Back To School

I've always loved Rodney Dangerfield's Back To School. I laugh out loud just thinking about that film. This week I'm doing my own version of Back To School.

Monday night I did my annual talk with InSITE, the Columbia/NYU joint program that puts graduate students (mostly law school and business school students) into pro bono consulting gigs with startups. Apparently this is the fifth year in a row that I've met with them. The way we do the InSITE talk is I meet with the entire group (there are something like 40 to 50 members) in a classroom. I talk for a half an hour then take questions for half an hour. Then we go around the corner to a pub and hang out for a couple hours. It's the only event I do all year that involves pitchers of beer. And for that reason alone, its one of my favorites.

Then yesterday I went up to Cambridge Massachusetts to visit Tom Eisenmann's class at Harvard Business School. This is the second year in a row I've met with his class. I was interviewed by Jeff Bussgang for 90 minutes. I have to tell you that being interviewed by a colleague and/or peer is so much better. The questions were interesting, insightful, and super relevant. Here's a Storify summary of the session. I refute the word legendary in the title. The rest is spot on.

And finally, I'm headed down to Princeton this morning to talk to JP Singh's computer science class. Again, this is the second year in a row I've met with JP's class. My stated goal at Princeton this morning will be to convince these students to start their careers in NYC's tech community instead of some other startup hub around the world. I'll talk for 30 minutes and then take questions.

You might ask why I'm turning into Thornton Mellon this week. Yes, I do like being on college campuses. The energy, curiosity, and enthusiasm is infectious. But more than that, this is talent development. We want to see more students choosing a career in entrepreneurship, more bright people working in startups, and more bright people working in our portfolio.  This year already, I've talked at Columbia twice, Brooklyn Poly once, and now this back to back to back Ivy League week. And more is coming. Talent development is that important to our business and our portfolio.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    “Can’t invest in all the good companies, just make sure the ones you invest in are good.” Word. T-shirt. Mug. Engraved. Memorized. But easier said than done. That line is a message for VCs, more than for students, but it’s a subtle way to say that there are good companies you don’t invest in. 

      1. William Mougayar

        The Anti-Portfolio nemesis. Lol.

      2. Bala

        it takes a lot of courage and humility to accept you screwed up.

        1. fredwilson

          yes, it’s critical though

        2. Donna Brewington White

          …and a healthy sense of humor.

      3. Rohan

        This is brilliant. 

      4. Cynthia Schames

        Wow.  That might be my favorite page on any VC site ever (no offense, Fred). Learning from failure or missed opportunity is easy to say, not that easy to do, and REALLY hard to publicize.  Kudos to Bessemer.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Mine too, Cynthia.  I don’t know how I first came across it, but it was during the time when I first became interested in learning more about VC.  That page and finding Fred were two of the early bright sparks for me.

        2. John Revay

          I kept reading the page…I wasn’t getting why these company names were on the BVP….Then kept reading – It is amazing they did this

      5. Luke Chamberlin

        This is absolutely brilliant:”[Bessemer partner] Cowan’s college friend rented her garage to Sergey and Larry for their first year. In 1999 and 2000 she tried to introduce Cowan to ‘these two really smart Stanford students writing a search engine’. Students? A new search engine? In the most important moment ever for Bessemer’s anti-portfolio, Cowan asked her, ‘How can I get out of this house without going anywhere near your garage?'”

      6. sigmaalgebra

        So CRUEL!  How can you be SO cruel to BVP!!!!That list has long been a total riot.  I’m surprised the BVP LPs aren’t screaming bloody murder.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Screaming?  The BVP LPs are laughing all the way to the bank.And back.

          1. sigmaalgebra

            I didn’t know if BVP has been making money or not; lots of VCs have not been making money. If BVP has been making good money, then, sure, their LPs SHOULD be happy.But it’s human nature often to look at the hole and not the donut, to assume the actual gains are the minimum deserved and that the donut holes should also have been obtained!I mean, we’re talking about LPs here! ‘Nuff said!

          2. Donna Brewington White

            To be honest, I am making an assumption. Based on reputation and their track record.

      7. Donna Brewington White

        Every time I come across this page, I re-read it all over again. Brilliant humor and actually makes them into heroes of a sort.  Thankfully, it is painless because who can truly feel sorry for Bessemer.

    1. Anne Libby

      Time spent in a career is an investment, too.  (I think of some of my own missteps as “tuition.”)

      1. Trish Burgess-Curran

        Absolutely agree!  The comment is relevant for anyone for / with a company.

  2. Gary Sharma

    “Where are the next unicorns? Look for industries yet to be fully disrupted by Internet- HC, education, financial svcs” Already starting to happen in education and financial svcs but HealthCare is such a tough nut to crack. 

    1. fredwilson

      yes, that was one of the funny moments yesterday. i said that education and financial svcs were “end to end digital” but when i go in for a procedure on friday, i’m hoping a real human will be operating the equipment, not a machine

      1. Gary Sharma

        Just a routine procedure, I hope?Great point about the humans vs machines. By the same token, I think most of us would feel less comfortable with Google’s self driving cars than if it was another human driving them. Which is interesting because I think Google’s studies have shown that self driving cars are less accident prone and less fallible compared to humans. Maybe as a society we are just not yet ready to let go? 

        1. fredwilson

          yeah, just a thing every 50 year old man has to go for. still i’m not looking forward to it.

          1. fredwilson

            no i had not. that is possibly the most relevant blog post i could read this week!thanks for sharing it.

          2. Donna Brewington White

            I have given up trying to figure out how you are a living, breathing curation machine.

          3. sigmaalgebra

            I thought I’d read that ObamaCare had outsourced colonoscopy procedures to a real expert, Nancy Pelosi?  Maybe it was her buddy, who did so much for US housing, Barney Frank?

          4. William Mougayar

            I know what you’re talking about. You’ll go to sleep and wake-up and it’s done. Then you’ll be craving that Cortado you had to skip that morning, and that’s it. 

