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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.

That's what 17-year-old Laura Deming did when she won a fellowship based on her goal of finding and funding anti-aging technologies and left the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Because she is not yet 18, she finds herself faxing documents such as non-disclosure agreements to her dad back in Boston to co-sign.

Other young entrepreneurs have trouble negotiating the highways and byways of Silicon Valley quite literally. Sahil Lavingia, 19, recalls a day last summer in the US when he had several meetings scheduled on Sand Hill Road - home to many of the nation's leading venture-capital firms - and no car to get there. The journey of just a few kilometres took hours by the time Lavingia rode a local train a couple of stops, caught a bus to Stanford University and then hopped a shuttle bus to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre, which is on Sand Hill Road.

Another time, dreading the combination of a hot day and a sweaty walk around Palo Alto, 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 laid-back Silicon Valley standards - didn't stop Accel from investing. Lavingia, an alumnus of hot online bulletin-board company Pinterest, raised $US1.1 million for his payments start-up, Gumroad.

Buckley also ran into problems getting himself to Sand Hill Road. One night he stayed up until 3am and slept too late to get to a scheduled meeting with a venture-capital firm. "It didn't go down too well," he said, adding that his profuse apologies and requests to reschedule were met with a curt "no thank you".

Not to worry. Buckley, who had already sold a company while in high school for a sum he says was in the low six figures, raised more than $US1 million from Andreessen Horowitz and others.

At the time of the missed meeting, he was attending Y Combinator, a three-month program for start-ups. In a nod to the boy wizard of book and movie fame, Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham has called Buckley "the Harry Potter of startups", but said he was not the youngest to win admission to the program.

That honour goes to John Collison, now co-founder of payment company Stripe, who was admitted at age 16, but did not go through the program, Graham says. Instead, he and his then-19-year-old brother merged their company with another, Auctomatic, and sold it to a Canadian company for $US5 million in cash and stock.


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