A CEO who sold 2 companies to Google gives his best advice on taking career risks

Luis von AhnDuolingoTake risks early on, says Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn.

Luis Von Ahn isn’t new to the tech game.

The CEO and founder of language app Duolingo previously sold two other tech products to Google early on in his career.

The first was ESP game, a computation game created to develop difficult metadata, which Google licensed as the Google Image Labeler in 2006. The other company was reCAPTCHA, a system used to ascertain whether or not a computer user is human. The tech giant acquired reCAPTCHA in 2009.

So, what advice does von Ahn have for young people looking to break into the world of tech startups? Well, if entrepreneurship is your calling, he recommends getting started early.

“With taking risks, you should try to do it earlier in your life,” he tells Business Insider.

That is to say, if your dream is to found your own tech company instead of heading off to work for a Silicon Valley giant, don’t dawdle. Instead of worrying about snagging a choice job offer with a great salary straight out of college, consider joining a smaller operation or laying the groundwork to start your own company.

As von Ahn says, making a major career gamble only becomes more difficult as you get older.

“The best time to take a risk is early in your life,” he says. “Once you’re about 30, it’s pretty hard to take a risk. You’ve either already gotten married or you’re thinking about getting married. You’re about to have kids or you’ve just had kids. It’s not a good time to take a risk, because financially you’re kind of in a bind.”

Meanwhile, he says that younger tech workers are better able to make it work with less pay and stability.

“When you’re 22, you can survive on $US1,000 a month,” he says. “You could totally survive on that. If you’re going to take a risk, I would say early on is a pretty good time to do it.”

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