Editor’s Note: As of 2022, New Mexico Angels’ members, investors and startup owners will be writing columns on economic development and startup opportunities in the state. The Angels unite individual investors to pool their resources, providing seed and early-stage capital to startup companies.
I was 26 when I started my first company, Joie de Vivre Hospitality, which became America’s second largest boutique hotel company.
To be honest, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I ran that company for two dozen years and developed some wisdom along the way.
At twice that age — 52 — nearly a decade ago, I was asked by the three young founders of a small tech startup, Airbnb, to help steer their rocket ship to become the world’s most valuable hospitality company. I became the in-house mentor to CEO Brian Chesky, who was 21 years my junior and whom I was reporting to, and I earned the moniker of Airbnb’s “modern elder.”
What the heck is a “modern elder?” I asked? Co-founder Joe Gebbia told me “a modern elder is as curious as they are wise.” He continued, “Curiosity opens up possibilities and wisdom distills down what’s essential.” I started calling myself a “mentor,” someone who was part-time mentor, part-time intern. As a boomer, I learned as much from my millennial fellow leaders as they did from me. I taught them something about leadership EQ (emotional intelligence) and they taught me something about DQ (digital intelligence). In my more than 7 years with Airbnb, I had more than 100 mentees within the organization, and we were all better off for it.
In sum, this is the first time we’ve had five generations in the workplace at the same time, and it offers all of us a remarkable opportunity to create a new generational compact to solve both business and societal problems by tapping into the rich diversity of talents of all ages. This is truer than ever with startups where often it’s the younger generation with the great idea and the older generation with the moxie, the contacts and the funding to bring it into fruition.
When age-diverse teams are managed well, members can share a wide array of skills, knowledge, and networks with one another. There are dozens of examples of great companies that were startups and today have multigenerational teams working side by side. Whether you’re involved with a startup or an established organization, consider expanding your preconceived biases — identifying those assumptions, adjusting your lens, taking advantage of differences and embracing mutual learning.
My latest venture is the Modern Elder Academy, the first midlife wisdom school. We’ve moved our headquarters to Santa Fe, and I get to spend about a third of my time in the Land of Enchantment. I’ve been participating in the work of New Mexico Angels. It is a great organization and provides not only funding for startups but an environment for mentorships — where successful entrepreneurs can share their wisdom with the younger startup entrepreneurs, and those startup entrepreneurs can provide not only investment opportunities but insights into new technologies and ideas. New Mexico Angels is a great example of mentorship in action.
Let’s all expand our thinking and embrace the multigenerational world we are in today.
Chip Conley was the founder of the Joie de Vie hotel chain and an executive team member for Airbnb, and is the founder of Modern Elder Academy.