Is skipping college a good call?
It’s 4.35 AM in New York. I landed at JFK yesterday night and still jet lagged. I’ve seen a question on Quora (I realized many people are asking the same question on different threads) that made me think about my decision regarding education / going to college, and I thought it would be useful to share some thoughts here.
I believe the answer to this question is very personal, and depends strongly on one’s experience. Clearly there is no right or wrong, but what I do want to stress is that you have to be fully committed to make the most of the choice you end up taking. If you go to college, make sure you go to the best college in your field of interest, and if you don’t, make sure you start working on what you are passionate about from day one. Remember that excellence builds credibility. It will help you not only convince and work with the smartest people, but will also ensure that your are competitive and achieve the best results.
My personal experience
I would like to provide further insight on this, but note that I am an unproven 22 year-old VC backed entrepreneur: every single case is different and there are no magic recipes. It’s valuable to be informed on different cases and success stories, but you need to make sure you don’t make a decision before going through an important self-honesty exercise, with judgement and common sense, for there are also many stories that don’t have pretty endings.
My personal case is as follows: I never went to college. I finished high school with brilliant academic qualifications, pursued both european college access exams + SAT’s in the United States, signed up for college but never went, and received a scholarship + pursued a graduate program later on at ESADE Business School in Barcelona. I started my first company at the age of 14 with the financial backing of a guy I met in the waiting room of my therapist, and I’ve spent my teenager days trying to acquire a skill set of knowledge and abilities around pretty much everything. A desire, a “method” to learn.
That “method” allowed me to enjoy and work on multiple experiences from the age of 14 to 17, which included:
- being a music composer & producer and playing on a band (including playing for 2,000 people and managing my “self-generated ego” and the process to then get rid of it)
- co-founding and writing for my own commercial blog network — hiring a remote team of 12 young people and managing a $15k monthly budget. Everything we did was scrappy, with no funding, meaning that I had to learn and code in HTML, JS…
- founding my 2nd startup and failing (yes, failing is part of the process as you should by now be aware of)
- producing and managing my own national radio show
- working in organizing tech events such as Campus Party, not only in Europe but also in Latin America
- helping to launch an NGO in Peru
- working in managing the fan clubs and external relationships in the tour of a well-known european music band
- being a 60’s, 70’s & Northern Soul “targeted” DJ
- having to pay or earn money without economic support from my parents and also having to deal with a lot of pressure to get top grades in high school.
- having a personal life on top of this (girlfriends, sports, going out with my friends…)
I think the three main reasons that lead me to take that decision were:
- Lack of economic support: I come from an entrepreneurial family with both culture and assets, based in an small city of Spain called Castelló de la Plana. I would describe my parents as a midpoint between university teachers and traditional well-off people. My mother is a psychologist with a private clinic, and my father made his money in the tile industry. We are not wealthy, but lets say I had a nice, sophisticated childhood (travelled to +25 countries before 16, lived and studied in France, Ireland and UK, private lessons, music conservatory, jazz seminaries, boy-scout outings, and even tennis and golf lessons). I’ve received an education based on a set of values and ethics that I still have very present in my day to day life. My father is one of the most creative salesman I’ve met in my life, and I really admire him since he realized what he wanted to do and fought for it. He founded the tile business with his brothers, and pursued 2 university degrees (History and Architecture). After 20 years working day and night, he decided to quit, sell his stock, and do what he really loved: donate to start a non-profit school in Togo (Africa), open up a rural resort, organize summer camps, buy a dog and spend time close to nature. Let’s say his life has never been around “money”, and even less about optimizing his “investment portfolio strategy”. That’s why, in 2008, due to Spain’s economic crisis, the liquid market disappeared and due to some circumstances we ended up having a lot of assets but not that much cash. That implied internal family “cuts”: a much more modest life. I overtook my adolescent crisis trying to fix that situation and trying to not be a burden to them.
- Silicon Valley, Peter Thiel and the explosion of my mind: At the age of 15, while organizing tech conferences, I met Bernardo Hernandez, a tech entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley that founded and sold several businesses in Spain like Tuenti (the leading social network in Spain over Facebook for many years) or Idealista (the leading real estate marketplace in Spain). By that time, he was Sr Director of Product Management at Google, one of “Marissa’s alumni”. He offered me an internship in San Francisco and I ended up working for him for 2 years, helping manage some of his portfolio investments through his own early stage fund, Solon Ventures. I moved to San Francisco, lived in Dolores Park, met some of the most talented people in the world who would later become my best friends, had my really first serious girlfriend, and had a super smart roommate (one of Uber’s first employees, now at Facebook). Let’s say a new world was presented to me, there were people like Peter Thiel eliminating the going-to-college-is-a-must-to-succeed stigma, and I was learning like crazy, both personally and professionally. I wanted to stay there and keep learning rather than go to college, it just didn’t make sense to me to do so at that point..
- Market Opportunity: I found myself in a very unique situation in 2012, mobile apps were blowing up, and there was a window of opportunity for building what Thiel describes as “monopolies”. Move quickly, be focused and determined, become the standard, gain market power. I wanted to solve a difficult problem, something that many people tried but never succeeded to do. I started exploring geolocation, and working with Mark (my roommate) and Diego (one of my best friends, now Tech Lead at Google) on different crazy ideas like mapping the Foursquare and FB checkins, filtering by sex based on the “usernames”, and discovering the “hot areas” in the city, the “target” areas for us to go and meet other people. In the Valley, for going out, network is king: the venues close pretty early, and private parties are the real deal. And so “I have some time, I want to do something, what can I do this weekend?” became the real question. That’s why Fever started; to change the way people make plans.
Now, looking back, it seems pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to go to college. But it was not a good or bad decision, it was just the circumstances that lead me to follow a certain path. I love smart people. I really enjoy working with them. I am interested in Computer Science, Philosophy, Psychology, Economics… and I hope I’ll come back to study again and keep learning if the numbers work out.