, poses for a photo at his company at The Mint in San Francisco.

Minomonsters CEO Josh Buckley, who turned 20 on February 21, poses for a photo at his company at The Mint in San Francisco. Photo: 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 turned 20 this week, 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.

Sahil Lavingia, 19, CEO of Gumroad, an online payments company he started, poses for a photograph in his home which doubles as his office in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco.

Sahil Lavingia, 19, CEO of Gumroad, an online payments company he started, poses for a photograph in his home which doubles as his office in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco. Photo: Reuters

"At a certain point, they can't get much younger or we're going to be investing 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.

PostRocket CEO Tim Chae is seen in an office space where he attends "500 Startups", a crash course for young companies run by a funding firm of the same name, in Mountain View, California.

PostRocket CEO Tim Chae is seen in an office space where he attends "500 Startups", a crash course for young companies run by a funding firm of the same name, in Mountain View, California. Photo: Reuters

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 $US10 million to $US20 million in the early stages, noted Joe Kraus of Google Ventures, and that would be tough even for the most talented youngster.

 

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