          5. fredwilson

            i was thinking about that exact thing. it’s this morning. and i’m already craving it.

          6. Richard

            My girlfriend is a 3rd yr medical student at a top medical school. She started her gastroenterology rotation recently. I was surprised to hear that the equipment and  the room are not operating room sterile.   While there is not a high risk of iinfection, the bowel is a living breathing environment home to billions of friendly bacteria. Do yourself  a favor and take a good probiotic prior and after the procedure. Better yet, there are some fantastic alternaitive medicene MDs in new york. Make a quick appointment and follow their protocol. More broadly, here are two peer reviwed artivles about the merits of the procedure. Invest in your colon like you invest in your companies. Take 20 minutes to read the following Journal of the Medical Asssociation article, which speaks to the risks of a colon cancer following a negative colonoscopy examination. The second article speaks to the the quality metrics of the procedure.…

          7. John Revay

            Tips – if not too late;1. End to end digital, why not ask the dr or the nurse doing the procedure for the digital film.  When ever I have any procedures done, I always ask if they can give me a digital image – starting my own digital medical records;A. I had a MRI  Yale – they gave me a DVDB. Colonoscopy & endoscopy – they gave me photos – not digitalC. Blood work – the lab (Quest) had a service where they would transmit blood lab results electronically directly to me – problem was that my low tech drs office did not support/ sign up for service2. Sure your Dr talked to you – best to have both ends done during one sitting 3. Make sure the GothamGal is there when the Dr gives you the results, I recall being in the recover room after having procedure done – awake while talking w/ Dr…but forgot every thing Dr said – after I went home and slept off the sleep agent.Remember – worst part is always in the prep! Good luck!

        2. Trish Burgess-Curran

          Nothing beats a friendly face and even better if it belongs to a knowledgable and trusted person!  Having said that, I think it will take time but it will happen…

          1. Gary Sharma

            Well said! Trust is an important factor. As is knowing who is responsible (and who to blame when things go wrong ;)I agree with u that it is inevitable. (thought hard to predict when). But when it does it will be very disruptive.  

      2. leigh

        dunno.  i like the idea of microbots going and finding the right spot and fixing it vs. some clumsy doctor who might have just had a fight with his/her spouse and didn’t get enough coffee that morning (oh wait, procedure…..friday…sorry….not helping…. 🙂

        1. Fernando Gutierrez

          I completely agree with you, but I admit I can also picture bug in the microbot software caused by a developer who had a fight with his/her spouse and didn’t get enough coffee…

          1. Gary Sharma

            unless the microbot was self-healing 😉

          2. leigh

            LOL true enough!

        2. Gary Sharma

          Thats what I used to think and logically it makes sense. But we humans don’t always think and act logically, now do we? 🙂 There is something to be said for the human/social touch. I do like the idea of microbots though! It will happen … eventually.

      3. Fernando Gutierrez

        It doesn’t have to be human or machine, you can have both. In diagnostics tech is everything, but there are also amazing aids in surgery.

          1. ShanaC

            More like an endoscope?

          2. Fernando Gutierrez

            I was thinking more on things like that, a lot of tech in there. But @garysguide:disqus ‘s link is really cool. A lot of people would not be really comfortable with that, but don’t doubt that is the future. And it doesn’t mean that doctors won’t be necessary, just that they’ll need to have a different set of skills.

          3. ShanaC

            agreed, though if watspn takes over, then what?

      4. ShanaC

        I hope you’ll be ok.Actually med tech is really interesting – a lot of it is about augmenting the body.Surgeons are like soliders in that way….

      5. jason wright

        General or local anesthetic?

  3. Dave Pinsen

    Seems like a great way to plant seeds. How open are these schools to less prominent VCs doing the same thing?

    1. fredwilson

      VCs are crawling all over them. 

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Do you expect a shakeout in the next few years where a number of those VCs will be out of the industry?

        1. fredwilson

          Depends on returns on the asset class. Strong funds pull weak funds into the market

          1. ShanaC

            thats a post in and of itself in a line…

  4. Dave Pinsen

    The first time you mentioned appearing at an event like this where the audience live tweeted, it seemed like a distraction. Now that tweets can easily be embedded in blog posts though the utility of live tweeting is more apparent.

    1. fredwilson

      Live tweeting events is great for me. I love the feedback on what resonated

      1. Richard

        Old school conferences: ase turn off your phonesNew school conferences: please turn on your phones

        1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          1. Richard

            Yes, 200k in student of the best classes yet online interactive ml class from stanfords cs department. University degrees will be disrupted.

  5. JimHirshfield

    Awesome. Weren’t you also up at Yale last month?Thanks for spreading the news about NYC.Like Y Comb with Yuri & Ron, Mr Mayor outta give a stipend to every one of the students you compel to move to NYC.

    1. fredwilson

      Yes. Yale too. When I wrote that part I was thinking “somewhere else too” thanks for remembering for me

  6. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

    Awesome. And completely agree. As I said on the post on the class Christina and Gary are teaching, connecting with colleges and schools is incredibly important. And on a more personal level, I’ve really enjoyed teaching at my alma mater, and I’ll hopefully be doing more of it. (I’ve always loved teaching. When I was in high school I tutored kids and when I was in college I taught a class at my old high school. Of course anyone who knows me knows I love to listen to myself. 😉 )

  7. Randy Meech

    Thanks now I’ll have these movie quotes in my head all day: “The business of America is… business. So, whatever it is that I’ve said here today…”Just wondering who your “Lou” is.

    1. fredwilson

      I’ve got a few Lous

      1. Harry DeMott

        some fantastic quotes in that film:”I’d like to tame her shrew” ” Where are you going to build that company – Fantasyland?”Nice showing by a young Robert Downey Jr.Live Oingo BoingoAll in all a great film!

