Orbital Boot Camp

One of the things I am most proud of is the alumni group at USV. It is an outstanding group of men and women who have gone on to do some awesome things. We don’t have a career trajectory at USV. We bring talented people in for a while, we learn from them and they learn from us, and then they head out into the world and do great things.

One of these alums is Gary Chou. Everyone who has met Gary knows he is an incredible person. He is generous to a fault. Which is an asset in my book. He is also very talented. He operates at the epicenter of making, coding, designing, building, and managing product. And I mean product in the broadest sense.

The product Gary has been making for the past year is Orbital, which is in three floors of a tenement on Rivington Street which formerly housed our portfolio company Kickstarter. It’s a space with excellent karma. What Gary has built at Orbital is a school where people can learn skills from those who have mastered them. But it’s not a typical school. It is also a place talented people work and meet and collaborate on projects. Everything is highly considered and curated at Orbital. Gary is not maximizing for revenue. He is maximizing for soul. I do not use that world lightly but in this case it is true.

Right now Orbital is hosting the fall semester of the School for Poetic Computation, which is an awesome thing. Click on the link and check it out.

And this winter, Orbital will be doing the second Orbital Bootcamp, which is a “twelve week course to help you launch your side project”. Gary wrote about Orbital Boot Camp here and I would encourage you to read his post if this is at all interesting to you. Applications are due Monday, December 8th at 11:59pm.  If you or someone you know has a project that they’ve been meaning to launch, they should consider applying.

Finally, Gary is running a Crowdrise campaign to fund scholarships because not everyone who should be in this bootcamp can afford the $4500 it costs to attend Orbital Boot Camp. I donated and maybe you will too. The Crowdrise is here.

#hacking education

Comments (Archived):

  1. Tom Labus

    “poetic computation”. YES.

  2. Anne Libby

    Gary is the Wes Anderson of business. And maximizing for soul hits the nail on the head.

    1. kirklove

      Super well said and such a great description. Go Gary!

    2. JamesHRH

      Geek God?

      1. Anne Libby

        More like, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

        1. JamesHRH

          Wow, that’s a great quote but totally not something that resonates with me.

          1. Anne Libby

            Well, ok, then.

          2. JamesHRH

            I mean, don’t you think we can do great things?Whether the occasion is thrust upon you (another great concept) or whether you aspire to it?A lot of this is semantics, but…… Banting & Best were doing small things with great love but they were in a space where their ambitions were considerable.Confound you Libby!! 😉 I’ve almost talked myself into your mindset! You are easily one of my fave people that I only know online.

          3. Anne Libby

            Heh heh.You probably already know that this is a Mother Teresa quote.

          4. JamesHRH

            I did not, but I knew I knew it.

  3. kirklove

    Gary is as good as they come. Of all the peeps I’ve met in the “scene” he’s in the top 5 for sure. Just a good dude, doing great stuff at Orbital. It’s been an honor working out of that space.If any one is thinking of trying this do it. I’ve seen the transformation of folks who go through the bootcamp. It’s remarkable, uplifting, and empowering. A refreshing and welcomed change of pace from the bro-culture of “crushing” it.

    1. fredwilson

      Gary is the opposite of “bro”

      1. JimHirshfield

        that being “orb”

        1. jason wright


        2. JamesHRH

          Holy smokes Jim – extra espresso this AM?

          1. karen_e

            Now that we know Jim has an hour train ride to and from Disqus every day, we can guess what he does on the train. He channels Richard Pryor, Jay Leno, and Joan Rivers, filing jokes on index cards, perfecting his *side project*. Let’s raise money so Jim can attend Gary’s camp.

          2. JimHirshfield

            Thanks for the sentiment.

        3. Richard


          1. JimHirshfield


          2. pointsnfigures

            happy birthday @JimHirshfield:disqus

          3. JimHirshfield


          4. Gary Chou

            Happy Belated Birthday, Jim!

          5. JimHirshfield

            Thanks Gary!

