The Thiel Fellowship – Launching Your Project

with Danielle Strachman

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Learn how to best execute your vision with a team.

Danielle Strachman

Thiel Fellowship Program Director, Cofounder of Innovations Academy

Lessons Learned

In a school model, you are responsible for your standing – in the professional world, collaborate.

Find somebody who has the strengths that you don’t have.

Pick the right people to work with – don’t rush to find a team or a co-founder.

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Lesson: The Thiel Fellowship with Danielle Strachman

Step #8 Execution: Learn how to best execute your vision with a team

On the execution front, I always advise people to try to break things down into the smallest chunks that you can so you're just putting one foot in front of the other to get something done. I think that it can be a really, really hard thing for people to do, so even just sitting down with a piece of paper and a laptop and thinking about, "Okay, I want to get here," and actually we do this exercise with fellows, it's an exercise called "Giving Yourself and A" and it actually comes from the book "The Art of Possibility" which is by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander. It has this exercise where people write about the future as if it has already happened.

So, one of the first exercises we have fellows do, which I would recommend to anyone with a big vision, is sitting down and writing a letter to yourself two years in the future, as if your past has already happened. So, I might say, "Hey Danielle. Wow, the last two years have been so nuts, and here's why," and writing out all the different things that you could have dreamed about yourself accomplishing and doing. And then from that letter, being able to say, "Okay, if in the next to years I want to get to X, then in the next year I'd have to do Y. And in the next 6 months, I'd have to do A." And just keep going back and back and back until you can get to a point where you would say, maybe at a monthly level, "Okay, here's what I need to do this month," and then breaking down that month. "Okay, what do I really need to do this week?"

Also, not just what do you personally need to do, but who else do you need on your team. I think this is a really big thing. I think we're used to in a school model that you're responsible for getting your "A" and you have to know every single topic to get those A's, and you have to do it all by yourself." I'm certainly not telling people they should be cheating on exams and things like that, but what I am saying is that when you get out into the professional world, it is about who collaboration. It's about saying, "Hey, my strengths are this, my weaknesses are that, and I'm going to find somebody who has the strength that I don't have."

So, if I'm working on a business and I love the tech piece, we don't expect fellows, or really anybody, this isn't about fellows, this is about entrepreneurs or people and projects in general, we don't expect that person to go out there and do every single thing themselves. In fact, we see that as a bad sign. So, you need to be able to build a team around you so that the team has all the strengths that it needs to bring that project to fruition. So, it's also not about having that written down plan of what you want to do, but who needs to be in place to execute on this plan and do it, because it's certainly not going to be one person.

We see fellows work very closely together. We also see fellows form teams with other people pretty quickly. We are very clear during our orientation and whenever we have reviews with fellows, that what we have seen just over time is that those who are working with others tend to get more traction on what they're doing. It's also easier, I think, in some ways to get unstuck when you have someone else to talk to. We think it's really important that you pick the right people to work with. So, we don't say, "Oh yes, by next week or next month or next review you have to have a team." What we want you to have is the right team, or the right co-founder, or the right person to be brainstorming with. So, we really incentivize them and encourage them to move forward on that.

We've seen success-wise that those who work with other people, those who utilize mentors, those who build a personal advisory board for themselves or maybe a company board for their company, really it's a way to help keep them accountable and also get those other strengths that they're going to need on board because you're just not going to have it yourself. So, we see fellows collaborating very deeply with each other. We've had alums who have joined current fellow’s teams and they've come up with new projects together. We have fellows in the same class working on things together in a more casual sense. A lot of the fellows are just helping each other out.

Each month we have a monthly update where everyone writes in and one of the questions is, "How can the foundation and other fellows help you?" And we put that data right back out to the whole group and say, "Hey," this happened the other day, "Can you help this person connect with this person. I saw that you know them on LinkedIn, so let's get that going." "Oh sure, yeah, we’re happy to connect them." So, in a lot of ways we're helping each other out a lot all the time.

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