        1. mike gilfillan

          and “Call me sometime when you have no class”+1 for the live Oingo Boingo !

  8. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

    Also, just want to highlight this: “For the SciFi fans out there, @FredWilson says: read science fiction to push yourself to see crazy things that should come to pass #HBSLTV”Amen. 

    1. ShanaC

      I’m surprised it is just read – I’m watching Babylon 5, and there are lots of interesting discussions about technology that learns and organic technology…

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        Are you linking B5? it’s been in my to-watch list for a long time.

        1. ShanaC

          Mostly. Season 5 is bothering me, seasons 2-4 are amazing but you need to watch season 1 to understand them.

          1. Fernando Gutierrez


  9. Tom Labus

    Go into Thomas Sweet’s for some incredible ice cream. 

    1. fredwilson

      I might just do that

    2. Laura Yecies

       bittersweet chocolate ice cream – mmm

  10. Rohan

    Watch science fiction movies.Right you are.Legendary advice, that is…

  11. leigh

    Minor tangent:  The Apple App store is so counter to start-up culture.  I didn’t realize that you can’t put an app in there that has the word beta on it.  So when it comes to UX, you can’t set the expectations of your users and end up having to deliver a much more robust and complete product.  I just wonder how this is going to impact start up culture as more and more releases are on mobile and tablet platforms. …..

    1. panterosa,

      I didn’t know that but I’m glad you mentioned it. Shame.Designing apps at the moment, and working on the first, skeleton build, the beta. Need to test it and get feedback but want to make sure I don’t lose people who don’t understand that. Primarily iPad iPhone.

      1. Dave W Baldwin

        Would love to see it.  Don’t be worried over the dividing line between abstract/random interaction from end user. 

    2. fredwilson

      One of many reasons I find Apple so damn frustrating





      1. panterosa,

        I am intrigued, disruptor.

  12. panterosa,

    I love teaching, but I don’t get on with school/program cultures, so I guest teach.Mainly I teach kids color theory, starting at age 4. The 4-8 year olds know how to have fun. I see my job as insuring adults don’t take that away from them and make them all serious (read stupid). So sad how schools can suck all the air out of a kid.The best teachers make you as comfortable with what there is to know and what is unknown, and our endless ability to solve.They invest in your confidence in engaged problem solving by fertilizing your creativity. They are not afraid of you, they admire you and learn from you.

  13. Thomas

    Hello,I have a question, please.After launching a new internet startup, what are the best ways to quickly attract traffic and get as many people as i can.Did someone have any experience in that field and can give me some advices?Thank you.Thank you Fred for this community.

  14. Sage Wohns

    We’re looking forward to having you up at Columbia!

    1. fredwilson

      Was up there for the CS dept ADI a couple weeks ago and the Journalism schools social media weekend as well this year. Might need a dorm room soon

  15. mikenolan99

    Yes!Great post, and great timing.I’ve been spending a lot of time on Youth and Collegiate Entrepreneurship – talking to High Schools, Professors, Students, Congressman, The SBA Leadership and my State Legislatures.I would love to hear from this group – In what ways can we (as in We the People) encourage young people to think entrepreneurial, start new things, and prepare them to be part of an entrepreneurial team?

    1. sigmaalgebra

      There has long been, still is, and long will be a lot of resistance from academics for teaching entrepreneurship. I can mention three reasons:First, it would be difficult to put together a course on entrepreneurship with a text that looks solid next to, say, a text in math, physics, chemistry, developmental anatomy, electronic engineering, biochemistry, or mathematical finance. Next to economics? Sure! Recipes for witch’s brew look solid next to economics! Proof: Our current economy. QED.No, no, I like economics! It is uniquely valuable in reminding us of how much we should appreciate mathematical physics and lets us all see how some research can go very badly wrong! Did I mention the current economy? I didn’t say “If all the economists in the world were laid end to end, it would be a good thing.”, but I wish I had!Second, teaching entrepreneurship looks at best just professional and more likely just (horrors!) vocational, and there are essentially no stars, prizes, etc. awarded in academics for anything vocational or, except for law and medicine, even professional. In particular business schools don’t want to be even professional and certainly not vocational.Third, academics puts heavy emphasis on research, and research in entrepreneurship that looks like solid research next to, say, mathematical physics, is tough, so far really impossible, to do.Really, business school research tries to be applied social science research, saying that that’s natural since engineering can be viewed as applied physical science research. Then entrepreneurship would be a vocational sideshow of applied social science research, and few profs able to do such research well would be dumb enough to take their academic careers in that direction.Mostly people learn how to pursue a career in business from their parents.Otherwise, people just pick it up as they can.Teaching entrepreneurship would, could, and should work, but there would have to be some big, improbable changes for such teaching to work in US research universities.Here’s an alternative:!

      1. Austin Clements

        I would be the first to suggest that not every aspiring entrepreneur should pursue an MBA, but I think the courses taught, at least at NYU, have a much more practical application component than what you are suggesting.In our entrepreneurship classes, more often than not, people are working on building businesses they are actually trying to launch, not just reading cases about something that happened 5 to 10 years ago.Through the university you get very specific advice for your venture, you gain access to top mentors (both academic and practicing entrepreneurs), you’re surrounded by other entrepreneurs, and sometimes you even get capital investments… sounds a bit like a pretty solid accelerator program to me.

