Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Paid To Drop Out Of School

Would you drop out of college for $100,000? That is exactly what entrepreneur Peter Thiel is proposing to 20 lucky winners of his foundation's "20 Under 20" contest. The winners will receive a two year stipend valued at $100,000 and mentorship from a network of entrepreneurs en route to creating their own startup company. The only stipulation is that the winners drop out of college or high school to focus full time on building their business.

I found the Thiel Foundation's article on The Economist website. You can read the full post on Thiel's quest to incentivize drop outs here. So why would a college graduate who made millions co-founding Paypal and investing in Facebook want kids to drop out of college?

"We're excited to be working with them, and we hope they will help young people everywhere realise that you don't need credentials to launch a company that disrupts the status quo," said Thiel.

Thiel contends that most kids go to college to avoid thinking about the future and that, by incurring so much debt, many students are actually more at risk by being stovepiped into a career in order to pay back that debt. His foundation is targeting young entrepreneurs who have a plan to create wealth but may otherwise be tempted into attending college versus carrying out their dream. Of course his foundation is drawing plenty of criticism but Thiel responds by saying that people can always go back to college.

I have a few thoughts on this interesting endeavor.

1. We live in a society that loves credentials - Earning a college degree is a great thing. I enjoyed my college educational experience and wouldn't trade it for anything. However, is a college degree really an indicator of success? I would argue it is what you did to reach that point that contributes to your likelihood of success. Yet we as a society love someone who is stamped with a certification, a degree, or a license. Perhaps it the most consistent, quickest, and easiest way to justify your betting on an individual's future prospects but it is by no means a sure thing. I have definitely noticed this throughout my military career, as the military culture places a premium on having a masters degree and no merit in what that degree is in, the quality of the institution, or how the individual has leveraged the skills that were supposedly enhanced by that degree. My sense is that Thiel is frustrated with credentialism within our education system and that is part of the reason he started his foundation.

2. Education leading to action, action leading to education - My educational experience definitely helped me launch my own entrepreneurial venture. To say otherwise would be a lie. That being said, I have often wondered whether it was necessary for the success of my charity. Would I have been able to work alongside my friends to create our charity with a lesser education, or no college at all? I am not sure, but my guess is that based on my values, personality, and skill set that I could have created something special given the same amazing team to work with. Maybe not to the same extent, but I don't think the creation was dependent on my education. What I find interesting is that most people think that you have to learn before you begin, whereas I find I learn the most by beginning. My education definitely supplemented my ability to launch my charity but I think launching my charity really solidified all that instruction into actionable knowledge and experience.

3. If you are passionate and have a plan don't fear rejecting the status quo - I didn't start Checking For Charity until after I graduated college. However, I have experienced the social pressures and comments of a society who feels that it is a necessity to go straight to college after high school. My senior year of high school I was drafted in the United States Hockey League. It had been a goal of mine to earn a Division I Hockey Scholarship since I was a young teen, and in order to achieve that goal I knew I had to play junior hockey. Even prior to getting drafted, I did not apply to a single college. People thought I was crazy. Even people in the hockey community thought it was risky. But I knew that it was my passion and that I would achieve the goal no matter what. I had a plan of how to achieve my goal, and I had the passion to get me there. It's funny because looking back I really didn't have any fear. I knew I would make it happen. Since I have gotten older and taken on more life responsibilities that same confidence can be a bit harder to come by, but I truly believe that the lesson still holds true. If you love what you do and have a plan to accomplish your goals don't listen to the naysayers....make it happen. Thiel discusses a similar theme in his video interview below.

You can view the full video of his interesting interview below.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Life Changing Cheese - Business Lessons From Everyday Life

People naturally seek to learn about things they are interested in. In my case I am definitely interested in business. I have read numerous books off the Personal MBA reading list, I read business blogs, I listen to business audio books, and I did my undergrad in business management. Although all those sources of information are extremely valuable in developing my own business acumen, I am amazed at how some of the most valuable business lessons are encountered when you least expect them during your daily life.

This past weekend a few friends, my wife, and I went up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire for the day. Portsmouth is definitely a cool little artsy town with plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars. Our couple friends had been there before and were showing us around. We stopped into a quirky shop with tons of kitchen accessories, wine, and other knick knacks (definitely the least manly thing I have ever written). Our friends had mentioned that the place always had wine tastings and that they had this amazing cheese that we "just had to try."

As I approached the tasting area I saw a man behind the table pouring wine and setting up a platter. It was then that the man said something that caught my attention.

“Life changing cheese.”

Wow. What a great line! I am a very passionate person. When I am into something I am really into it. Whether it is hockey, music, my work, business, or playing guitar I am the kind of person who takes things that I am interested in or enjoy and I turn them into passions. For that reason, I am naturally drawn to people who are passionate about what they do. This wasn’t some person who was there to serve a few drinks and cubes of cheese to collect a paycheck. This guy was passionate about what he did and he was good at it.

The man went on to explain how the cheese was made in a cave in England and that the unique conditions gave it the "life changing" taste characteristics. He spoke of how many cases of cheese they sold a week and how they couldn't keep up with the demand. As he spoke I couldn't help but imagine little leprechaun looking dudes working away in a candlelit cave somewhere in the countryside of England. I must admit the cheese was amazing. The man wasn't just selling cheese, he was creating an experience!

As we walked through the streets of Portsmouth I wondered how influenced my friends were by marketing of the man selling the cheese. I wondered whether the cheese was really amazing or if it was just good cheese that was made great by the experience. I wondered how many other people went around telling their friends about "life changing cheese." I wondered how much cheese the passionate cheese peddler sold compared to the emotionless sample distributors at supermarkets. The fact that the "life changing cheese" experience stuck with me and that I put so much thought into a subject like cheese tells me that it was an example effective marketing at its core.

Not only was it a great day amongst friends, it was also a real life lesson in marketing that I will be able to reference moving ahead. How can I create "life changing cheese" in my own endeavors?