Digital world entrepreneurship: What’s age got to do with it?
Ruchir Sharma. Photo: Courtesy KikHub

Digital world entrepreneurship: What’s age got to do with it?

Mumbai, September 20, 2012

I bet my bottom rupee that almost all of you reading this column have never heard of Ruchir Sharma. Or Brian Wong. Mark Zuckerberg, anyone? Ah, that rang a bell, right?

Because Mark’s startup Facebook is today the world’s most popular social network. So, all of us know Mark.
But Mark is not really the point of my column today. It is what youngsters like him have come to epitomise. When Mark Z. embarked on Facebooking, he was just about entering the 21st year of his life. Wow, that’s young, you may think. How’s this, then? The average age of Internet entrepreneurs has lowered since Mark Z. first came online. Which brings me to this column’s central thought – the Internet’s young (er) turks.
Take Ruchir Sharma, for example. He has done what Mark Z. did – start a social network. Or, as Ruchir responded when my website wrote of his startup last week, “Not a social network but a social information network”. 
The difference between him and Mark Z. is not only limited to their start-ups but their respective age when they launched their respective start-ups – Ruchir is a 9 th grader studying in the Doon Public School, Paschim Vihar, New Delhi. That makes him what, 13, 14 years old? A boy who perhaps shaves only once a week or not at all is already the founder of an Internet startup. I mean that in a good way. Ruchir’s designation - Chief Executive Officer/Programmer/Designer of KikHub (his startup).
Across the world, away from the humdrum of New Delhi is a boy called Brian Wong. A Canadian, Brian probably is making more money at this stage of his life (he is in his 20s) than you and me shall ever make even if we work all our adult lives. You see Brian was the youngest entrepreneur to get funding from a Venture Capitalist for a startup called (pronounced Keep Me) that he co-founded. He was 19 years old when he got the funds.
When Kiip was featured on What’s New On The Net for the first time in October 2010, it was in a “stealth mode”. Today, it’s public and is re-defining mobile advertising through its unique rewards networking platform. More so, Brian has become as big (if not bigger) a brand as any of his start-ups. He is described by either one or all of the following nouns - entrepreneur, social media marketing expert, digital marketing guru, global motivational speaker for the youth....In fact, Brian first made a mark by developing applications for micro-blog Twitter.
Before Brian there was Matt Mullenweg who now lives in San Francisco, USA. Matt is a founding member of WordPress. All of us know this popular blogging platform, right? In 2005, perhaps when the young Brian had his head buried in some code books, Matt founded Automattic, the company behind When Matt had got funding for Automattic, he was all of 21 years old.
Then, there’s me. Over 45 years old and newbie Internet entrepreneur (after completing what I would dub [at the risk of sounding immodest] a fairly successful stint in journalism), and looking around for funds for my first startup. Like me, scores of other 40+ entrepreneurs, why, even 30+ guys and gals, are already finding themselves being crowded out by the Brians and Matts of the digital world.
So one rainy morning, as I got around to shaving off that morning stubble, I asked myself this question – Is it a good or a bad thing - the Ruchirs and the Brians of the world? If entrepreneurship is learnt in classrooms or in real life, these guys have neither. So, then, how?
My eureka moment came seconds later. Each of these young Turks had a “truly different” idea and the vision to implement it. And, of course the guts, not to talk of the gumption. Add a dash of some sound, initial classroom education in their formative years to all of that.
All entrepreneurship is based on an idea and a delivery mechanism for that idea. Most of us do not implement our ideas. Of the remaining who do, 90 percent fail in turning them into money making businesses. Members of this group fail, more often than not, because their ideas are copies of other ideas, sometimes conscious, sometimes sublime. I would not call this category “failures”, though. At least they tried to be entrepreneurs.
So here we are today. Straddling two worlds – the real and the digital. In the real world, a college degree, experience, contacts, an idea (preferably but not necessarily original) and some grey hair is what is needed to turn entrepreneur. You then need to start that part of your life working your old boys’ network to get that “first break”.
In the digital world, it is an idea (truly original), a plan, and the mechanism to get your idea across - a powerful computer combined with a fast Internet connection - is what you need to kick start your entrepreneur career. Your age has ceased to be a factor. And, maybe, either a Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter, or whichever social network you subscribe to, account. You do not need a telephone diary of “old contacts”, no college degree, nothing else.
Yes, I agree, some of the real world principles to do business are applicable in the digital world but even that is changing rapidly. Sound business fundamentals are being turned on their heads. 
Initially, online entrepreneurs did have to know coding but even that is no longer needed, thanks to WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) templates.
Supporting this breed of online entrepreneurs are a new class of dare-devil investors, far different from their real world, cautious, always-looking-for-profit counterparts. This class is as important to the online entrepreneur eco-system as oxygen is to the living. These investors take calculated risks, invest in a dozen start-ups, knowing fully well that 10 of those will be dead by next year, but the other two shall reap profits beyond anyone’s calculations.
Money, after all, does make the world go round, real or digital. Well, at least till Google comes out with its own Internet currency.

Previous columns by Sorab Ghaswalla

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