        1. sigmaalgebra

          Good for NYU and great for the NYU students.There are other examples; USC has a reputation for such teaching.CMU now has a lot of emphasis on practical content. The President there is Jared (Jerry) Cohon, and he was one of my dissertation advisors. When he was one of my profs, I wouldn’t have guessed that he would want to take a university in a practical direction! I can’t claim that my interest in practical work, clear enough when I was writing my dissertation, influenced him, but I’m glad he got influenced!In another of my posts on this thread I mentioned that when I was an MBA prof I had Back to School values. I did.Still, in a research university, overcoming the reasons I gave for avoiding anything professional is tough to do and generally will remain so.As I’ve tried to explain in this thread, to have significant impact on the real world at all soon, about have to have enough contact with the real world to have some significant understanding of it.But being merely vocational would also be a long way from the best: Some of the best of past research can be the difference between offering the world an oxcart and a Boeing 777.My project is intended to be fully practical; my goal is dirt simple, money in the bank. But my project also has some ‘secret sauce’ I stirred up that stands to give me a big advantage in being able to provide good results to my users and make the money. The secret sauce would be considered advanced and good research in academic engineering, computer science, or business (I do not now nor have I ever had any interest at all in an academic career).So, I’m emphasizing BOTH research and practice. The role of the research is just an advantage for the practical goal — money in the bank.That some research can play this role in some information technology entrepreneurship is so far rare and seems strange to nearly everyone in business, but the flip side there is an opportunity.My guess is that original research, some that is quite abstract with some advanced prerequisites, will play a major and rapidly growing role in information technology entrepreneurship in coming decades, such an important role that the CEO should be the person who did the research. We will see if I am correct.

      2. ShanaC

        I don’t blame them.Horror of horrors, but business degrees don’t seem to pay out over the long term without the matching graduate degrees.Further, lots of people have complained about the curriculum for business degrees.

        1. sigmaalgebra

          Yes. Business degrees are short on the intellectual discipline common in math, physical science, engineering, and computer science (if that is not just part of engineering) degrees.So, a guess is that even just for business, the discipline of math, science, engineering is better than a business program. Amazing.For all the efforts to teach useful material, among the most useful is just the brain training, how to think, of intellectual discipline of fields that have such.So, trying to get a lot of long term value out of professional education has some challenges. Professions such as law and medicine manage to make their education important, but business is struggling.When I taught a practical graduate course in computing, about half of what I said about hardware is now out of date, but nearly everything I said about software remains correct and appropriate. Why? Computing has gotten much faster and cheaper, but the fundamentals have changed only slowly. So, I didn’t teach such a good course; instead, the material has changed slowly!My course didn’t have any significant intellectual discipline; not so good.

    2. Carl J. Mistlebauer

      Mike,I just recently met with 35 individuals who all are majoring in entrepreneurship at our local university.  What they are lacking is very simple; any idea of what to do with their major because they basically jumped to this major from another Business Department major because they wanted to be part of the popularity movement that now surrounds the term “entrepreneurship.”Exactly what do you mean by “think entrepreneurial?”  I have a real issue with the whole idea that we can “teach” entrepreneurship in the first place.  If you view entrepreneurship as the ability to innovate, change, or create within a business environment (for profit or not for profit) then what you are really asking is how do we teach innovation, change, and or creativity to a bunch of 18 to 22 year old kids, most of whom have never held much in the way of a full time job let alone have any experience in business whatsoever.The reality is we are training these kids to become independent insurance agents at best but what we really want is kids who can code, who are engaged in the world around them and see problems that they can solve.In over 30 years in business and having developed an internship program very early on I can say from my personal experience I found one intern who really had all the qualities to bring innovation, change, and creativity to an organization and he majored in Philosophy and self taught himself to code…..   

      1. JamesHRH

        they need to do what Fred suggests. Ride a deal from 50 to 500 people.

      2. Marcus Oberholzer

        Valid point, Carl. I did an entrepreneurship minor in college, and the academic value of it was marginal (key word: “academic”), no more valuable than a psych degree (no offense to those with a psych degree). The real crux of the program was the constant projects, presentations, seeing who could turn $5 into the most money in 45 minutes, staying up til 3am trying to MacGyver a pile of junk into a real product then dragging it around to sell to tailgaters on football saturday seeing how many times someone will say “no thanks”. That’s how you learn to “think entrepreneurial”…We could fail miserably before keeping score in the real world….those were the days.

      3. sigmaalgebra

        Problem:> I have a real issue with the whole idea that we can “teach” entrepreneurship in the first place.Solution:> The reality is we are training these kids to become independent insurance agents at best but what we really want is kids who can code, who are engaged in the world around them and see problems that they can solve.TELL them that.Next, have them do some data collection:(A) Have them walk down Main Street and look at the businesses and ask them to describe how the businesses are organized: (1) branch office of a large corporation, (2) professional partnership, (3) franchised location of a large corporation, (4) sole proprietorship, maybe S-corp, (5) other.(B) Have them drive through some suburban neighborhoods and see how people are paying the bills via (1)-(5).(C) Have them look at their friends in college and, for the ones where their parents are paying for the room, board, and tuition, what careers the parents have.(D) Have them look at how people are paying the bills who are on the golf course of a country club, driving a high end Mercedes or BMW, have a boat of over 40 feet on a local body of water, recently took a winter vacation in Europe, etc.Then have them formulate a description of the role of entrepreneurship in financially secure, affluent US families.Then have them describe, for successful entrepreneurs, the roles of geographical barrier to entry, education beyond college, professions with licensing and legal liability, the trades, technology, selling to government, etc.Then mention that over time, promising entrepreneurial directions change. So, would now the advice be, “plastics”? How about “Web 2.0”? How about “computing”? What about energy, medicine, auto maintenance, import/export, franchising, independent insurance agency (clean, indoor work, no heavy lifting, meet lots of nice people in business, good geographic barrier to entry, so far a strong role for knowing customers personally to evaluate risk and help ‘loss ratio’), etc.?After working through these questions, many of the students will have a conceptual framework, some descriptive information, and some motivation for considering entrepreneurship.For “taught himself to code”. You mean, there’s another way?

