I had a lot of fun doing the Draper University ‘Hero Training’ program. In many ways, it changed me. It still does, as I continue to reflect on my experiences 6 months after the program ended.
A lot of people ask me whether my startup launched, whether I got funding, etc. The answer is: that’s not the point.
In fact, as one of the program leaders told us, 9 out of 10 businesses that launch or are conceived at DraperU don’t last another 2 months. And I was no exception to this rule.
The thing is, ‘having your startup launch’ or ‘get funding’ or ‘get exposure’ are all good things, but that wasn’t the point of my trip to DraperU last summer. And I guess it’s not what most of the students get out of the program.
What you really get out of the program is thoughts. Ideas. Insights. Connections. Getting to know 47 people from 25 countries. Living, sleeping, working, (spoiler: almost dying during Survival Week) together. That’s what’s truly valuable when you are 20–30 years old. Forget about your ‘exit’, learn! You’ll get there eventually, why hurry?
The program changes you. Being among amazing people changes you. Jumping in the ocean with Tim Draper himself changes you. Talking to 2–3 millionaires per day and living for 1.5 months in the very heart of Silicon Valley changes you. And it continues to do so as you go through life and reflect on your experience many months (and, I guess, years) since.
Because I am somewhat of an idea nerd (someone who just can’t go on and not write down random ideas and insights in his Evernote), I documented each and every day of my DraperU experience. I selected the best notes from my Evernote and organized them below to obtain this looong Medium post. Hope it’s useful and thought-provoking for people who haven’t been to DraperU and is a bit nostalgic to my fellow classmates (hey team!).
Without further ado, here we go…
“You are never prepared. So just GO!”
…yelled Tim Draper, billionaire and a 3-rd generation VC, jumping in the pool with his suit and shoes on.
That was my first day and my first lesson on entrepreneurship.
Be it building a business, giving a keynote speech, etc. — you are never really ready. You can be 80% ready, but not a 100%. And that marginal 20% gives you a pain in the ass. So just go. It will turn out to be OK once you get there. Your job now is to just start.
Draper University oath. Memorize and repeat each morning.
What you are about to read is something that should be repeated every morning like a mantra. At first I was skeptical (oath, really?), but after a couple of weeks of daily recitation I actually felt as though I own all of the words in the oath — as though they are an important part of my identity. I guess affirmations and mantras really do work.
I will promote freedom at all costs. I will do everything in my power to drive, build and pursue progress and change. My brand, my network, and my reputation are paramount. I will set positive examples for others to emulate. I will instill good habits in myself. I will take care of myself. I will fail and fail again until I succeed. I will explore the world with gusto and enthusiasm. I will treat people well. I will make short term sacrifices for long term success. I will pursue fairness, openness, health and fun with all that I encounter. Mostly fun! I will keep my word. I will try my best to make reparations for my digressions
How to start. A 3-step guide.
Tim’s quick how-to. Building business is easy (only 3 steps!). So don’t dwell on it, execute!
- Identify a problem. What are you solving?
- Find a solution. Come up with ideas. A long-list of ideas.
- Understand how you are going to make money. Making money is as interesting as building things.
The power of having a great network.
Notice that the third sentence of the oath goes: ‘…my brand, my network and my reputation are paramount’. That’s because they are.
Silicon Valley is amazing in this way — you walk in a coffeeshop and you see a couple of millionaires talking about their startups, investments, etc. A simple ‘coffee’ with someone might have a 6-figure ROI. Every successful entrepreneur knows the power of a solid network (more on that by Brian Wong later).
“Everybody in Silicon Valley is so focused on building a network. That’s amazing. And there are many ways to do that easily”.
“The only way to succeed in Silicon Valley is to build the best network.”
Hustle Con — is a startup conference for ‘non-technical entrepreneurs’ (their wording). Our class went there in June 2018. We had free drinks, networked, listened to interesting speakers.
I wrote down a couple of thoughts from the conference:
A way to think about innovation:
“Of course it’s hard. But maybe?”
It’s a perfect framework for thinking outside the box. Of course it’s hard. But maybe focusing on what’s hard is what’s needed? Maybe that’s the right thing?
I re-read this quote every single time I feel impatient or unfocused:
Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success. — Biz Stone
Random thoughts after long discussions with my new friends.
My father (Stanford GSB ’09) told me once: “In any university or an educational institution 33% of your learning is from your professors and textbooks, 33% from your peers and 33% from alums that you meet”. And that’s also true about DraperU. I learned as much (if not more!) from my classmates and alums than I did from the speakers we’ve had.
