5 Things I Love About The Thiel Fellowship
College can be good for learning about what’s been done before, but it can also discourage you from doing something new. Each of our fellows charts a unique course; together they have proven that young people can succeed by thinking for themselves instead of following a traditional track and competing on old career tracks.
The hardest thing about being a young entrepreneur is that you haven’t met everyone you’ll need to know to make your venture succeed. We can help connect you — to investors, partners, prospective customers — in Silicon Valley and beyond.
Strike a chord? These quotes come from the Thiel Fellowship’s website — the education initiative founded by Peter Thiel. Luke Smith and I have been unpacking his thoughts about education on episodes 195-202 of the With Joe Wehbe Podcast.
The Thiel Fellowship is not just talk — it’s taking action! It gives twenty young people $100,000 to build their own ideas, on the condition that they quit or defer college for a year to do it. Bold and unique — I love it, and here’s why.
The opportunity cost of going to college or university (for entrepreneurial people specifically)
A lot of young people who have entrepreneurial spirit spend more time than they should at university, usually for reasons like ‘they feel they should be there’ or it’s the default path. The reasons they’re at college or university are often not clear to them, they might have outgrown it, or yes, it can be a box they need to tick. But they get distracted by working towards their grades or passing their exams when of course, the alternative of going and just chasing an idea is naturally hard to justify (because you need to generate all the momentum yourself!).
But there is an opportunity cost to ‘just finishing the degree’ if this takes three to five of your prime years, when you’re already very capable of working on and executing real, innovative projects (as I argue, almost all young people are as long as they’re bothered).
The concept of the Thiel Fellowship is so great because it creates momentum, excitement, incentive and financial breathing room around it. It’s perfect. It’s what I call ‘Stacking the upside’ for the participants, not making them feel as weird for having ideas!
Instead, they are put in an environment which will catalyse and accelerate their ideas and give them feedback and the excitement of meeting people who want to go at the same pace as them. It’s a lot of the thinking we’ve applied to Constant Student!
People in this environment have way more incentive to pursue an idea, and instead of being surrounded by disagreement, ‘that will never work’ and ‘that’s a bit out there’, participants are in a reinforcing environment. Instead of resistance, they’re met with acceleration.
Why do I like it?
It’s small and niche
Depth is prioritised over breadth (there’s only twenty people a year).
We’ve learnt this so far in Constant Student — in education, high touch is everything because it’s otherwise hard to challenge people’s limiting beliefs and assumptions, or give them feedback and personalised guidance.
Youtube videos can’t give you feedback, books can’t, Seth Godin keynotes can’t… you’ll learn more by doing than endlessly listening or reading, so we should just help people with their doing, not sell them on years of preparation.
It’s the right kind of prestige. Not the exclusive ‘you’re not good enough’ of an ivy league school, but the special experience around following through on your own idea.
The Thiel Fellowship has some pretty notable alumni, like Ethereum Co-Creator Vitalik Buterin and Figma CEO Dylan Field. How much impact is bottled up in those two alone? The funny thing is that the technologies they develop impact so much of the world that they literally change the world, the very one we’re trying to educate people for. Things like Figma and Ethereum change the nature of what’s worth learning from a young age!
Figma has accelerated and enabled all sorts of products to be built, and I’ve actively used it myself, and Ethereum has helped move us forward towards decentralisation. In such a world, people don’t need to know half (or much more) of the things they learn in school!
It’s also overcoming Taleb’s ‘Lecturing Birds How To Fly’ Principle. By this I mean, I don’t know if it’s necessarily claiming to produce these people, rather, just acts as the launchpad for the flying they’re already capable of. Think back to Thiel’s Zero To One!
Scalability in alternate education solutions comes from the story and the example made
This is an important point, and it also applies to Seth Godin’s altMBA. We’ve said on the podcast before that ‘education cannot be a mass product’, just like you can’t make a car for everyone or a song for everyone.
The next question you might ask is, then how do we scale innovative education solutions? The answer is we don’t — not in a direct way.
For example here I am speaking about Thiel Fellowship, promoting it to you, using it as an example and inspiration for solutions I’m working on, that you can work on too, directly and indirectly. We must combat the education bubble on a cultural level — no individual initiative is strong enough. ‘Enabling the enablers’ is the scalable model, which means to lead by example.
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