Too old for tech? Not these Silicon Valley CEOs

Think leading a technology company is only for thirtysomethings? These savvy sexagenarians beg to differ.

Is it ever wearying to get back on the start-up treadmill?

Courtot: No, because I know deep down what Qualys is doing is the future. We have 4,000 customers and had [US]$40 million in recurring revenue last year. Honestly, it's taken longer than anticipated -- I thought we'd be at this stage two years ago. But the fundamental thing is: Are we providing something of value to customers? That's the path. The rest is irrelevant.

Noerr: I'm driven by wanting to make a name for my company. It doesn't bother me if I go to a party and no one's heard of us. I look at it as an opportunity to be an evangelist.

Massaro: I've done several turnarounds, mostly as favors for VCs. They're never very satisfying. I restore cars as a hobby. The statement that it's harder to unbuild something than to build it -- it's true with a car, it's true with a company. So my preference is always to do a start-up.

What special qualities do you bring to the CEO role?

Courtot: I am like a coach who constantly focuses people on two things: exercising quality and putting yourself in the customer's shoes. I don't have to micromanage on this technology or that. The mind has to trust the body, and the body will react the way it should.

Noerr: I have more drive and persistence than many people I employ. I certainly don't think of myself as old. The only difference is that now when I have to do long-haul travel, I'll treat myself to a business or first-class seat.

Massaro: When I was CEO of Shugart, we were successful because we weren't too smart. If you have too much experience, sometimes you become too afraid of making a mistake. And then you can't create anything original.

[So] I encourage my people to make mistakes. My only requirement is that it's an original mistake, the result of trying something different, not because you didn't do your homework.

How much age-based discrimination is there in the Valley?

Braun: Most tech entrepreneurs are in their 20s and 30s, and the VCs who fund them and sit on their boards are in their 30s and 40s. It's harder for older execs to fit in with this crowd. I wouldn't call it discrimination, but it is way different than other industries where at 50 you're rarin' up your career and the boards are filled with guys in their 60s and 70s.

[As a recruiter] I placed more than 50 CEOs in Silicon Valley, and most were 40-45 years old. The oldest was Don Massaro at Sendmail. I think he was 62 at the time. He's a fabulous guy, full of energy and highly qualified. But there are always extra questions and obstacles to overcome for older candidates.

I think Silicon Valley is race blind. Let's say three equally qualified CEO resumes are presented to a search committee. Two are age 42, an Indian and a Chinese executive, while the third candidate is white and aged 60. Assuming they have comparable English skills, the toughest sell is the older executive.

Courtot: I think VCs size up people and they size up the opportunity. If you're a good VC, you'll pick the right person, whether young or old.

Braun: When I asked Intacct's board what they were looking for, they basically described my background, except for one thing: "We are looking for someone who can be a leader in the SaaS industry for the next 10 years." That was code for "someone younger than you."

Noerr: I'm 68 years old. Age is without a question a bigger issue for me than gender.

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