    3. LE

      “encourage young people to think entrepreneurial, start new things, and prepare them to be part of an entrepreneurial team?”They should be hustling several businesses while they are in high school and college and trying to make money.To me anyone who isn’t itching to do that at that time isn’t an entrepreneur.  If they are doing “community service/volunteering” with their time or tutoring, playing in a band whatever, that’s not showing entrepreneurial initiative. (Before anyone jumps on me for that please consider my comment is not about what is good or right in another context. It is simply about a mindset from my perspective.)Although I don’t know how the student body today is at Wharton, when I attended, there was a clear difference between the Undergrads and Graduate (MBA) students (forget about the Ph’d.). The UG typically came from business families or were really interested in business and very aggressive and entrepreneurial.  The graduate students were typically liberal arts majors who woke up one day and decided they wanted to be in business and hadn’t really though about that until college.  But even at the UG school there was a clear difference that I observed in the thinking of students who came from a business family as opposed to someone who came from a family where the parents were lawyers, teachers, doctors etc.  The students from the business families had a seat of the pants feel for business because they had experienced and though about many of the things that were being taught.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        > If they are doing “community service/volunteering” with their time or tutoring, playing in a band whatever, that’s not showing entrepreneurial initiative.  (Before anyone jumps on me for that please consider my comment is not about what is good or right in another context.  It is simply about a mindset from my perspective.)Some of the forces in our society to push K-college students into “community service/volunteering” and generally away from entrepreneurship are astoundingly strong.Further, for some recent decades, common career advice was to (1) get a good education and (2) get a good job as an employee.  Of course, that advice was since the Industrial Revolution and already looks bad.Instead, what Newt said in a recent debate is better:  “Get a job.  Get a better job.  Own the job.”, or some such, with the last being essentially entrepreneurship.So, it’s quite possible that a person with a lot of potential as an entrepreneur just didn’t yet get pushed into entrepreneurship or got strongly pushed away from it.So, sometimes people have to learn about entrepreneurship after K-12!Now we see the solution!  Get sixth grade classes reading! 

  16. sigmaalgebra

    I treasure my VCR copy of Back to School!As a former MBA program prof, the scene in the business class with Melon’s “You left out a LOT of stuff” was classic and right on target. The business school prof was a doofus and too close to far too much of reality.I was an MBA prof with most of Melon’s values. I’d done a lot of practical computing, led in computing for the college and university, and gave a graduate course on the subject. It was a very practical course, and the students loved it.For such education, there’s a big issue: Yes, we want progress in practice and for much such progress we will need progress in research (not well depicted in the movie).The real world out there is complicated, and some of it changes quickly. E.g., while freshman physics and NASA can make good progress looking at the earth as a rigid sphere, freshman biology and the CDC look at the earth as some forbiddingly complicated and dynamic combinatorial explosion of DNA.So, for doing research that will generate progress in the real world now or soon, mostly can’t use the physics envy approach of sitting in a small, closed room and dreaming up another fundamental fact of the universe like E = mc^2 and, instead, must be in contact with the real world.Understanding the currently crucial details of the real world is just unreasonably difficult when isolated from it.Still, research can play an especially valuable role in entrepreneurship now and may play a more important role in the future. Indeed, some of the research done in small, closed rooms actually has some astoundingly powerful, totally non-obvious things to say about many forbiddingly complicated real world situations. Yup, reality can be complicated.Just looking at what the customers would like to have and assuming that existing technology can routinely provide it stands to be often a significantly inferior approach to business success.

  17. John Revay

    @fredwilson – planting the seeds

  18. bussgang

    It was great having you, Fred! The students got a lot out of it, and thanks to the Twitter stream, so did thousands of others.  It’s really good of you to take the time to inspire students across all of these campuses.  I hope other Innovation Economy leaders will do the same in their communities.

    1. fredwilson

      That twiiter stream is amazing

  19. Mike Kijewski

    Fred came and spoke to a group of 50 or so would-be entrepreneurs at Wharton a few months ago. I can tell you first hand that having Fred share his perspective on entrepreneurship goes a long way in helping these students decide to do something interesting with their lives instead of joining Goldman, McKinsey, etc. Way to go Fred. 

    1. fredwilson

      That too. The ivy league road show. Now I have to do the engineering school road show. My partner Brad was at CMU a few weekends ago

  20. Robert Thuston

    Storify is very helpful – brings you right into the classroom. Good post.

  21. Robert Thuston

    Please do a post or series on “education as end to end digital”

    1. fredwilson

      i’ve done a few in that theme but i will work on a more comprehensive one

      1. Robert Thuston

        Right on

  22. Anne Libby

    Fred, curious:  can you say whether the decision on Pinterest was because the product didn’t click, or for other reasons?

    1. karen_e

      Good question  … it was an OUCH moment in reading to see that one of the USV partners passed on Pinterest.

      1. JamesHRH

        @annelibby:disqus @karen_e:disqus reading too much into it that the only Pinterest comments have are women. Or just coincidence?

        1. karen_e

          TechCrunch, earlier this month: “The stunningly feminine (Facebook) fan base could be a telling proxy for Pinterest’s actual user base …” Could be 97.9% of 10+ million. Nobody minds women as a consumer base. Hello, Proctor & Gamble.Fortune, May 2011: “Currently, 12 FORTUNE 500 companies are run by women, down from 15 last year, as three left their posts and were succeeded by men.” Women need more P&L experience and they are more risk-averse — these seem to be the overall reasons when you take all the literature in sum.

        2. Anne Libby

          James, I’m not sure I get your question? (I’m much sharper in the early am!)

      2. LE

        Think of it as the squelch on old time two way radio. You need some kind of filter and by definition you might loose some of the data along the way.…In traditional business there were always stories going around – things like IBM passed up on buying Xerox before it was Xerox and what could have happened.  Or of course there the one about Xerox passing up on monetizing graphical PC’s at Parc and then Steve Jobs stole the idea.  I’ve been hearing things like this in one form or another for years. Oh yeah there is also one about Wozniak and HP. They all come from the same angle. How stupid it was to pass on that great idea. It’s the ultimate monday morning quarterbacking done by the business press.But what all those stories are missing is how many ideas that IBM or (insert anyone) passed up on that failed and never became anything.  Most likely that would be about 99% of opportunities (an arbitrary number I’ve picked which I believe is probably close to the true figure).

