Transitioning From MIT Student to San Francisco Founder:
An interview with Delian Asparouhov, Thiel Fellow and Founder of Nightingale
Ever wonder what it’s like to go from student to full-time founder in less than a year? Delian Asparouhov tells the four steps he took when dropping out of MIT and moved west to start Nightingale.
Hustle For Initial Experience
“Freshman year, I took a product design class at MIT, where I first discovered my love for combining my engineering skills with design. I started looking for an internship where I could do just that. Square seemed like a high growth startup that cared the most about design when I did my research. I had met them in early February of my freshman year at an MIT tech fair, and ended up going to a dinner with the recruiters later that night. A few weeks later, they flew me out to Square for a bunch of meetings. I was supposed to interview with the CTO, but it got canceled because he was too busy. A few days after I got back to MIT, I woke up to an email letting me know that they decided to pass on me for this summer. I was very frustrated with myself, and went directly to crew practice where I rowed my frustration off. By the time I got back a few hours later, I had 15 missed calls and 4 emails from Square. It turns out the first three people I met with decided they didn’t want me there, but the CTO really liked me. They ended up offering me the internship. That was step one.”
“I found a hacker house on Airbnb for the summer in San Francisco. It just so happened that I lived with an intern of one of the Thiel Fellows. It was here that I learned what the life of a fellow was like. Over the course of the summer, my roommate convinced me that the Fellowship was something I wanted to do. At the same time, I was working as hard as possible at Square, sometimes until midnight, just to prove myself. I was put on the Android team at Square, which had some of the best Android engineer in the world. To give you a sense of the caliber, 4 out of the top 10 android libraries are made by Square. Staying until midnight was the only way I could learn fast enough to keep up. After I got back to MIT, during winter break, I began the 5-month long application process for the Thiel Fellowship. I filled out the written application describing who I was and that I wanted to build Nightingale, a platform for helping clinicians make data driven decisions.
They flew me out for an in-person interview a few months later, where they were focused on finding out if I was capable of building things, less so than what my idea was. I found out in May that I had been accepted. Within the next week, I convinced my co-founder to do this with me full-time, dropped out of school, and signed a lease in Mountain View.”
Product First, Process Second
“Looking back, the best thing I did was build a product and focus on who was going to be using it. A lot of young students become caught up in the worry of joining the next YC or techstars class, and move away from their relentless execution on the idea they believe in. In the end, the passion you exhibit for your company or idea will come through. My advice to founders is not to worry about what’s next as much. And don’t be afraid to let people know what you’re doing. A friend of mine is a great example of this type of this sort of hustle. He really wanted to work at an electric longboard company called Boosted Boards. They were not replying to his emails, but he did not give up. He chugged away and made a website called http://tryboostedboards.com/. Here, people could sign up for demos of the board. My friend would show up at their apartment and would show them what the board was like before buying. When half of San Francisco was tweeting about it, the Boosted Boards founders eventually noticed and hired him for a marketing related role.”
Find Your Support System
“Breaking the news that I was dropping out of school was a lot easier to my friends than it was to my family. Both of my parents have PhD’s, and not even pursuing a bachelors degree was quite concerning to them. My mom went to drastic measures to convince me to stay at MIT. She even had my little brother and sister write hand-written letters telling me it was a bad idea. (My sister was 5 years old at the time, and clearly didn’t even understand what she was writing by the way.)
At a certain point, my dad finally realized that everyone I looked up to was in San Francisco, and that being there would be more crucial in shaping my career than being at MIT. He was right. Joining the Thiel Fellowship has been one of my best decisions. When I got out here, I was felt very connected to the Bay Area through the program. I think the best aspect of the fellowship is the social scene of the other fellows. Twice per year you get together with fellows from around the nation. People come from NYC, Toronto, Vancouver, Southern California, etc. Having other people your age who are in this with you creates support that manifests through a list-serve I communicate with every day. We talk about different events, investors, and accelerators throughout the valley, providing an insider view into what happens in the bay area.
Locally, we’re given a social budget of about $1k per month that can be spent on any sort of activity. We’ve gone Circ de sole together, paintballing, wind surfing, etc. The fellows plan it, and usually everyone attends. Beyond the social aspect, the program generally helps you deal with any housing problems, accounting, or day to day issues that might arise. The Fellowship also heavily encourages you to build up your support system to include people from the bay area and whichever industry you are working in. They facilitate this process though retreats and conferences where they bring together all of the Thiel Fellows and the Thiel mentors.
My advice to young founders? Keep building and keep talking to your customers, that’s all that matters in the end.”
Check out more from Delian at www.delian.io, nightingaleapp.com, and ironically, @MITDelian.
Thank you Delian!!