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Ageism in the tech startup world: hot debate at Echelon 2015

Which adage holds true in tech: ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ or ‘Old is gold’? Eight Echelon speakers weigh in on the debate

By Sandra Au

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Echelon Asia Summit 2015 is going to see a plethora of speakers discuss topics ranging from bridging the gap between Southeast Asia and India, the Internet of Things, and the great war of transport matching apps, among others.

But, does your age — or rather being old — affect your performance and what you bring to the table? Eight of our esteemed speakers tell us what they think.

Should age matter?

“You need a good mix of young and experienced [people],” says Sandeep Aneja, Founder and MD, Kaizen Private Equity. “But I would prefer to work with intelligent, experienced people who know how to get the job done. The age doesn’t matter to me.”

Having diversity in the workplace is a view echoed by many other speakers who were interviewed. “After spending a decade in tech, I can say that experience and willingness to learn, not the age of the founder,­ is the best indication of success,” says Kristine Lauria, Country Manager, ElanceODesk.

“I understand the bias towards young, single employees who are willing to work long hours, ­but it’s not about the number of hours you put into the job. It’s about execution. And this isn’t age-dependent,” argues Lauria.

One example would be Redmart, founded by two entrepreneurs in their early 30s. “Their success isn’t because of their age but because they know how to grow a business,” she added. “They innovate in delivery service and warehousing, they hire well, they make smart partnerships. None of that is age-dependent.”

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When asked whether there’s a certain age bracket which might be considered the most favourable when starting a company, Mike Davie, CEO, DataStreamX, noted that it is sad that the media might equate age with success in a startup. “We should focus the discussion on qualities that make an entrepreneur successful and not support discrimination. Smart companies understand that diverse teams build strong companies,” Davie says.

Ultimately, diversity is key. A cocktail of personalities can propel the company forward and make it a force to be reckoned with. Lauria says, “Part of the strength of Singapore is its diversity: age, race and gender.”

While age might not matter to many of the speakers we interviewed, there is still a sense of latent age discrimination in the tech world.

“[There’s a] perceived mental stiffness with [people] 40 and above,” says Bert-Jan Van Essen, CEO, Dragon Wealth.

His view is echoed by Dmitry Alimov, Founder and Managing Partner, Frontier Ventures, and Bruno Occhipinti, Director Strategy and New Business Development, APAC, Philips. “There is some level of discrimination in favour of the younger age, but the tech industry is not uniform in this, and not all fields are affected in a similar fashion,” says Occhipinti.

Different sectors, different people

“B2C (business-to-consumer) startup founders tend to be younger and the investment is more related to the traction a startup is getting,” says Shobhit Shukla, Chief Revenue Office, AdNear. This is, as opposed to B2B startup where founders might have a deeper, more extensive understanding of their industry, which comes from actually working in that particular scene.

Different sectors also bring out different levels of expertise. Areas that require domain expertise such as finance, law, and health, for example, would give a more pronounced advantage for older, more experienced practitioners to be entrepreneurs due to its high barrier to entry, notes Snehal Patel, Co-founder, MyDoc.

The timeline of the industry can also play a role. Shukla factors this in when discussing the mobile app economy, where “there is no one with 20 years of experience, as the industry itself is less than 10 years old”.

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Shukla adds, “In the initial days, a young team (esp in B2C) can work hard and hack its way to growth. Once it hits a certain scale, it needs a stronger executive with more experience under its belt. This is a trend we see in the Bay Area as well.” (Sic)

“Younger members are the fastest learners, partly because they’re hungry and partly because they come with a clean slate,” says Shukla. “In startups, they can add tremendous value due to their fast learning curve and the drive to be part of a success.”

Going forward

“Old, but I’m not that old/Young, but I’m not that bold,” sang popular American pop-rock band One Republic in one of their hits Counting Stars.

Those words may be mere lyrics to you, but they signify something bigger. Words like ‘bold’, ‘risk-taking’, ‘passionate’, ‘innovative’ are often used to describe younger individuals, while words like ‘wise’, ‘responsible’ and ‘pragmatic’ are stereotypical labels for older folks.

But if talent comes in all forms (and that means all ages), it’s perhaps time to rethink the stereotypes we have about various age brackets.

Echelon Asia Summit will be held on June 23-24 at Singapore Expo.

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Join us at Echelon Asia Summit 2015 to get an insider’s look into Asia’s tech ecosystem. Be dazzled by the brilliant minds coming together to share their perspectives and business know-how. 

Download the Echelon Connect app for Android or iOS and get the most out of Asia’s biggest tech conference this year. Echelon Asia Summit 2015 will be a vibrant mashup of dynamic content and exhibiting startups from all around the Asia-Pacific region. Pick up your tickets here!

  • DatastreamX
    DatastreamX Singapore DataStreamX helps transform their clients' businesses by delivering actionable data to buyers and creating new revenue opportunities for vendors. Funding: 370K Seed Investors: JFDI
  • MyDoc
    MyDoc Singapore Created by doctors for doctors, we simplify healthcare. MyDoc provides patients and healthcare practitioners with a way to manage communications through a streamlined platform.
  • AdNear
    AdNear Singapore AdNear is the leading location intelligence platform that leverages location and context to power data driven marketing for advertisers. Funding: 19M Series B Investors: Global Brain Canaan Partners
  • Dragon Wealth
    Dragon Wealth Singapore Dragon Wealth offers the world’s first ‘marketing in a box’ designed specifically for financial advisors to connect more easily and more often to new and current investors.
  • Philips
    Philips Singapore Philips is a leading health technology company focused on improving people's health and enabling better outcomes across the health continuum. Funded Startups: Undisclosed

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