What It Really Means To Drop Out

JUNE 17, 2013

Originally published on the Dorm Room Fund Blog on June 17th, 2013.

Last weekend I took the 40 minute walk from my apartment in San Francisco to the Thiel Fellowship's Under 20 Summit. On the way to the event, my parents called to check in. They groaned when they heard where I was going. My dad grabbed the phone and gave me - for the tenth time - his five minute pitch to stay in school. "Yes, dad. Yes, I know. Calm down-I'm not dropping out anytime soon."

I arrived at the conference late and somewhat confused as to which talks were happening where. I ended up plopping myself down in a large conference room to charge my phone that was depleted from chat with my parents. The room was 100% nerdy college dudes and I didn't know a single person in the room. I started chatting with the people at my table. Each person I chatted with was more impressive than the next. As it turns out, I was sitting with the next class of Thiel Fellows. I met a Fellow starting Airbnb for India, another one making a healthcare app, and other working on really interesting challenges in internet security.

Soon, the secret got out that this room was packed with Fellows, and people started swarming around my table. If anything, those kids were even more impressive. I met the winner of MHacks, a kid starting a company to protect you from your phone's radio waves, and a kid who helped jailbreak the iPhone and is now working on "jailbreaking" television. The few hours I spent in the Thiel Fellowship conference room felt like a stampede of brilliant nerds running through my head. I met founders, scientists, app-makers, and 14-year-old PhDs. In a normal situation, these kids would have had to play down the fact that they wanted to change the world. It just isn't socially acceptable to talk about "making the world a better place." But here, these nerds were free to casually mention how they want to cure cancer or compete with Elon on getting to Mars first.

I found myself, a comparatively boring college-goer, defending my decision to stay in school. "It gives you time to learn for the sake of learning, and grow as a person," I protested. "Once you leave school and start a company, you no longer are only accountable to yourself. You will feel guilty to your investors, employees and co-founders about each second not spent on your company. Your growth as a person will come second to the success of your startup." Arguments that sounded like a cop-out to me before, started to feel right. My father's words tasted strange in my mouth, but they made sense in a way they never had before. These kids, armed with brilliance and ambition, were outrunning society and I couldn't help feel the tiniest bit sad for them. There is so much college has to offer to my development as a person and never before was I so sure that I wanted to stay in school for four years.

This experience, however, didn't temper my desire to start a company. But now I am sure that I want to start it while I remain in school. And that is exactly why Dorm Room Fund exists.