Posts Tagged ‘OPEN’

Walking On A Dream: Thiel Fellowship Interview

John, David, Nick

The past couple of days have been absolutely jam packed with interviews, pitches, and networking. My team and I were excited to meet the other Thiel Fellowship finalists on Sunday at the Hyatt in downtown San Francisco. The first thing that surprised me was the geographically diverse group selected to interview with the Thiel Foundation. At any given moment, I could’ve been in casual conversation with a music guy from London, student from India, inventor from Ireland, or an entrepreneur from Australia. The diversity of the 32 different ideas to change the world was equally astounding. Finalists were presenting ideas that were proposing profound changes in anti-aging, solar tech, electric vehicles, medical assistance, education, and more.

On Sunday morning my team and I decided to stay as relaxed as possible. We had just finished a couple days of intense refinement of our pitch and presentation. In order to review for our interview, we created a simple one page overview of the most important parts to our idea. This exercise got us in the habit of delivering only the most pertinent information to prospective interviewers and mentors. After doing a final practice interview among ourselves, we agreed on who would take which types of interview questions. By 4:15PM our time slot had come and before long we were doing our interview with the board members of the Thiel Foundation, as well as a couple employees of Clarium Capital. The questions were simple and straightforward, mostly about our idea rather than our team. We think our most striking answers in the interview were on the subject of the proof that demand for our product already exists and our revenue model. One area that we needed improvement was a more clear and concise way to describe our distribution.

With one of the key parts of our visit out of the way by Sunday night, we were focused on delivering the best possible pitch for Tuesday’s lightning talk. Monday morning was our first official meeting with a large portion of the 20 Under 20 Finalists. My team and I were happy to have a delicious breakfast while talking about medical research tools with a team of Princeton students. By this point, we were increasingly anxious to meet the other finalists and hear their pitch. The main focus of the day was the lightening talk at 4:30PM, so we decided to stay relaxed after lunch by exploring downtown San Francisco.

The key ingredient in our pitch preparation was a quick smoothie stop at Jamba Juice. (Yes!) This gave us the energy to fend off any remaining jet-lag that threatened to fatigue our interviews. (From what we determined earlier in the week, excessive tiredness decreases the quality of our clarity thoughts drastically.) Leading up to show-time, I made the final decision that I would be doing the entire 2-minute pitch. We practiced the entire sequence numerous times, and by 4:30PM we were ready. The short talk by Luke Nosec and Patri Freedman was truly inspirational, they helped to momentarily calm everyone’s nerves. Finally after waiting patiently for 26 other speakers to do their pitch, we lined up outside the door and moved promptly onto the stage filled with bright lights. The feeling of pitching a simple educational concept to an intimidating room packed with over 75 people judging our pitch was especially profound.

After everyone pitched their idea, we moved to a nearby room with cafe tables setup for informal interviews. As we had hoped, a number of mentors who stopped by our table mentioned that our pitch stood out a great deal among the five other education related ideas. The two parts of our idea that we were most frequently questioned on are our plans for distribution, and the market demand for this product. These interviews turned out to be an excellent networking session for my team, and we even walked away with an additional idea to monetize our platform.

By 7:30PM we left the Hyatt to take a bus over to Mr. Thiel’s house where he hosted us for dinner. The dinner was an interesting mix of competitive and relaxing spirits. During any particular moment, we had the opportunity to meet some of the most accomplished technologists and visionaries from the Bay Area. Meanwhile, the limited opportunity to take up casual conversation with other finalists and soak in the Golden Gate Bridge views provided a healthy element of fun to the evening. The chance to have in-depth conversations about electric cars and rocket-ships with visionaries such as Peter Thiel and Luke Nosec was an experience that I will deeply value.

Our final day in San Francisco was a bit less active. We had an awesome time meeting up with the guys working at SpeakerText, and we enjoyed a warm spring afternoon in the California sun. By nightfall, we were ready to take action on our plan with newly minted thoughts, ideas, and contacts from the past few days in San Francisco.


04 2011

Dabbling In Education

Hey everyone, I want write a brief update about a neat project I’ve been working on for the past three months in anticipation for this weekend’s interview. From the outside looking in, I haven’t revealed much information regarding some of the things I’ve been heavily investing my time in lately. Back in late December 2010, I came across Peter Thiel’s new fellowship program 20 Under 20. After reading the initial press release, I immediately contacted two of my closest buddies who have a close following of the startup technology scene, David Merfield and Nick Cammarata. We all agreed that this opportunity staring us in the face was an something we could not put off for any amount of time. With nothing to fear but fear itself, we were certain that we needed to start seriously thinking about an avenue for which to pursue a world-changing venture. David, Nick, and I discussed the most important aspects of our lives thus far that could be significantly improved with the help of new technology. To us, education is an area that we see as a traditional system that has become one of the last major sectors to fend off technological innovations. While all three of us have had different schooling experiences, we are all passionate to disrupt the current education model.

Before the New Year, we submitted our team essay to the Thiel Foundation on the subjects of How we want the change the world collectively and One thing we believe is true that most other people believe is not true. With the understanding that the amount of time a teacher spends with an individual student directly correlates with the student’s competence of course material, we set out to flip the existing education model. The current student-teacher relationship is inefficient, and we believe we can profoundly change education by enabling teachers to mechanize the repetitive aspects of teaching. With the motivation that we can harness the attention of students who are becoming increasingly digital learners, we began to plan out our venture that would encourage teachers to re-evaluate how the convey course material.

In the past month, we’ve made through the initial selection rounds and preliminary phone-interview. In the past couple weeks leading up to final selections made in the upcoming days, we’ve been busy gathering thoughts in opinions from everyone in our personal and professional networks regarding our proposal. One resource that has been very beneficial towards our project is the New York Startup Digest. The NYC tech scene may take hard hits now and then from California techies, but the range of events offered every week is substantial. Thanks to the educational technology meetups in New York, we were able to find a potential partner to integrate with our platform.

When you voraciously pursue an idea for three months through endless refinement it’s imperative that you communicate what you are trying to do very clearly. We’ve found that the best way to share our ideas on our planned venture is to convey our thoughts in a format that forces others to learn things about our team, and also forces others recognize more about themselves. We will giving several talks to the Thiel Foundation, mentors from the Thiel Foundation, and other finalists for the 20 Under 20 program. My final piece of advice as my flight descends upon the Bay Area is to not be afraid to take a chance, just be aware of why you are taking the risk. We will be arriving in San Francisco today, and we will be walking on our dream.

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03 2011