One day we were having a late-night-meaning-of-life conversation. Here is what I wrote down before going to bed:
You usually think that you need more things: more money, more fame, more clients, more work. But real success is actually about working more effeciently (not more). To do more in less time.
If you slow down and be quiet, you’ll be able to hear a lot of things (including what you are passionate about). So be quiet, listen. Trust yourself: trust your intuition, it’s the #1 thing you can learn. There are signs from the Universe all the time.
Isn’t it great?
Jeff Seibert — is an entrepreneur and an angel investor. He made 2 succesful exits by co-founding Crashlytics (acquired by Twitter for $100mln+) and Increo (acquired by Box).
Jeff gave us an awesome presentation on fundraising, hiring and leadership. I had a lot of notes. I especially liked the way he talked about building a team in a startup (as he obviously went through his own learning curve at least twice).
As a founder you have only 1 job: look where you spend most of your time and then fire yourself from that position.
In other words: learn, do it yourself for a while, only then delegate. And never be your own company’s bottleneck (as that’s what happens to most young founders early on — they want to be able to control everything).
Notess on fundraising:
Imagine your startup growth as a dot plot, with each dot — a milestone.
Investors don’t fund lines. They fund curves.
Hence, you need at least 3 dots on the plot (i.e. have enough traction) to get funded.
Fundraising is just like dating. You are looking for the perfect girl/guy.
Main points to remember:
- You need to control the information you are giving out to investors. You have to make an intrigue. Speak in blurbs about your company. Don’t give out all the best cards immediately. Never send a deck over email.
- Remember, that a good investor’s job is ‘to say NO 90% of the time’.
- Your job is to get a personal meeting — that’s where deals happen
- Never ask for money. Ask for advice. In Silicon Valley there is a saying: “Ask for money — you’ll get advice. Ask for advice — you’ll get money”
- Raise enough to last 18 months.
For me (and, I guess, for most young founders) hiring and managing people older and more experienced than you is quite frustrating at first. Imposter syndrome starts to kick in. But it’s important that you have a kick-ass team. So I was impressed by Jeff’s advice on hiring:
- Hire like your job depends on it. (Your job literally depends on it). Do it yourself before you hire or delegate so that you know what KPIs look for in candidates.
- Seek experience. The most successful founders hire people twice their age (and experience). But don’t overpay them.
- General rule on hiring: if you can’t decide, it’s a no.
Remove yourself from making decisions. Don’t delegate: defer.
Instead of saying: “I delegate Sasha XYZ”, say: “I will defer this decision to Sasha and he’ll make the choice”. The former spoils people.
Roc Ryder is a real character. He was our leader for the whole ‘Survival Week’ experience and gave us a presentation on leadership. He is tough and reminds me of a Russian military sergeant (joking).
90% of success is showing up. Just show up.
When you are an entrepreneur, the entire Universe is conspiring to see you fail. It’s you against everybody.
Entrepreneurs don’t defer to:
- People who are older than them simply because they are
- People who are smarter than them (simply because they are).
Don’t defer to experts. Use them.
You should always fight for what you believe is right. Capitalism was invented so that everyone focused on their best interested and everyone benefited from it.
Derek Andersen. CEO — Startup Grind.
Derek Andersen — is a CEO and founder of Startup Grind (a community for entrepreneurs with over 600 chapters across the world). Great guy. Always smiles, very polite and has very interesting thoughts.
The most successful people are not successful because they are smarter or better at something. They are probably now.
They are successful because when an opportunity comes knocking at their door — they at least take a look (rather than immediately brushing it off).
“Every time you think you can’t figure it out, remember — everything takes time.”
“It’s very easy to mess up. So be careful.”
“Nobody at their deathbed said: I wish I worked harder”
“Help other people. Don’t out-pitch them.”
It’s very funny, but meeting Derek was very influential for me personally. As the presentation ended and he was heading out the door, I ran up to him and said:
— Hey, Derek! Awesome speech, thanks a lot. I really liked the idea of your Startup Grind thing…I am from Moscow, Russia, do you think it’s possible if I create a chapter there?
And he said:
— Yeah, but there is one already. It’s been on for a couple of months, had 2 events or so. I’ll connect you to Moscow chapter director, just shoot me an email.
You can imagine what came next. I became the Moscow Chapter co-director along with my two great partners: Kirill and Elizaveta.
