On Medici and Thiel

We should radically scale genius grants

I think the single most misdirected bit of philanthropy in this decade is Peter Thiel’s special program to bribe people to drop out of college. Larry Summers

Peter Thiel has a lot of ideas. One of them, from slightly more than a decade ago, was that entrepreneurship is a viable alternative to college. So he decided to spend around $2m annually to sponsor 20-30 kids to drop out of college and do something.

It’s been a decade, which means around $20m invested in total, which gives enough room to perhaps draw some conclusions from this experiment. What did he get for spending that money? To start with, he found these chaps:

  • Vitalik, founded Ethereum
  • Austin Russell, Luminar CEO
  • Kaushik Tiwari, Better Financial CEO
  • Dylan Field, founded Figma
  • Ritesh Agarwal, founded Oyo
  • Alex Rodriguez, Embark CEO

Now these are only a few, out of 217 that I found, but it’s a pretty great selection ratio. Just measuring with the regular VC yardstick, that’s an enviable hit ratio even keeping Vitalik aside. There’s also Loom, Scale AI, Upstart. And a whole lot more once you look at the rest.

Considering it’s a $100k grant per fellow, that’s remarkable success. Even taking Larry’s point onboard from the top, which can charitably be taken to mean that this doesn’t help everyone, you would be hard pressed to get a similar ROI if you surveyed an Ivy League class.

My first question was, why is this such an isolated example? Surely there are more than couple dozen smart people every year in college who can be induced to drop out and build things.

My second question was, isn’t this the same as old timey patronage? What happened to that anyway?

A short detour. A few hundred years ago, Cosimo Medici kickstarted a financial empire. At that same time he began a grand tradition of patronage, of Donatello most notably. He kickstarted a tradition where his kids (including Lorenzo the Magnificent, which has to be a nickname he gave himself) provided patronage to Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo.

One could also draw more farfetched analogies. Of how Lorenzo also tried (and succeeded) to rule Florence through payoffs and strategic alliances. And of how he built and expanded a giant financial empire!

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Πηγή: strangeloopcanon.com

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