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The Next Mark Zuckerberg Is Not Who You Might Think

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Venture capitalist Roy Bahat hired researchers to look at data on who venture-backable founders actually are. Turns out they are around 38 years old, with Master's degrees that are not necessarily in computer science, and most crucially: they have already worked for a venture-backed company in their careers.

Venture-Backable means what?

Highest potential for a home run?

Lowest potential for a strikeout?

Or most likely to get venture backing?

About those 38-year-old founders...

Yet if someone like that came to a top venture capitalist’s office, he or she could very well be turned away. Start-up investors often accept pitches only from people they know, and rely heavily on gut feelings, intuition and what’s worked before. “I can be tricked by anyone who looks like Mark Zuckerberg,” Paul Graham, co-founder of the seed investor Y Combinator, once said.

That strategy, however, means that investors are likely to be missing some good bets. As the tech industry tries to make itself more diverse, expanding the pool of people it finances could be good not just for appearances but also for business. Seed money fuels a start-up, so getting those choices right is critical.

“We have a myth in our heads of what the prototypical start-up founder is, and that myth is an early- to mid-20s white male who studied computer science at an elite school and dropped out,” admits Roy Bahat, who runs Bloomberg’s tech investment fund, Bloomberg Beta. “But a small number of data points ends up incredibly captivating our imaginations. The truth is we might just be wrong.”

Some of the results upended assumptions.

While only 12 percent of current founders are women, when they searched for potential founders based on the other characteristics of successful founders, 20 percent of the people they found were women.

“If you look at just the professional histories of the people who got funded, then it suggests people who share those histories are much more diverse than the people who get funded,” Mr. Bahat said.

Only 53 percent of founders have technology backgrounds, indicating that a computer science degree is not a requirement. Of potential founders, 8 percent of those with technology backgrounds are women.

The average founder has a master’s degree. College dropouts, meanwhile, were “statistically negligible,” Mr. Ng said. The average age is 38, and 38 percent of venture-backed founders are over 40.


It’s true that start-up investing will never be a science. It depends too much on timing, luck and human judgment. But a more diverse set of founders might be financed by doing more than waiting for a kid in a hoodie to show up at the door.

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