Here we are, 6 months later with David Yang (ABBYY) as our speaker:
It’s funny how life plays out sometimes. So randomly, so out-of-nowhere. I guess you just have to try and keep your eyes open for opportunities.
Just like Derek says:
“Everybody gets a shot. Just work long enough. Just stay and grind long enough and you will eventually get it.”
Good exercise to put your startup idea through.
We all like to obsess over our ideas. But it’s very easy to fall into the founder’s trap and not notice the obvious problems with your business idea. Below is an easy exercise you can do alone (or, preferably, with a good friend) to get out of your own way and assess your idea objectively:
Step 1: ask yourself why your idea sucks. List out all the reasons why it does. Be blunt.
Step 2: ask yourself how your idea can be made even worse. Push it hard.
Step 3: ask yourself how you can make your idea cool.
If you do everything correctly, you should have some new insights.
Pascal Finnete — Maybe revolution is the point.
What does it take to make the problem go away?
Pascal is an entrepreneur, book author and founder at Radical Ventures. He is also Chair for Entrepreneurship & Open Innovation at Singularity University.
On his website it says: “…he got started on the net before there was a web browser, founded a series of technology startups, led eBay’s Platform Solutions Group in Europe, launched a consulting firm helping entrepreneurs with their strategy & operations, and invested into early-stage tech startups.”
Pascal told us a lot about the world of abundance and how to play a part in today’s changing world.
There are 2 ways to make money in the world of abundance, according to Pascal:
- Make something RARE.
- Brand (Louis Vuitton)
- Social (Starbucks)
- Experience (Apple)
- Personal, customized
2. Embrace abundance and build a platform.
- Access -> Amazon. Everywhere.
- Ease -> AppStore. Very easy to develop, buy, analyze.
- Curation -> Spotify. It gives you music you would like to listen to, but don’t know yet. For example: Mexican dinner playlist. Amazing!
Personally, I loved Pascal’s idea of personal rate of growth. I think it’s very inspiring:
Your personal rate of growth = [multitude of the challenge] x [intensity of the attack].
Hence, to grow as fast as you can, take the biggest problem you can find and attack it with the most intensity.
Keith Teare. TechCrunch.
The world goes in waves. And every next wave kills the previous one. So if you are riding the old wave — you are in trouble. If you are riding no wave — you are in even bigger trouble. When you think about starting a company, you have to take in the context of the time you are in.
Keith Teare is an English-American entrepreneur, founded numerous IT-companies and is mostly credited for his involvement with TechCrunch.
I wrote a post recently on voice and Alexa Skills and mentioned having Keith Teare as one of our speakers. His thoughts influenced me a lot and changed the way I view entrepreneurship.
The question you need to ask yourself is: ‘What wave are you surfing?’. In other words, ‘how relevant are you today?’
He told us that if we are doing something that could be done 10 years ago, we shouldn’t be looking for VCs.
VCs invest in invisible children, that are already there. Third tremester babies.
Investors invest in the near future — not the distant future (i.e., flying cars, rockets, etc.), but in something that’s going to be mass-adopted in 36–48 months.
The near future is already there. It’s just not seen yet. The job of an entrepreneur is to make it seen.
When raising money, Keith advised to have a fantastic vision. In order to have a fantastic vision, you’ve got to start with the end goal in mind. The investor will want to imagine how it is going to look like once it’s finished. What will it look like if it works?
Start with the ending. What is the world going to be like if it works. Now tell me what you’ve done so far.
Talking about waves and progress, Keith mentioned 3 main waves that he sees in the near future:
- Automation of what people are doing right now by themselves. And automating the necessities of life (food, work, daily routines, etc.)
- Blockchain and vertical stores of value.
- China becoming the #1 country. The whole center of the world is moving to Asia: China, Singapore, India, and Africa.
It’s time to start riding them :)
And remember something Keith mentioned near the end of his speech:
All progress is about failure. How many people died before the drug was invented. Failure is the engine of passion
Sam Zaid — CEO Getaround.
During the times I was successful — I hanged out around great people. During the times I didn’t, I wasn’t successful.
What matters in the very beginning is your work ethic.
Sam Zaid said it best: “I used to wake up in the morning, start working and work until I collapse from exhaustion”
Jack Smith. LinkedIn Hacker.
Jack Smith amazed me (and the whole class) with his hilarious story of getting into a new San Francisco accelerator through hacking LinkedIn Ads. I won’t get into a lot of detail about it here (that’s not the point of the post), but you can read all about it here. It’s totally worth it! This guy is a real Hustler.
