If you’ve seen the Facebook movie: “The Social Network” you might recall the involvement of one, Peter Thiel. Thiel was the first outside investor in Facebook, actually putting up $500,000 to finance the site’s first expansion in 2004. Thiel was the founder of PayPal, where he made his first fortune when he sold it to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. Yeah that’s billion with a “B”. I know, ”wow” right?!
It’s also interesting that although the character based on Thiel appears just briefly on-screen, the movie takes a jab at the venture-capitalist in a single line where it’s said “We’re in the offices of a guy whose hero is Gordon Gekko.”
While he definitely enjoys his wealth (and deservedly so) with various profiles have commented on his Ferrari Spyder, his $500,000 McLaren Supercar, Thiel fancies himself more than some self-indulgent billionaire. He has a big vision putting some of the millions he has made on PayPal, Facebook, and a hedge fund called Clarium behind advancing that vision.
In fact he has recently gone on record regarding his desire to focus his efforts on entrepreneurial ventures that, he states “ may create a new space for entrepreneurial freedom.” This motivation has been reflected in his new desire to give young, aspiring, closet entrepreneurs the opportunity to dramatically alter their life. The Thiel Fellowship has just announced that it will pay would-be entrepreneurs under the age of 21, $100,000 in cash to drop out of school. Incredibly controversial to say the least I know. However, there is a more interesting and compelling story at the source of this effort that I wanted to quickly examine here.
In announcing the program, Thiel made his feelings clear about American universities which, he believes, cost more than they’re worth and hinder what really matters in life, namely achieving the American dream. His scholarships are meant as an escape hatch from what he feels is a trap; institutions of higher learning that create conformist robots who conform and do what they’re told rather than free thinking creators of their future.
He purposely hit on what he feels to be a deficiency in the educational ideology where students are taught to be good employees, with false expectations that they will make $100,000 right out of college. He stated that they are then shackled with a quarter of a million dollars in educational debt and then seek safety in corporate America. He proposed that following this ideology hamstrings an entrepreneurial path when to become an entrepreneur “people need to take risks. They often need to do things where they get paid less than they could earn elsewhere. To start out with enormous amounts of debt that becomes very hard to do.”
He stated that his aim is “to target people who’d like to become entrepreneurs and see if there’s a way to mentor that process along.” Thiel’s program is premised on the idea that America suffers from a total neglect at fostering entrepreneurship, not only in the classroom but in our culture as a whole.
His detractors state rather that we may be on the verge of the opposite, a world in which too many weak ideas find funding and every kid dreams of being the next Mark Zuckerberg. I’ve read where one author stated that “this threatens to turn the risk-taking startup model into a white boy’s version of the NBA, diverting a generation of young people from the love of knowledge for its own sake and respect for middle-class values.”
I would contend that there is no limit of people who can be successful. You will never be cut from a team because the nation only has room for 15 quality businesses. Unlike professional sports, there is no limit on good players, no limit on good ideas. How quickly we forget that America was founded and made great by holding tightly to the entrepreneurial model. In an effort to seek safety under a corporate umbrella, we have abandoned this ideology all together deeming it risky behavior. Over the last 2 generations most never even grew up to see anything different.
The revisionist history we are taught would neglect to connect the obvious cause and effect linking the explosion of large corrupt companies in the industrial revolution helped trigger the great depression…. Much like this economic cycle. I’m not at all saying that there weren’t great technological strides made during the turn of the century but rather that the corporate gluttony and corruption that grew from that (and didn’t need to) was a major contributing factor that brought about a “welfare state” ideology. Then, as soon as large companies were hiring again, the masses went back in droves and taught their kids to seek stability and safety there.
I’m also not saying that there is anything wrong with being an employee at all. I know many people who are doing what they feel they were born to do within a company that pays them well to do it. I am however vigorously stating that I believe we need to wake up as a society and realize that many have been erroneously convinced to prioritize company loyalty at the expense of doing what you were put on this earth to do, what fulfills you.
Though our society has heavily promoted this desire for safety and stability, large companies have seen fit increasingly to give none. There is 17% unemployment in this country (when counting those that ran out of benefits who the gov doesn’t count anymore) and yet we continue to look for a job!? Really?
I believe Thiel’s fellowship program is a breath of fresh air. It’s an effort to change that false ideology and change a public’s perception that “entrepreneurialism = unsafe, risky behavior = foolish to pursue”…until they are successful. It’s about time that we honor the pursuit of such dreams and the character required to follow one’s own passionate pursuit and live life as he sees fit. A perspective every founding father of this country espoused and lived by.
But what are your thoughts? Where do you agree or disagree?
Your coach & fan!
The “Biz Coach”
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