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Modern Elders are Critical for Startup Success

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The average age of employees in the United States is 42, but that number is more than a decade younger among tech titans. But according to the book, “Super Founders: What Data Reveals About Billion-Dollar Startups,” the median age at which founders started their billion-dollar business is 34. And, the average age of their CEOs is 42. This is significantly younger than the average age of CEOs of S&P 500 companies, which is 52.

Chip Conley, founder and former CEO of boutique hotel chain Joie de Vivre, and Hospitality Executive and advisor at Airbnb, authored, Wisdom at Work, The Making of a Modern Elder, writes:

The problem is that many of these young leaders are being thrust into positions of power long before they are ready — often tasked with running companies or departments that are scaling quickly with little experience or guidance. As a young tech leader asked me the other day…
How can I microwave my leadership skills?

  1. You can’t microwave leadership skills. There is no way to avoid the hard-earned experience that comes with leadership successes and failures. Even with a fantastic coach, you can accelerate by knowing what to focus on or to prep you for transitions and challenges but competency is competency, and skill is a skill. It will take as long as it takes.

  2. The second answer is more nuanced. Older workers have wisdom and experience, specialized knowledge, and an unparalleled ability to teach, coach, and counsel. They can partner with ambitious startup leaders to create businesses that are built to endure.

The Modern Elder as coach is critical for startup for success

In early 2013, Chip returned to the workforce as a 50-something senior executive with Airbnb. He was 2x the age of most employees and he reported to the co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky who was 21 years younger. And here’s the payoff…

Although he is not a digital native, only an immigrant, what he lacked in tech savvy, he made up for in, “accumulated EQ (Emotional Intelligence)”.

Chip and Brian formed a symbiotic relationship - each mentored the other. As a “Modern Elder,” he provided leadership coaching, mentorship, wisdom, and experience and married that with the curiosity and willingness to learn like someone earlier in their career.

With five generations now working together, it is more important than ever to foster and develop intergenerational collaboration.

Startup leaders and their investors must undergo an attitudinal change required for our society and startups to reap the benefits from Modern Elders to thrive. The organizations that figure this out will have a serious competitive advantage in their given markets.

As Chip rightly pointed out:

Let’s start with the words we use. It is time to free the word "elder" from the word "elderly."

The elderly are often seen as dependent on society and are frequently isolated from the young. However, society has historically relied on our elders. Given that the average age of someone moving into a retirement home has increased from 65 years old 60 years ago to 81 today, it is clear that people are living longer and healthier lives. So we need to change the way we think about aging and utilize the wisdom and experience that Modern Elders can provide to a generation who wants to learn from them.

Elders have a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be invaluable to the young. They can offer guidance and support, and help to bridge the generational divide. By engaging with the elderly, we can learn from their mistakes and successes, and build a stronger and more inclusive society.

A breeding ground for innovation and creativity or stress and burnout?

It's easy for startup leaders to get caught up in the execution day-to-day grind and lose sight of the strategic mindset, and leadership requirements, needed to improve the probability of success.

Your coach or if you are bold enough, your Modern Elder, will help you:

  • Develop strategic thinking skills.

  • Improve communication skills.

  • Hone predictive and anticipatory mindsets.

  • Overcome personal challenges holding a leader back.

  • Team attraction, retention, and development - this is not taught when getting your MBA.

  • Increased self-awareness.

  • Enhanced problem-solving skills.

  • Increased motivation and confidence.

Final thoughts…

If you have the making of a Modern Elder, then you should attend the Modern Elder Academy.

Our 40s, 50s and 60s are rich with potential. We’ve grown enough wisdom to know what’s important and begun to get comfy in our own skin — just as it starts to sag. Yes, our sense of humor, humility, and emotional intelligence grows with age, too. MEA is here to turn your midlife crisis into a calling.


If you're a startup leader who is considering leadership coaching, keep in mind, 80% of VCs and PE firms believe leadership coaching can help their portfolio companies achieve their goals. The survey also found that VCs and PE firms are more likely to invest in companies that have leaders who have received leadership coaching.


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