        4. ShanaC

          it’s your birthday? happy birthday

          1. JimHirshfield

            in a few days….thanks.

    2. JamesHRH

      bro-culture is a dark matter niche tho, right?Just like Gary appears to be in that niche of companies that serve a truly uplifting human mission?

      1. kirklove

        If you mean non-pervasive, then sadly no. It’s far too common on both sides (VCs and Startup)

        1. JamesHRH

          A friend once worked at a very large company, in their legal department, where he was the only man (including management).At a party, this former hockey player was asked how that was like. HIs answer: ” I am pretty sure that any group that does not have a gender balance gets dysfunctional.”I am not sure that any high risk segment of the working world will ever draw enough female participation to offset the Barney Stinsonization of its culture.Hope I am wrong and maybe the broader culture can influence those homogenous corners of the world.

          1. kirklove

            Another aspect of what I love about Gary and Orbital is he is extremely focused on diversity and ensuring women get equal representation.

    3. falicon

      I officially second and endorse this opinion.

    4. Gary Chou

      You’re a part of it, Kirk.It’s been great hanging with you in the physical world!

    5. LE

      A refreshing and welcomed change of pace from the bro-culture of “crushing” it.Isn’t bro culture in tech similar to what happens on sports teams? In a sense isn’t it then viewed as a necessary part of “winning” in order to get everyone to fall into line and achieve “the win” or the mission? Is it possible to do that without the negative bonding actions that indoctrinates each member into the group? How can you be or even want to be a member of that group if you aren’t willing to go along with what the rest of the flock wants you to do? For example can you even be a member of a fraternity if you aren’t willing to do the stupid shit that (some) fraternities do?

      1. JamesHRH

        Sports culture changing. Its about proof of performance rather than hazing.Do your job = good.Do your job and be able to help others when they are in a bind = v good.Do your job and raise the level of everyone around you = greatness.

      2. kirklove

        I’m not talking about a specific team or startup, but an overall culture in the startup world that is bro-friendly, gender biased, race-biased, income-biased, etc. The Orbital space is non of that and that is precisely what makes it special to me.

        1. LE

          Don’t doubt that exists. I also would add “age based” to the mix btw.But that’s the way it is. Anyone who uses that (I don’t mean “you” by saying “anyone” btw) as an excuse for not trying or for thinking those things mean “non starter” really doesn’t deserve to get ahead.

          1. kirklove

            I’m ancient at 44 (almost 45) in the startup world, and I have not found that to be the case for me (happy about that). I do think it helps, I’m a white, American male. And I act 19 🙂

          2. LE

            Like me (I am older than you are btw) you look younger than you are or at least cool looking for your age. [1] As such you have an advantage right there. That said I didn’t act 19 even when I was 19.When I first met “Morris” in the mid 80’s he was about your age. I was in my 20’s. I remember thinking he was “an old man”. He was bald and might even have had gray hair. As such he seemed old to me (he wore a jacket and tie all the time as well). That definitely gave me a different impression of him.[1] From your pictures you don’t appear to be overweight either which definitely helps making you younger looking. When asked to guess people typically think that I am about 12 to 15 years younger than I actually am. Edit: Ok that’s a stretch that sometimes happens most of the time it’s about 7 years younger.

          3. kirklove

            Ha, Morris always looked “older and wiser” to me too. Love that guy. My avatar is about 5 years old, so I’m cheating a bit. And my two young kids have given me more gray hair for sure. But I’m happy and content and try to be positive. I think that makes people feel younger too. Thanks!

          4. LE

            My avatar is about 6 years old. It was strategically shot back when I did online dating in order to convey an image of vitality and youth and “I’m not an older guy”. I put a camera on a tripod, shot a video and pulled a frame from the video. No accident … all planned out. Putin didn’t invent that stuff. It worked as my wife is 13 years younger and the women before her that I dated was 10 years younger. I kept it on AVC simply so that it dovetails with the “I’m old but I don’t look old … hey see me run..”. It’s all a well thought out strategy. That said I was older than you are now when that picture was shot. It’s one of my examples of putting in effort up front to have the best possible outcome. I really sweated stuff like that and I’m glad that I did. [1] I do run every single day.[1] Of course if I was as good looking as you I wouldn’t have to do that. That’s part of my point though a disadvantage doesn’t mean “impossible”.

