Monthly Archives: July 2012

Takeaway from the Thiel Under20 Summit: Incredible things can quite certainly be done

If there’s one thing to take away from last weekend’s Under20 Summit, it’s that incredible things can quite certainly be done. While working on a creative project, you undoubtedly come to a point where you don’t know whether or not what you’re working on will succeed. Panic, mild depression, and whole-days spent in bed ensue. However, when you meet people that have already worked through those blocks and met with success, you realize that… they’re just people. If they’ve done it, then so can you.

The interesting thing is that reality is negotiable. There is a certain way that the world works, and that’s great. But it’s not ideal—there’s always room for improvement. Being an entrepreneur and a creator means to envision a grand improvement, and then work your ass off to find a way to bring reality closer to your vision. It’s a battle, for sure, but worth the wounds in the end.

My two favorite talks: Matt Scholz and Josh Whiton

I’ll be honest, those were the only two talks I went to. But I selected those talks for very specific reasons.

Scholz talked about his experience going from computer science to biotech as he started his company, Immusoft. What struck me most was his genuine personality. I loved sitting outside in the grass, talking with him about everything from recent biotech research to his adventures partying in Ibiza, Spain. I envy his ability to switch in a moment from esoteric talk about protein decoupling to laughing and joking with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. People that can do that sort of thing are the type of people you should strive to be like.

Whiton’s talk was recommended to me my John Marbach. He spoke about his experience bootstrapping his bus location-tracking company by funding his technology with early sales. Since I’m only 19 years old, it’s not easy to conjure up venture capital for a biotech company. So, I plan to bootstrap my venture with sales, thereby validating and learning my business as I go. Whiton is a soft-spoken guy with a rational sense about him, which I highly respect. He also eats paleo, which is cool.

Great youngins to watch out for

I didn’t get a chance to meet everyone I wanted to meet, but these are the few that made a strong impression on me, and the ones that I think you should watch out for because they’ll be doing great things soon:

Rebecca Kantar – Rebecca’s got a phenomenally vivid sense of life that comes out in the way she talks about and runs her projects. She’s the CEO of the Minga Group and BrightCo, and has a pretty cool TED talk, linked above.

Max Lamb – Max and my startup team got to hang out for a while and walk around Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. He’s a chill kid with some good ideas and a strong sense for what he really wants as opposed to the bullshit society throws at you. He’s working at a biotech startup right now. Check out his recap of biotech at the Under20 Summit.

Dune Harman – This guy was the social arbiter of the whole thing. He knew almost everyone. On top of that, he knew who I should meet and why (he spoke highly of and introduced me to Emily Peck, another very smart attendee). Watch out for when he puts on his own events, because they will of course be incredible events with incredible attendees.

Carl Shan – I met up with Carl at the Udemy offices, where he’s working on their growth team. Carl’s got a great sense of who he is and what he wants working for Udemy and elsewhere. I can see any project he leads becoming successful, just because of how helpful and personable he is

Of course, there were a few people that slipped under my radar, probably because I didn’t get a chance to talk with them for too long. If you’re one of those kids, shoot me an email, I’d love to hear from you.

Recent Reading

I’m constantly reading. I used to do book reviews on here, but that got old pretty fast. From now on I’ll just give a list of what I’ve been reading recently, and a short blurb about each book. Here are some books and collections I’ve been spending time with lately.

Business Books

Good to Great by Jim Collins

This was a phenomenal book. Collins basically takes an enormous amount of data, collected from interviews, stock statistics, and news articles, and then rationally debates what the data mean and simplifies it down to a few easy-to-follow lessons. The whole time, he keeps his conclusions logical and empirical, instead of drawing conclusions solely from his own experience, which you see all too often in business. This definitely ranks up there with some of my other favorite business books: The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene… I think that about covers it (for now).

The Lean Startup by Eric Reis

Quick read, and covers some great methods and mindsets for quick and reasonable product development. Unfortunately, I’m not running a software startup, I’m in the biotech space, so most of this was irrelevant to my current situation. Nevertheless, the principles Reis expounds can be applied to just about anything with a bit of creative thinking. Worth a read.

Fiction and Literature

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

As a philosophy student, it was fascinating to read this book. Stephenson basically takes the history of philosophy, transports it to another world (actually a parallel universe), and then changes the names of everything and weaves it into an intricate and interesting story. One example: instead of Occam’s Razor, you have the Steelyard.

This was almost a 1000 page book, so it took a while to finish. But I’m glad I read it all. Next I think I’ll read Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, as recommended by Mark Conrad.

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg

The prototypical beat generation book of poetry. I really liked it, but I’m taking a step back and currently reading a collection of Alexander Pope’s poetry. For some reason, I find poetry to be a more interesting form of literature than the novel. I also really like short stories…

The Best Stories of Guy de Maupassant

I picked up this and the collection of Pope poetry after seeing this speech by Ray Bradbury. I find short stories to be immensely intellectually and creatively stimulating. Especially when you consider possible metaphors, symbolism, etc that the author wove into his story.

Psychology Books

The Psychology of Self-Esteem, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, and The Psychology of Romantic Love by Nathaniel Branden

I actually read Branden’s book on romantic love almost a year ago, but I revisited it last month for a paper I was working on, which lead me to become interested in his other works on self-esteem. As I work more on my own projects, I’m realizing how important self-confidence and self-esteem are. Sure, you have to be comfortable with yourself before you can even think about substantial relationships with high-quality people (both friends and girlfriends), but the same goes for anything you create. Making a company and making love are like two sides of a single coin – you have to put your whole being and energy and focus into each in order to do it the right way. And giving your whole self to a project or a person necessarily requires that you are confident in your abilities. (Not arrogant, which is just blind and stupid, but confident in an enlightened-sort of way.)

I highly recommend all three of Branden’s books, but especially The Psychology of Romantic Love.

So, that’s what I’ve been perusing for the past couple of weeks. I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading.