Archive for December, 2011

We Weren’t Born To Follow

I’m sitting at the gate in the Greensboro airport for the fourth time in the last month. For the first time I’m flying home to New Jersey, and for the first time I’m not coming back. Let me explain my story:


My thoughts on college are a mix of emotions. I think the college experience is fantastic. I lived in a suite with a Korean game designer from Baltimore, a politics enthusiast from Iowa, and an ROTC cadet from North Carolina. I worked on a project researching electric grid problems in Zimbabwe… with a student who grew up in Zimbabwe. Some of the people I studied and socialized with on a daily basis hit close to home in New Jersey, and my future plans in California. I can’t imagine a better selection of good people just trying to enjoy themselves while they work hard to figure out their future.

Why Wake Forest?

To me, Wake Forest offers a distinct experience that can not be found anywhere else. Andy Chan, VP of Career Development, says it best in his blog post about his decision to transition from Stanford to Wake Forest:

“The visionary leaders at Wake Forest are committed to creating the premier collegiate university – a higher education institution that offers the best of a personal, intimate liberal arts college with the best of an innovative, prolific research university. One key area is a focus on the career development and character formation of each student.”

Moreover, the the type of education each student receives here is holistic, including both the humanities and the sciences. Steve Jobs, perhaps the most prolific innovator in the past generation, is most well known for his creative application of technology in the intersection between humanities and sciences. Even Mark Zuckerberg thrived on this principle as a philosophy/computer science double major at Harvard. Solving 21st century problems requires people who can function in the cross between art and science.

Wake Forest takes technology seriously. Beginning in 1996, Wake Forest issues laptops to all students in an effort to integrate educational technology in the lives of faculty and students. This strong foundation of technology on campus has held strong as proven by the recent introduction of Google+, and Cisco WebEx for all faculty and students. The real benefit of the technology introduced here on campus is an education environment where there are no boundaries for access to people and information.

So, what about the business school? For those concerned rankings, they would probably advise me to seek an undergraduate business education at UPenn’s Wharton School of Business. Take a look at the rankings for yourself, and you’ll see that Wake Forest is #1 in Academic Quality; ahead of UPenn and the rest. Well, if you go to college for the academics, Wake Forest is the place to be for those seeking the highest caliber undergrad business education.

To the surprise of many, Wake Forest is the only school that accepted me. This is largely due to their leading effort in re-thinking the admissions process. Wake Forest remains the only top-25 national university to make interviews highly suggested and standardized tests optional. Achievements in grades and activities that take years to accomplish are often a better indicator of determination and success than excellent performance on a four hour test.

To give you a specific example of Wake Forest’s benefit to me in just one semester: In October I applied for and received a seed grant for my startup. The grant was made possible through a special fund in their Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship. Myself and a handful of other Wake entrepreneurs now have the funds necessary to execute on our ideas starting now. Not a single Ivy League college makes this type of financial resource available to students in the fall semester. And what about the rest of the student body; what are they interested in studying? The most popular minor on campus is entrepreneurship.

Why leave college?

I’m fortunate to have an opportunity, a Thiel Fellowship, that allows me to continue my education outside of a formal school setting. Yes, that’s right, just because I’m leaving school doesn’t mean my education stops. Call it the Peter Thiel school of thought, or whatever you please. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I begin my fellowship by working on a web startup, Ingenic. I’m co-founding Ingenic with a team of three college dropouts, and we believe this is the right time to be working on the problem we’re solving.

In the world of technology there is a limited window of opportunity for certain ideas and innovations. The opportunity I’m pursuing might not be as favorable in four years. For example, if the Facebook team waited until they graduated from Harvard to grow Facebook, their success may have been jeopardized. With the Thiel Fellowship, I don’t have to wait four years to obtain a piece of paper that says I’m qualified to pursue my passion.

My thoughts on leaving college extend beyond my personal circumstances and lead to an overarching dilemma: the education bubble. From my experience it’s common for many people to not really have any certainty on what they’d like to do after college. To cut to the chase, college is a place for most 18-22 year-old students to postpone thinking about the future. All to often the result is a college graduate who has not seriously considered the economic potential of their major. To me, this is a scary thought. I think about the future every day. I think the majority of college students neglect this type of thinking because they are occupied with their work from week to week and not thinking beyond the next test. Perhaps this is even why fear of failure and lack of security is so high among college students.

Students graduating with student loans in 2010 owed an average of $25,000. It could take many years for a new entrant in the workforce to pay off these loans, especially if they have difficulty finding a job. Now for the entrepreneur who is burdened by long-term student loan payments, it’s likely the on-going loans will prevent him from taking a financial risk in his life such as starting a new business. By the time the loans are paid off, it’s even more likely that they will be settled into the a stable career. When our best and brightest people are unable to take the risk of starting a company and devote their full attention to a technological breakthrough, that’s a major problem.

Many people have more than enough money to easily afford the degree of their choice, and they value the social aspect of meeting life long friends. But for the so called “99%” who don’t have tuition fully paid for by their parents, they need to seriously reconsider the dogma burned into students’ brains since their elementary-school days: If you want to make something of your life, go to college. And if you really want to make something of your life, gain admission to an Ivy League school.  There are many examples of top tier schools offering a comparable education and a more financially rewarding opportunity.

College is not a one size fits all prescription. To be fair, maybe most undergrads shouldn’t know exactly what they want to do with their lives, but by graduation day they should have certainly started to make a decision. And there’s nothing wrong with taking those years to figure out what you want to do, but you should be there because its best for you and not just a plan for someone else.

The Game

I hadn’t been able to concisely describe the sequence of events in my life until I learned about “The Game” with an unofficial group at Wake Forest: the masterminds alliance. Things in life can be separated into two groups: things you can control, and things you cannot control. Your hometown, your family, taxes, and a few other things are beyond your control. Everything else that happens in your life is in your control with varying degrees of certainty. You control your group of friends, what you wear, what you eat, where you go to college, your career path, and even how long you live.

Aside from the few things you cannot control, you get what you want. The degree of certainty for getting what you want is determined by how well you communicate. So, how do you get what you want? Getting things that you want is a result of your ability to communicate in three ways: written, verbal, and body language.

Even mundane things such as a post-script note, tone of voice, and making eye contact during an interview have significant importance towards demonstrating your knowledge of your surroundings and your desire for recognition from others. If you want something bad enough, think about how you can communicate that you are a deserving candidate for whatever you want. For most people, this tends to be a written diploma that says you’ve graduated from college.

The Future

The weeks and months ahead during my fellowship are largely uncertain. There will be both extreme excitements and disappointments that I have yet to discover. I’ll be working in Mountain View, California from January – April 2012. After March, the opportunities are endless. I’ll be traveling often in 2012; you will likely find me somewhere between New York, Miami, San Francisco, London, and maybe even Hong Kong.

So, before I make my way down the jetway and symbolically leave my short stint in college, what advice can I offer to you? Take a note from Chris McCandless:

Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.

Finally, I can best describe my decision to leave college with this quote I found in the Wake Forest rowing room:

“To give up requires no effort, only a decision. To win requires everything you have to give.”


12 2011