His example shows how sometimes you have to bend the rules in order to get ahead. You don’t beat the competition by doing what everyone else is doing. Here is Jack’s 3-step-guide on winning:
Step 1: Have a goal. Understand it, measure it, write it down.
Step 2: Learn and find out what the rules are for the game you are trying to play.
Step 3: Bend the rules (legally) to your advantage.
And one more quote that I liked from Jack. It’s about the importance of learning a new skill.
Don’t become an expert in something that’s already there — Google Ads or Facebook Ads. Become an expert in something new, innovative. That’s where you’ve got the leverage.
Jack is currently advising several startups in Silicon Valley.
Brian Wong. CEO of Kiip. Author of ‘Cheat Code’.
Ideas fail, people don’t.
At DraperU, we had thing thing: each day one of us would introduce a new speaker. And since we had 2–3 speakers per day, each and everyone got a chance. Brian was the speaker I introduced. And in my opinion, he was one of the most interesting ones.
Brian Wong founded Kiip — is a mobile advertising network that allows you to get rewarded for playing games. Brian thought of this idea being frustrated by noisy advertisements. His mission is to make ads relevant and fun.
Raise money in Silicon Valley, live and build the product somewhere else. It’s outrageously expensive here.
There is no expert in any field anymore — everything is changing all the time. What makes you succesful, is learning just a little faster
Best cheatcode ever: ASK. (money, date, etc)
Try this. Go ASK. If you don’t ask, you always get a NO. If you ask, you can probably get a YES. It’s a numbers game. Nobody cares about your life as much as you do. You want a job? Ask 10,000 people, and probably 1 will give it to you.
Be realistic. Stop trying to build a $1-bln company. Build a plane THAT ACTUALLY WORKS. Have some footing in reality.
Brian told us that if you are building your #1 startup, your job is simply ‘not fuck up’. You have to show that you are actually capable of executing. Too many startup founders are chasing the ‘quick buck’.
Let the first startup fail, if it has to. But show your character, reputation is key. The next startup is when you make it happen.
He also gave us advice on what to do during your first year in Silicon Valley. His cheatcode: ‘be a magnet’.
It all comes from your network. Network is KEY. And you should be the center of it. First year in Silicon Valley? LinkedIn and events everyday. Your network is everything.
If you want to get experience, Brian’s advice is to work at business development. It’s a great job — you get paid to network. And once you’ve got a big enough network, you can go and build stuff easily.
You think you know everything? No, you don’t.
Bill Draper. Tim Draper’s dad.
There is one thing about Tim that I am most proud of. It’s his courage.
Bill Draper amazed me. He told us stories about working with President Nixon, Cuba and his first VC deals. Listening to a man with so much wisdom and knowledge is a rare experience. And he is a funny guy, too!
Some selected quotes:
Take notes about your days, experiences, and deals. You’ll see your progress.
Right now the VC world is very competitive. I would suggest becoming an entrepreneur instead, because there are so many people who can give you money
What does a VC look for? Energy. Good education. Somebody who can pull a team together. Somebody who is good with people.
The goal of any press is to put pressure on the government. That’s why the press should be FREE.
The company can’t do well both social and economic impact. It’s good when the company or organization of any kind focuses on something one
I hope you liked the notes and it made you think about how you will approach your startups or investments. I hope it was valuable.
To sum up, I’ll give a couple more quotes from the last days at DraperU.
Personally, I was influenced a lot by one of the staff members saying the following:
How you make money defines who you are. Don’t start something small in order to start something big later. you’ll just end up wasting time — 10 years or more.
We all get in the same thinking pattern: start small, learn, then go and do big. It didn’t occur to me that every time I think in a similar way, I waste time. If you want to do something big — do it! It’ll take a lot of time and you’ll learn along the way, but having ‘steppingstones’ is a path to failure and regret.
Now, with all projects I am doing, I am telling myself to shoot for the stars from the very beginning.
On graduation day, Tim shared with us his own closing thoughts. He told us to ask ourselves daily:
What new technologies can I use to accomplish my goals?
And use the new technologies. Learn about them. Educate ourselves. In the fast-changing world we (entrepreneurs) should be fast-learning people.
And one final word from the staff, that I think is also very important for anyone considering entrepreneurship:
Focus on one thing. Don’t do side projects.
Everything great happens if you laser-focus on it and do nothing else. Side-hustles don’t work. They just overwhelm you.
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And here is a random photo of me trying to show how to scare a coyote:
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