          5. awaldstein

            Nicely said!

      3. Paul Eastlund

        I think in frats, sports teams, etc. the “bro culture” exists because you’re not really achieving much other than playing games and bonding. You need something to bond over, so you manufacture some hardship to share, social events with obligatory heavy drinking, etc. At startups where you don’t really have a cause you all passionately believe in you need the same thing. At startups where everyone believes heart and soul in the mission, you don’t need anything artificial. The hardship (from working your ass off to achieve your goals) and the bonding (over the shared dream) both come organically.

    6. Nik Bonaddio

      Second that. Gary is the man.

  4. jason wright

    the feng shui of startup culture

  5. William Mougayar

    Oh, it’s “That Guy”! I love Gary’s Tumblr posts.Done & Done. (read & donated- this is how we pay at AVC)

    1. Gary Chou

      Thanks, William!

  6. Twain Twain

    “You had me at Poetic Computation.”I just spent the w/e at Condé Nast’s first international hackathon: http://condenastinternation…They, like everyone else, are trying to solve hard Data Science problems yet applied in a highly poetic space. Fashion is poetry in visual motion.It struck me again, as a maths graduate and engineer (and art fan), how prescient Steve Jobs was when he talked about the need to teach Computer Science as a liberal art.Exciting times lie ahead for the Art-Science interfuse where head, heart and soul are at play.

    1. Gary Chou

      If any of y’all are in NYC, the School for Poetic Computation offers a number of guest lecture events that are open to the public:http://www.eventbrite.com/o…They (both the school and the speakers) are great and I highly recommend them.They just spent the weekend running an event for kids in Brookyln, which you can see via their Twitter:https://twitter.com/sfpc

      1. ShanaC

        Thank you

    2. ShanaC

      Yes we do. And we also need to teach math better. Because how to think matters.

      1. Twain Twain

        True and how to feel also matters.There are ways to teach Maths that are much more creative and elicit happy feelings.Often, Maths gets reduced to a set of functions (what it does and how it works) when it’s the why we need it that matters: to make sense of the world around us.That’s why my personal preference is for the art forms of maths — as happens with Picasso, Monet, Da Vinci, Frank Lloyd Wright, Débussy and others.

  7. pointsnfigures

    go Gary. Putting the precept of “everyone a node on a network” and “network beats hierarchy” into physical practice. good co-work spaces are run that way.

    1. Gary Chou

      It’s amazing how much one learns from working in physical spaces. The friction of the physical world really makes you think about these themes in a way that designing in a digital world does not (as much).

      1. awaldstein

        So true and well put.Things are only perfect on a whiteboard. Life and success, failure and coming to grips with it is all messy, all about stumbling forward with poise.

  8. Chimpwithcans

    This kind of post makes me wish I lived in New York or USA to have access. Sounds rad!….At least I have a nice mountain to look at 🙂

    1. Gary Chou

      While it’s not exactly comparable to being in the program, you can check out the syllabus here: http://orbitalnyc.com/bootc…It’s based on a course that another USV alum @christinacaci and I created together.

      1. LE

        Does Orbital take any equity or ownership in my project?No. You own 100% of your work. Orbital takes no ownership and does not make investments.Wouldn’t taking equity or ownership interest allow Orbital to in the end help more people than by going the fundraising route?

        1. Gary Chou

          There’s always a tradeoff. I don’t think we’d see the range of projects (or people) if it were setup like an accelerator. Also, picking winners is hard at any stage.Framing it as an educational opportunity creates an alignment of interests and expectations, which ultimately brings in some great people. As it’s a part-time project, if we can sustain it via tuition + scholarships, that’s good enough for me and minimizes headaches.