      3. Donna Brewington White

        Hi Karen.  Did you “get it” right away that Pinterest would be hot?



        1. Anne Libby

          I’m not sure that Pinterest investors will turn out to be fortunate. Time will tell. I got sucked in a while back while taking an art class, via the teacher. I was fascinated/amused by the human nature of people trading photos of things you can make with Nutella and Oreos (etc.), and I’ve played with it a bit over the last year or so. Also interesting: coming into contact with people who are completely different from me, just based on “trading” these images.But will it become a real, sustainable company? (Right now, the experience is a bit like looking at a magazine without ads. Part of their user base is DIY-ers, a broad and diverse group that includes segments with varying degrees of anti-corporate sentiment. My view, as corporate presence grows, they’ll be a challenge to retain as engaged users.)

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


    2. fredwilson

      we thought it was too close to tumblr. big mistake.

  23. Michael B. Aronson

    Fred- would you do similar with me and the Wharton Founder’s club? This is the group you spoke to last year EARLY Friday am before the conference. We just did a late afternoon session followed by beer and it was great. Its pretty much a new group this year vs last.

    1. fredwilson

      yes, absolutely

  24. Chris Kurdziel

    Fred,This is awesome – love your engagement with the academic community.  Agree that it’s a great way to develop talent and show students that there’s more out there than following the banking/consulting tracks out of b-school.  Making the transition to a startup has been the richest experience of my life.Any chance you’d be willing to add another school to your list? Cornell has a smaller community of startup folks but it’s growing pretty rapidly and we’re really excited about making the most of the NY tech campus.

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t think i’m coming to Ithaca. that’s the problem with Cornell. good thing they are bringing their game to NYC!

  25. Luke Chamberlin

    Do you ever advise business students to take at least one Comp Sci course?This post is great on many levels. Keep bringing talent to NYC.BONUS my top 3 favorite sci-fi books:1) Ender’s Game2) Brave New World3) Dune(Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut if you count that as sci-fi)

    1. Gavin Schulz

      Seconding the recommendation to take CS classes. Even if it won’t make them proficient enough to build apps it can give them a better idea of the work required and what’s possible.

      1. John Clyman

        Can you imagine a world where basic programming literacy is as widespread as literacy today? Where every businesswoman/man had the ability to interact with APIs and hack together the equivalent of Excel macros or simple grep commands? I’m not talking about anything involved like building polished consumer-facing apps from scratch, just enough knowledge to use technology as a kind of build-you-own-power-tool foundry in whatever domain they might operate in.Maybe “programming literacy” is not quite the right term… but definitely more than “computer literacy”, which to me connotes being able to use the tools somebody else has built, instead of building your own.How awesome would that be? How much value would that create for society? I’m not sure whether traditional CS courses are the right introduction to that (but it’s been 20 years, so my impressions of what a 100-level CS course would cover might be way out of date).

        1. LE

          “Where every businesswoman/man had the ability to interact with APIs and hack together the equivalent of Excel macros or simple grep commands? “While that would be great I don’t think it’s going to happen at least not with respect to doing what is now considered “basic programming”. Or even shell scripting.Writing programs or even scripting is somewhat similar to using a foreign language but with one exception.  While both require you to keep in practice, a language is analog and allows for mistakes. Programming does not – it requires exact precision in language. The computer can’t “figure out” what you mean. If you forget even a “;” you may well get nothing. If you place the wrong “>” you will get a totally wrong result. That said I do think it’s valuable for someone to take a CS course so they have some clue and are exposed to it. Same way someone takes an entry level business law course even if they aren’t going to become a lawyer.

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


    2. Andrew Hoydich

      Just read Ender’s Game…phenomenal…

    3. fredwilson

      yes. in fact at HBS they are now giving full credit to students who take the undergraduate intro to comp sci class. 

      1. David Haber

        It’s awesome to see how quickly things are changing in support of entrepreneurship at Harvard.  Glad to see you’re helping fuel the momentum.

        1. fredwilson

          you have to give a lot of the credit to tom and jeff

          1. David Haber

            I give them a ton of credit.  Also give the kids of HackHarvard (like Peter Boyce) a bunch of credit.  The University as a whole for forking over money for the iLab.  And the general student body for supporting start-up jobs in lieu of e-recruiting at big banks.

          2. fredwilson

            the iLab is fantastic

  26. Austin Clements

    Great having you speak to InSITE on Monday. You touched on a lot of different industries throughout the talk which reflected the diversity of interests that InSITE students have. In addition to the business and law schools of NYU and Columbia, there were a number of students doing very interesting work in life sciences, engineering, and a few other fields.Awesome time at the bar as well, thanks for hanging out!

  27. Darren Herman

    So spot on about being interviewed by a colleague/peer.  It makes a world of a difference because they actually know what questions to ask and can dive deep into a subject.  Makes the interview much more colorful.

    1. fredwilson

      i checked into the garden weds night and saw you were theregreat second half. the alley oops that Baron and Jeremy threw at the end were epic.

      1. Darren Herman

        What I loved most about the game is that Knicks Team #2 won the game for them. It wasn’t Amare, Melo or Lin. It was everyone else. They played as a team during the second half. The first half was ugly!

        1. fredwilson

          yeah, see my comment about the second string in today’s AVC post…

  28. baba12

    Would Mr.Wilson consider going to say some of the community colleges like say Laguardia College where there are primarily B and C average students, most who come from the lower levels of the economic ladder. Many of these student shave interesting family conditions not always conducive to good thinking, but they are trying to make amends and get on a different path. If Mr.Wilson believes in  talent development maybe there is some talent in these small community colleges too, but they probably never get to hear the likes of Mr.Wilson ever probably are not even aware of such things.I think the challenge will be how do we get to the people at the layers below the top. I am also aware that Mr.Wilson has to work with a finite amount of time and thus he spends it where it would benefit most, but I think he also wishes he can leverage his brand to build this talent pool for NYC and maybe there is value to be had. Always easy to go for the low hanging fruit as they say…I am just guessing and hoping that the students must feel lucky to get access to some wisdom that may not be tweeted or shared while having those beers.

