At first glance, Ryan Farley and Bill Hendricks couldn’t be more different. Ryan is 24 years old and it didn’t take him long to realize he wanted to start a company. Bill is 38 and his entrepreneurial journey was much more circuitous.
They met at Techstars in Austin Summer 2014 and immediately hit it off. The topic of founder age comes up a lot in the startup world, so we sat down with Ryan and Bill to get their perspectives on it.
Techstars: Can you each tell me a little about you and your company?
Ryan Farley: I started LawnStarter at age 22 after a brief stint in the corporate world. We’re an online/app platform that allows consumers to easily order and manage lawn care for their home.
Bill Hendricks: After 15 years in corporate America, I left the safety of a steady paycheck and good benefits to pursue my version of the American Dream. My partners and I created Common Form, which lets people with simple finances file their taxes in minutes from their phone or computer.
Techstars: Ryan, what were some of the benefits you think your youth brought to the table in your startup experience? What were some of the challenges?
RF: The lack of commitments – not having a mortgage and/or family to worry about – comes to mind as an advantage because I had more time to spend working. I have a lower personal burn than older people, and don’t mind sleeping 4 dudes in a 2 bedroom apartment like we did during Techstars.
As far as disadvantages, with age comes experience, and thus I have a lot less experience than some of my older counterparts. Therefore I have to work longer and harder to learn many of the skills more experienced people have, such as hiring, time management, and running a development team.
Techstars: Bill, what were some of the benefits you think your past experience brought to the table in your startup? What were some of the challenges?
BH: I’ve worked in all different types of environments and cultures. Ones I loved and of course, ones I hated. I was able to draw on that experience to help shape the culture of Common Form, along with my co-founders.
Challenges… I realized quickly that I had to adjust my expectations about the resources we have. It sounds obvious, but I worked at some great companies with deep pockets. You get used to having a 9 figure marketing budget and tens of millions of unique website visitors to run A/B tests with. One of my biggest challenges was adapting to the new reality of NOT having those things and still finding a way to succeed.
Techstars: Ryan, if you were married, or had children, do you think you would have become an entrepreneur?
RF: It’s hard to say. I would definitely need a much larger cash cushion. But in this scenario I would probably be working for a large company making good money, so I can’t say that I would give that up so easily.
Techstars: Bill, if you didn’t have the financial security you currently have, would you still have been willing to pursue a startup?
BH: That’s a tough hypothetical. Fortunately I have the tremendous support of my wife, who has a good job with benefits. We’re also very frugal so we had a healthy savings account. I think the answer is yes, I would have still wanted to do a startup. Not just any startup, this startup. The opportunity is just too good to pass up.
Techstars: Question for both of you – When meeting with investors, advisors, or other entrepreneurs did you ever feel any age discrimination?
BH: I never did. You hear and read a lot about it, but I never felt any age discrimination. After spending 18 months immersed in the startup scene, I can honestly say I’ve never observed any age discrimination against myself or anyone else. I was secretly happy to see that I wasn’t the only person born in the 70s in our class, though!
RF: There are plenty of people who think less of us (because of our age)- you can just tell when you talk to them. But there are many others who see their younger selves in us as well. What we believe and what we have to sell to investors is that this particular business really just needs a bunch of hardworking, scrappy hustlers – not necessarily someone with years of experience. And anybody who’s met us knows we’re the scrappiest bunch you’ll ever meet.
Techstars: Ryan, what kind of perspective did you gain from working alongside older entrepreneurs going on a very similar journey for the first time?
RF: There’s so much I’ve learned from people with years of life experience. Particularly when it comes to the softer, emotional side of things. As we scale LawnStarter those skills are becoming more and more important. Having been exposed to people who have been-there-done-that has proven helpful.
Techstars: Bill, were you and the seasoned Common Form team nervous about entering the program?
BH: We certainly were nervous. In addition to personal stress (we left our wives and homes behind to move across the country), we were moving out of our comfort zone professionally. We knew how to succeed in big corporate America, but startup culture was still pretty foreign to us. Although we’d been running our company for 6 months, we were very heads down and didn’t interact with the startup scene much. Thankfully the Techstars staff and our classmates made us feel right at home immediately.
Techstars: Last question, again for both of you… What things did you learn about yourself during Techstars, specifically how your age impacted your experience during the program?
RF: I’ve learned that while there is much to gain from older, experienced advisors, it’s still possible to get bad advice from them. It’s important to realize that age or experience alone does not make one’s advice credible, which is counter to what society teaches us. I’ve followed a lot of bad advice just because the giver was experienced, so now I’m learning to evaluate each piece of advice based on its own merit.
I’ve also learned that there isn’t much difference between older and younger founders. We all work hard, have fun, and learn from each other. In other walks of life I’ve always thought of older people as “authority” rather than peers, and it’s great to know that I can have friends like Bill and the Common Form dudes who have my back.
BH: I learned that I can learn from anyone, including people half my age! Just because someone has less life experience than me doesn’t mean that that they can’t provide valuable insight into extremely difficult problems. I learned a tremendous amount from Ryan, his partner Steve, and the other wunderkinds in our cohort. I also learned that age has nothing to do with the depth of friendships you can develop. We may like different music and I can’t keep up with him at happy hours, but I’m proud to call Ryan a friend.