i recently had the immense pleasure of auditing one of stanford’s entrepreneurship lectures, with guest speaker Brad Feld, co-founder of Foundry Group and Tech Stars, who spoke about the triumphs and struggles of his career. At the end of the lecture, the students in the NVidia auditorium rushed to the stage to ask Brad questions. For a brief, fleeting moment, I went back in time to my junior year at NYU Stern, when hordes of students in their suits would crowd around recruiters asking questions (while these recruiters really can’t answer questions in depth regarding the day-to-day of bankers and traders) and feigning interest (i can’t imagine any one legitimately interested in these carefully calculated and constructed conversation topics; the purpose behind these finance networking events is just to perpetuate the glorified self-righteousness of bankers by having a biannual opportunity where random people idolize them for an ephemeral moment before they head back to the cubes for meaningless excel spreadsheets) just to buy the powerball lottery ticket that, through this arbitrary social hurdle, could land them an internship or job. not sure how similar this analogy applies to stanford entrepreneurs and guest VC speakers, though i am inclined to believe this relationship exists (give or take feigning interest, as VCs strongly consider passion and focus of the entrepreneur).
yes, stanford is to startups, as NYU stern is to banking.
the lecture began with a short announcement from Stanford’s BASES (‘Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students’), asking any hardware entrepreneurs to apply to its accelerator program (which, as it noted, was already backed by prominent VC firms such as Sequoia Capital). the level of involvement from top tier funding firms, with the empowerment of starting your own company to change the world (and being able to make some competitive money as a by product) truly makes it near impossible for anyone not to get excited about doing a startup or becoming an entrepreneur. everyone and their pet dogs are starting companies. it is the cool thing to do.
though stanford, nestled in the bosom of silicon valley, has been and will continue to be the heart of tech innovation for several decades, the rest of the country seems to have caught startup fever for other various reasons; the economy is horrible, no one can find a job, people have computers and access to the internet, which contribute to the rise of the ‘creative’ class. sure, to work a stable job and make six figures right out of college is awesome. but have you made something? or are you just a content consumer, like the rest of the world? getting obese on other people’s creations? watch tv, but not write a spec? listen to music, but not play an instrument? eat your friends cup noodles, but fail to pour boiling water into a cup and let stand for three minutes?
the entrepreneurial bug is particularly contagious at stanford, for good reason, but sometimes it can cloud someones judgment. if the environment was anything like NYU Stern and banking, the unchecked enthusiasm for handing over a few years of your life and soul for a hefty paycheck can even get the students who values rewarding and fulfilling professions to rationalize a few years of mind numbing corporate finance (‘it would be great to be able to calculate the rate of decline of the NPV of the respect my friends and family will have once i devote my entire time to my career’). some students (usually you can spot them as the ones whose ties do not reach the middle of their belts or the ones who ask obscure questions obviously hastily pulled just minutes prior from the bank’s PR website before the networking event) have absolutely no idea what to expect after graduating and entering full-time as an analyst. however, the immense groupthink that getting a career on wall street was the only way to ‘become a real person’ completely overruled any alternative possibilities. at what point did we stop thinking for ourselves?
the problem is probably way less severe at stanford (or maybe i am just more cynical about the financial services industry). and if everyone is thinking that the only way to ‘become somebody’ i to think and work for themselves as an entrepreneur, then so be it. at least silicon valley is still vibrant with innovation, while wall street is getting shat on by main street (for semi-justifiable reasons, though think that the 99% are just unsatisfied with their lives and are bored enough with day time television to venture outside to be less bored with like minded people. and they happen to be standing in front of each city’s financial centers).
a strong motivating factor for me to quit my job and become an entrepreneur was because i didn’t want the next X years of my life pre-determined, to be working and living in someone else’s universe. i want to be held fully accountable of my actions, to have full responsibility of my career and my life.
or, perhaps silicon valley, the mecca of startups, supported by its strong network and community of entrepreneurs and VCs, all believing the goal is to build and create, has me unknowingly convinced that this is the right path.