    1. BillMcNeely

      You bring up a good point baba12. Talent is everywhere but sometimes slow in developing. Some folks make poor choices (whether through lack of access to information or self inflicted pain) or don’t perform well in high school. They end up  having  to attend the instituiton that will take them. By doing so they miss out on seeing and hearing people of the caliber of Fred Wilson.My grades were not great in high school so I attended Tarleton State University  vs Texas A&M after a 3 year stint in the Navy. The four years I was at Tarleton State  we had just 1 name brand speaker, the head of CNN’s International Business come speak on campus. The military is another source of unpolished talent and I was happy to see Craig Newmark (Craig’s List ) get behind this group. He is sponsoring a  Veterans Startup Weekend/Hackathon March 24-25   http://www.swords-to-plowsh

    2. fredwilson

      Brooklyn Poly is a bit like that. i also spoke at Baruch recently. i’m an equal opportunity speaker. i don’t want to just hang out at the Ivy league

  29. awaldstein

    Tweet strem in the post really tells the story.You are doing a better job of marketing Twitters business value through the context of these tweets than Twitter does for themselves or for brands that I can tell.I heard somewhere that Twitter is hiring a CMO or marketing exec. Whomever that is should pay attention to this

    1. Matt A. Myers

      The great thing of Storify is it is curation of curated thoughts of smart, enthusiastic people (at least in this use case) – by someone who’s highly interested in the content.You get the best summary overview possible, fully linking to the references and people who made the curation cut – and it’s portable/embeddable so the reach and educational value / efficiencies are spectacular.I love fluid.





      1. Richard

        Deposited 25 cents in grimlock, say more?

        1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


      2. fredwilson

        that would be the founder, jack dorsey

        1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          1. fredwilson

            it takes time to undo shitthis is finally happening, for example…that’s probably my number one beef with the twitter web UI/UX

          2. FAKE GRIMLOCK


  30. John Revay

    Storify vs Video capture.Fred – it’s too bad you can’t bring a small appliance w/ you and Live stream or otherwise capture these events on video and then post on AVC – either as part of the daily blog…or just another archive link on AVC – Video Archives.There may be some copyright issues w/ the schools or other institution you talk at prohibiting this….and or it may be clumsy or awkward for you to do this – It just might not be part of your brand.  Wondering if you could ask these schools to have their AV dept capture and streamOr if not video – why not record audio and post on soundcloud – adding reference to audio & soundcloud

    1. fredwilson

      that’s a great ideai should do that

  31. Jeff T.

    Looks like you are completing your own version of the Triple Lindy today!

    1. fredwilson


  32. Dan

    The reason you say you like college campuses, “the energy, curiousity, and enthusiasm is infectious” is much the same reason why 2.5 years ago I came to NYC for “a month long trip” to help a friend launch a company and never left. Beyond the logistical things like work space, capital, events, etc I think it’s these immeasurable qualities that have already started to transform the ecosystem here. So fantastic to be a part of.   

    1. Donna Brewington White

      What a great story.  

    2. fredwilson


  33. ShanaC

    Why would you have worked in a startup before becoming a VC?

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Good question, Shana.  I don’t think his answer will be a surprise, but I’d like to hear it just the same. 



    2. fredwilson

      because i wasted 10 years in the VC business wandering in the wilderness not knowing anything about the industry i was investing inthe internet bailed me out because nobody knew anything about business on the internet when it hit big in the mid 90s

  34. matthughes

    What a cool experience for those students.Sometimes I wish I could do college all over again…

  35. kenberger

    We do this to some degree in the emerging countries where we operate, with an emphasis on opportunities for developers, as we are primarily a dev shop. By necessity, we are also startup tech evangelists.We host events at top schools in Vietnam for people to get to know more about Agile development, the world of tech startups, what it’s like to work with Twitter, etc. I will personally start to travel a bit more and get the word out on how viable and promising careers in startups really are. A big issue in Asia in particular is that people get pressure from family that they need to be working in the financial industry (sounds familiar if you live in NYC). So I’m with you, Fred, in terms of spreading a clear message that there is a more satisfying and potentially more lucrative path.

  36. karen_e

    Most useful quote for me: “If your goal is to become a CEO, train as a Product Manager. If you want to be a VC, do business development.”

    1. Brad Lindenberg

      I agree – this was the one thing that really stood out to me. What a great post. 

  37. FlavioGomes

    A couple pitchers of beer always provokes candid thought and helps the bonding process.



      1. FlavioGomes

        HA, I don’t know about starting the day…but starting an evening of brainstorming… its the perfect lubricant.  I also like pool tables nearby.A long time ago my flight instructor said flying is a lot like drinking.  You wanna find the perfect buzz/altitude and stay there.

  38. laurie kalmanson


    1. fredwilson

      not sure i like that hashtag 🙂

  39. jason wright

    fig leaf

  40. jason wright

    Will the HBS gig be coming to YouTube?

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t think they filmed it

      1. jason wright

        You need a production company.

  41. markslater

    you should come up to beantown more often. 

    1. fredwilson

      i really enjoyed meeting you and your teamthe JLM quote on the wall made me smile

      1. markslater

        we just got introduced to a good friend of yours here – i’ll PM you about it. Any time you are up here – door is open!

  42. Gavin Schulz

    I wish there was more of this in university; many students don’t know about entrepreneurship and the oppurtunities that are available. This especially an issue in Canada where mostly graduates just go and work for big companies.

