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.

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04 2011