The Thiel Fellowship – Launching Your Project

with Danielle Strachman

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Support

The Thiel Fellowship offers a network of mentors always willing to help.


Instructor
Danielle Strachman

Thiel Fellowship Program Director, Cofounder of Innovations Academy

Lessons Learned

The fellowship is more of a marathon than a sprint.

The fellowship is a lifestyle of having a mission, working hard, & having community to help do that.

The door is always open for fellows to talk at any time.

Transcript

Lesson: The Thiel Fellowship with Danielle Strachman

Step #3 Support: The Thiel Fellowship offers a network of mentors always willing to help

We have a really great support structure for fellows and we reach a balance between being very freedom-based, but also minimum structured where they're getting the help that they need. The way that it works is that when fellows start, we have a review with each fellow right away to sit down one on one because each fellow is independent. We also do an orientation for the entire group to onboard them and have them learn about different things that they'll need to know and introduce them to the different workshop speakers who we have coming during the whole year.

Individually what's really important is sitting down with them and figuring out, what are your goals going to be for the next three months? What support are you going to need? We make recommendations to them on which mentors in the network to talk to. We'll talk about other programs that they might want to apply for. For some fellows it makes sense to look at something like Rock Health or YC or something like MassChallenge to be able to work on their projects within a higher paced accelerator program. The way we like to think about the fellowship is it's more of a marathon than a sprint, but sometimes sprinting can be really good for you, so we recommend those sprinting programs.

But we meet with those fellows and set those goals and then we meet with about every three months to go over how is it going? What's working well? What's not working well? Also we talk about things from both a professional and a personal standpoint. This isn't just about how your project's going or your company's going, but how are you doing? Sometimes for a lot of fellows they're a lot of firsts like cooking your own food and dating.

We had a fellow, this blew my mind. He had raised quite a bit of funding on crowdfunding campaign, and then months later went on his first date and it was just funny to me that it wasn’t the other way around where, "Oh, yeah, we had our first date, and then we did our fundraising." No, it was switched the other way around. We’re game to talk about any and all of that stuff. So fellows would come in and say, "Gosh I really want to talk about my monetization strategy, but I'm having a really hard time with my roommate right now, and I want to get that over on the table."

We talk about those things too during interviews and of course the door is always open for fellows to come in any time. We always tell them, just shoot us an email and we'll get you in the door. My motto is "Fellows first." This morning even, before you all came in, a fellow said, "Do you have time for a quick call this morning?" The answer is always yes, because anything else that I'm doing is for their benefit, but the direct benefit is what is important to me.

Additionally we have retreats for the fellows where every six months we take them away. We have gone to Tahoe. We have gone to the Sequoia Woods down in Santa Cruz and just have them get together and bond as a whole group and that's actually current fellows and alum fellows and sometimes we have mentors join us as well. That's a great time for people to get away and reflect on what they're doing as well as, I just love sitting on the bus like a mother hen sometimes and I'll just sit back and hear all the chatter in the back of what they're talking about. I'm like, "Music to my ears." They're collaborating and connecting and they haven't talked for a little while.

Some of them live together; we actually set up a summer house for the first three months of the fellowship. So 13 of them right now live together in a house that we set up with a group called Campus. Additionally, we have regular socials and gatherings. We have dinners with speakers. We had Peter Thiel speak to the fellows just a couple of days ago and it was really fabulous and we invite alums and the current fellows. Oftentimes people ask us, “What happens when you become an alum?” And usually when people ask me this I get a sense of anxiety from them, a worry like, "Oh no the gate closes and it's all over," and the only difference between an alum fellow and a current fellow is one get's a check and one doesn't get a check.

Obviously the money has to stop somewhere. We want these people to be self sustaining and for that to be a driving factor for them. But all the events we do the mentor pool, coming and talking to the fellowship council is open to any fellow. We like to say that, "Once a fellow, always a fellow." And that the fellowship is really a lifestyle that we want people to take into their future and it's not like this glamorous lifestyle, but this lifestyle of having a mission, doing hard work, and having community around you to do that.

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