    1. William Mougayar

      Well…we’re changing that gradually. If I had found more students like you that came forward like you did, I would hire 3 more, right now. It’s up to the students to also keep their ears to the ground and target the startups they wish to work with.Although I had my first 14 years at a big co (HP), and learned tremendously from it, I can’t stay it’s the same today anymore, especially not for software engineering. If you’re serious about software development, please don’t go working for a big company. You won’t learn a thing. You’ll learn how to be un-productive. If you want to learn, make a difference and accomplish 10 great things per day, then go work for a start-up, and as Fred said, it’ll be the best investment you’ll ever make. 

      1. Carl J. Mistlebauer

        William,I think Gavin brings up a point, which is why I keep dragging myself to the local college and speaking, one thing small companies and start ups lack is the whole college recruitment/career day program that big companies have.I think Fred is a one man recruiting program and what start ups need to do is develop a program to reach out to college students, to make them aware of opportunities and career paths within start ups.If in fact tech is an “industry” and start ups are the future then its time to plan ahead and develop an industry wide college campus joint venture.

        1. William Mougayar

          Agreed. Gavin is working for us already 😉

          1. Carl J. Mistlebauer

            Well, congratulations to both of you!Here is something that the action sports industry does, its a website that highlights the industry and promotes job searches within the industry (its apparel and equipment companies with lots of start ups):

        2. Gavin Schulz

          This is exactly the problem the big companies put lots of resources into college recruiting and startups just don’t have that many resources to dedicate to college recruiting. I’ve tried in the past to solve this; for instance this year I tried to put together a startup job fair for internships but I couldn’t get enough startups interested. Seems like a two-way problem.

  43. Richard

    Open education = make your appearence conditional on broadcasting on ustream.

  44. Scott Barnett

    Awesome to engage college folk, I wish we had that in the 80’s when I was in school!I’m really glad you hit Princeton as well – and while I know you are very passionate about NYC, there are plenty of Startups in NJ (although not nearly enough). Just like the Valley and Boston stretch way out and down, the NYC startup scene can (and should) stretch to NJ, CT, LI, Westchester.

  45. Muneeb Ali

    The Harvard hashtag sounds awesome. We could have easily done that at the Princeton class today! But on the flip side then maybe you’ll need to be more careful about what you say as it might end up on Twitter.Thanks for coming down two years in a row!

    1. Richard

      Harvard 1 : Princeton 0

      1. Muneeb Ali

        This just reminds me of a recent basketball game in New Haven 😉 

    2. fredwilson

      i don’t think i would have said some of the things i said in your class if it was being tweeted. i told some stories on weds morning that very few people have ever heard.talking about failure sometimes requires confidentiality. the people in those stories probably prefer it that way.

      1. Muneeb Ali

        Yep, JP asked everyone for a “everything stays in this classroom” pledge. Can easily give up not tweeting for more insightful real stories!

  46. pdobson

    You should seriously consider visiting RIT in Rochester, NY. I graduated in 2008 and I was heavily recruited by Wall St. firms, but felt uninspired by what New York had to offer a new programmer. If you had spoken at RIT, I may have started my career at an NYC startup.

    1. fredwilson

      who should i connect with there to make that happen?

  47. Nik Bonaddio

    Fred, if you need an introduction to anyone at Carnegie Mellon, I’m happy to make a connection. Just let me know.

    1. Tom Limongello

      I think back to school would work well there…”just remember…You’re a Mellon!”

    2. fredwilson

      my partner Brad has adopted CMU and goes there regularly. he was there a few weekends ago for a hackathon

  48. Brad Lindenberg

    I wrote a blog post a month ago entitled ‘MBA or Learn to Code’. It went to the front page on YC Hacker News in an hour and stayed there for a day, It’s kind of relevant to the comments that Fred has made about MBA’s being tarnished in light of what is required in a startup. You can read it here:MBA or Learn to Code?





    1. testtest

      difficult to established company’s cash flow (their value) is driven by growth and return on capital. if return on capital for a project/line-extension/acquisition is negative then growth is only going to return increasing negative cash flows.however, in a growth market monetization methods may not be established. business models not conceived. with future return on capital unpredictable. what i’m trying to say is, it’s not black and white imho. if it was an easy decision everyone would wait for known signals and then scale. assuming people who have scaled too early in the past aren’t half-wits, it would seem like the decision is ambiguous. or at least based on context.



        1. testtest

          “WORDS MEAN STAY SMALL UNTIL FIND PRODUCT-MARKET FIT.”bs!if that’s what they mean then that’s what they should have said.there’s a world of difference between product-market fit and making money — “GUN FULL OF MONEY”.you can have product-market fit without having a revenue model, for a start.

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          2. testtest

            oh, in that case i retract what i said. think of all the time people spend sweating over business literature. making decisions balancing cost-benefit and opportunity costs. no need for that. there’s clearly one rule for each situation.think of all the time the idea ‘a gun full of money’ could save executives. i hope you’ve forwarded this to eric schmidt. he would truly thank you in every way; of course, thinking lots about the idea first!

          3. fredwilson

            no pain no gain

    2. Mark Essel

      Bonus points for making a clear distinction between VC and MARKET MONEY GUN



    1. MikeSchinkel

      Then it’s not.

  51. Donna Brewington White

    I wonder if the best investors see investment as a way of life?

  52. Jxgrx432

    Indeed, financial services are ripe for disruption. An entire industry of middlemen raking in supra-normal profits? As soon as the government allows it, many of the overpriced services investment banks provide will be rendered obsolete.

  53. pointsnfigures

    Education is ripe, but you have the teachers unions…..

  54. Prokofy

    Re: “Core user exp b4 scaling. Bad ppl will use platform, have trust, filters, and customer service in place”I’m so glad you stressed that. Really important!

    1. fredwilson

      i’ve got scars in my back on that one

  55. Denim Smith

    This post is a triple Lindy from start to finish ftw.