As a kid I dreamt of playing in the NFL. I was sure that if I worked hard enough I would get there. Thankfully, no one presented me with a predictive (dream limiting) data analysis of my genetic makeup at that early age. That NFL dream drove many hours of hard work, forged friendships, and resulted in some absolutely wonderful memories. Never made it remotely close to the NFL but dreaming big paid big personal dividends.
Odds of making the NFL are about 2% if you play high school football (odds are lower if you play in the high school marching band instead). Even if you’re talented enough and lucky enough to make it on an NFL team, your career span will likely only be about 3 years. On average, professional athletes don’t last long as professionals (NBA 4.8 yrs, NHL 5.5 yrs, MLB 5.6 yrs, MLS 3.2).
Given these statss, why do so many invest so much effort in persuing their athletic dreams? These crazy wannabe LeBron's, Brady's, Jeter's . . . But then again it’s not just aspiring athletes who work their tails off for the chance to make it big. It seems every worthy pursuit is filled (and defined) by people trying to make it big.
Take Silicon Valley—how many non-natives move from other states and other countries for the chance to make it big working for the next Apple? Google? Facebook? How many tech executives and professionals leave the relative security of working for big name tech players for the chance to help pilot smaller ships with new innovative ideas that will change the world? How many aspire to be the next Gates, Jobs, Bezos, Page, Brin, Zuckerberg, or Musk? Perhaps there's something universal in our DNA that drives us all to dream big! Or perhaps we all just want a little taste of the glory!
Every great start-up consists of one or (usually) more big dreamers who drive the innovative vision that propels the company towards succss. But like athletes, the odds are NOT ever in the favor for aspiring entrepreneurs. 10% of start-ups make it and those that do make it won’t necessarily make it big or last long. For example, this study on the shelf life of ad tech companies points out that they’re only lasting 6 years on average. Life spans of tech start-ups vary for a wide-range of reasons. It would make for a fascinating study to look at all the ins and outs of company life spans across the technology industry. (Perhaps this study is already out there but I didn’t find it.) Regardless of reason, pulling off long-term success as a tech company is tough.
This Yale study point out that corporate life spans are dropping generally; the average lifespan of an S&P company down to 15 years from the 50+ years level it was at in the 1960s. The drop is largely attributed the increasing rate of technical innovation. The impact of technical innovation on tech companies themselves is even greater. If you’ve been in the tech business long you know that tech companies come and go quickly. They are either beaten out or bought out.
Lifespans of Tech Companies
I researched the start dates of well known tech companies. I easily came up with a list tech companies started over the last ~25 years. Beyond this time range, coming up with currently relevent tech companies became more challenging (other than a few outstanding exceptions). Below I created a list of tech companies; see if you can match the company to year it was started. (See the bottom of this page for the assumptions used in putting together this list).