Stanford was my dream school. It had been marked with a big red X for years on my roadmap of life. The first time I applied I got rejected. I wanted it bad enough that I applied again a year later and got in. But by the time I arrived on the farm this fall the honeymoon was over. Stanford and I were no longer right for each other and after a quarter we agreed it was best to part ways. I don’t feel deceived for wanting Stanford for so long. It was a worthy focus of my desires at the time. And I don’t feel cheated for having to leave so quickly. I’m glad Stanford finally accepted me, that we got the chance to know each other, and that I found the courage to separate before we became too settled.
What we need on our journey to get where we want to go is constantly changing as we learn and grow. We can’t become too attached to our dreams. Dreams are the figures dancing on the horizon at the edge of what we can see. But as we move through the valleys and over the mountains and hilltops in pursuit of our dreams, our perspective inevitably changes. When we see the horizon from a new vantage point we can rechart our journey based on our new view of the world or we can cling to the dreams of yesteryear.
A month into Stanford I could tell my current arrangement wasn’t working. I talked it through with my mentors, friends and family, and the administration at Stanford and it became clear I had to make a choice: Enjoy college life or pursue my passion and try to change the world. Framed that way I barely had to blink. For the last 4 years when faced with similar decisions I’d made the choice to forgo present hedonism in pursuit of my larger purpose. Now was no time let up.
Around the same time I made the decision to leave Stanford, Peter Thiel announced his 20 under 20 fellowship, and my inbox was full of friends telling me that when they heard the announcement I was the first person they thought of and that the opportunity was perfect for me. From what I’ve learned so far, I couldn’t agree more. I’m vision aligned with Thiel. I believe the world’s pace of change is accelerating, and the margin for whether we have the best century in human history or the worst is incredibly thin. The unimaginably positive scenario is largely dependent on an accelerating pace of globalization and innovation, so I’ve aimed my efforts at what I believe is one of the biggest leverage points to the tip the scales in our favor.
I believe as the pace of change speeds up, large corporations will topple faster and faster and the economy will increasingly be dominated by startups doing disruptive innovation. My mission to empower entrepreneurs by uncovering the science of entrepreneurship in order to build an integrated solution stack that entrepreneurs can use to dramatically increase the success of their ventures. I’ve been collaborating closely with Steve Blank, Alex Osterwalder, Janice Fraser and other entrepreneurial thought leaders and I believe we have the beginnings of a solution. I recently co-founded a new company called Black Box to harness this opportunity, and you’ll be hearing more about us soon.
Furthermore, the larger mission of the Thiel Fellowship resonates very strongly with me. It is a huge societal problem that many of the country’s brightest people are funneled into situations that prevent them from taking risky, but potentially world changing bets. I believe the education system as a whole is broken beyond repair, and starting anew via creative destruction is our only hope for system-wide improvement. Since it seems the interests of the education systems are too entrenched for that to happen, the only alternative are efforts like the Thiel Fellowship gaining major support and at least moving the highest potential young people into a new environment where their potential can be nurtured. I’ve been interested in changing the education system for awhile. A little over a year ago I came to the realization that the world’s biggest problem isn’t poverty or climate change, it’s that humanity just doesn’t have enough people working on the world’s biggest problems. I think efforts like 20 Under 20 are a big step in the right direction. If I didn’t believe what I’m working on could have a bigger, more immediate impact, I would still be trying to reinvent education for the 21st century.
The opportunities winning the Thiel Fellowship would create are equally exciting. The most valuable element for me would certainly be the network of people I would be connected with. Making an impact isn’t as much about the resources you possess as it is the people you surround yourself with. Considering my current passion is the science of entrepreneurship, and that Founders Fund and The Paypal Mafia are made up of some of the best entrepreneurs in the world, it’s hard to think of a better community to become a part of. While I believe I could get in touch with these people on my own, formalization is a tremendous accelerant. I also would find the grant highly valuable. While I’m confident I can figure out a way to make ends meet financially, I come from a middle class family and the time and energy it could take to satisfy my financial needs could become a substantial burden that takes my focus away from creating a successful startup. So the money too, would be a significant accelerant.
I particularly like that the two “ringleaders” of the Paypal Mafia, Peter and Reid, both describe themselves as philosophers and entrepreneurs. For me, philosophy is about trying to describe the future we should build, and entrepreneurship is how that future gets built. Reid has said he planned on becoming an academic but realized academics get little attention and that he could have a much greater impact as an entrepreneur. I arrived at a similar conclusion at 18. I had chosen to immerse myself in the Accelerating Change/Singularity Community a few years earlier, and after a year or two of reading, attending events and conferences, and working I felt I had a good sense of where the future was probably headed. I turned my attention to figuring out how I personally would make an impact and entrepreneurship became the clear answer.
The fascinating thing about the evolution of my interests from the Accelerating Change community to the startup community is that there are very few people who are actively involved in both worlds. But Peter Thiel who is arguably one of the most influential people in Silicon Valley, is unquestionably the most important benefactor in the accelerating change community, with a substantial number of organizations largely sustained by his Foundation.
These two communities, which have been the most influential on my life, came together full circle on the first Tuesday evening of December at the Place of Fine Arts. The Thiel Foundation held a showcase to expose the luminaries of Silicon Valley to 8 non-profits working on radical projects with the potential to transform humanity. Missions ranged from ending aging, to the safe creation Artificial Intelligence to revolutionary improvement of global governance by experimenting with floating cities at sea.
The last time I was at the Place of Fine Arts was at the Singularity Summit in September of 2007. It was the first Futurist event I ever attended, and the relationships I formed that day changed my life. Here I was again, more than 3 years later. The last time I was here I knew nobody. This time I was cheering on friends Michael Vassar and Patri Friedman on stage, working the room during the reception to talk with all the entrepreneurs in attendance who had become friends, colleagues and advisors, and talking with Peter Thiel about my work in the context of the program he just launched, which could change my life again.
If you are a friend who would support me in winning this fellowship, I’d appreciate it if you left a word of recommendation in the comments. It would mean a lot. Thanks.