          1. LE

            “Framing it as an educational opportunity creates an alignment of interests and expectations”One thing that I like is it’s a nice differentiator that could end up giving you more press attention and therefore lead to people funding scholarships. Assuming the idea is somewhat unique (it is, right?) it’s the type of thing the NY Times or others would write about. They aren’t going to do a story on another accelerator. “YAAP” <– Yet another accelerator program. [1] Yawn.As such you need to work the PR angle to get as much press mention as possible.[1] To keep up with the meme http://en.wikipedia.org/wik

      2. Chimpwithcans

        Thanks a lot for the reply – all the best with your exciting project! Let me know if you ever need an intro to the Cape Town tech scene 🙂

  9. Gary Chou

    The “they learn from us” line in your post is the biggest understatement. Thanks, Fred.

    1. Richard

      What types of projects is this best suited for?

      1. Gary Chou

        We’ve had people work on a range of things: software, physical products (non-hardware), services, Kickstarter projects, media/content.Where it’s most useful is in helping you work through your idea and learning to run lightweight experiments that enable you to iterate and hone your idea.You have a strong sense of where you’d like to go, but you’re working though how exactly you will get there.

  10. Rohan

    All the best, Gary! 🙂

    1. Gary Chou


  11. ZekeV

    This is awesome!

  12. Richard

    “A space with excellent karma” awesome, looks like Fred is back 🙂

    1. JamesHRH

      I took it as a salve for whatever $hit was being thrown his way last week.Some Pappy for the Psyche?

  13. LE

    Everyone who has met Gary knows he is an incredible person. He is generous to a fault. Which is an asset in my book.I don’t know Gary at all and I’m sure Gary is a great guy. That said I can’t agree that being “generous to a fault” is really, at least for some people, better than being “selfish to a fault”. Depending on who you are, your family, what you plan to achieve being “to generous” can put you in a position where you aren’t doing what is in your best interest (or the interest of your family) but merely getting pleasure for helping others. Extremes are never good.As only one example I’ve seen cases where parents who were “generous to a fault” ignored their own children and their own needs and instead got addicted to helping others.I point this out simply so that younger people understand the opposite side of things that you have to think about yourself and not everyone is going to be able to change or help the world. And if you aren’t a bit selfish with your time and attention you might end up in the wrong place as a result. Or in a situation where your own family is lacking the basic means of support or your attention.Once again, not a reflection on Gary and the degree to which he helps others or even if it is appropriate for him to do so or not. And maybe what you mean by “generous to a fault” is not even what I think you mean by “generous to a fault”. (Enough qualifiers in there?)

    1. Richard

      How about generous up to the fault.

      1. LE

        I would subscribe to the often thrown out arbitrary (apply in many cases) 80/20 rule. Generous about 20% selfish about 80%.Actually better:10% generous.51% selfish39% neither generous nor selfish.I often find that in order to increase one’s lifespan it’s good to start with the basic premise of “what’s good for me” and go from there. Often if you start with the basic premise of “what’s good for others” you end up creating a great deal of stress that is counterproductive to keeping young and avoiding medical problems.

        1. Gary Chou

          I’ve learned the hard way that you have to continuously fill up the tank if you want to be helpful to people. This is a nice framework.

          1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

            +1 on you gotta keep your tank full all the time (very hard)

    2. Gary Chou

      I think it’s a very valid point. One of the themes that I remember coming up quite a bit when I was at USV was the tension between being pragmatic vs. principled.In that sense, having a safe salaried job at a venture firm afforded me an opportunity to be generous with my time.Perhaps the best part about taking on Orbital is that being responsible for paying the rent and generating cash flow has forced me to be pragmatic. I’ve had to learn to say no to a lot of folks, which has been challenging. But, overall it’s helped me find a good point in the middle.

  14. awaldstein

    Checking this out–new2me.

  15. ShanaC

    I got to wonder what Gary would think of early 90s activist early internet art.:)Good luck

  16. JamesHRH

    The new boss is the same as the old boss.< 10% of Friday’s comments.Sigh.