John Lilly, the venture capitalist and prolific tweeter, recently cited a friend who categorizes colleagues into buckets, based on the number of tech-industry downturns they’ve experienced. He divided them into three groups, those who’d seen things go south once, twice, or never, with the two in question being the years after 2000 and 2008. Lilly went on to write that the majority of this friend’s co-workers had experienced no downturns in their professional lives. They’re too young.
This will seem odd to those outside Silicon Valley, a metaphorical rather than strictly geographical place where the tech mindset rules. Yet for those who regularly deal with young entrepreneurs, including greying venture capitalists (like Lilly, who works at Greylock) and journalists (like me), it sounds about right. Silicon Valley is a youth movement, partly because the energy levels and naiveté needed to succeed here favor the young.
Still, at least to those of us who have seen the dark side, it’s fairly obvious advantages experience brings in times like these. I was reminded of this when Fortune’s Dan Primack wrote recently about layoffs at Angry Birds maker Rovio:
It reminded me a bit about a conversation I had with someone very close to the company around the time of its VC funding in 2011, who told me that Rovio viewed Angry Birds as the equivalent of Super Mario Brothers. When I asked about his confidence in Rovio being able to create a largely unrelated hit based on a similar character — given that Super Mario was based on Donkey Kong — he expressed ignorance of that basic gaming history. To me, it was a big enough red flag that it stuck in my mind for the past four years.
There’s no rule that inexperienced management teams will fail when times get tough, just as it’s not a given that seasoned managers will succeed in tough circumstances. But volatile markets certainly favor those who’ve seen them before—or at least those who have the humility and prescience to surround themselves with those who have.
For more on tech booms and busts, watch this video below.