After Elon Musk’s Tesla Powerwall keynote sent ripples across the tech world, I was reminded of a point made by Silicon Valley billionaire (and Musk’s former Paypal cofounder) Peter Thiel a couple years ago.
Back in 2013, Thiel sat at the World Affairs Council, and said:
People are entrepreneurs because they want to solve problems, not because they want to be entrepreneurs.
When you look at Elon Musk, you see a CEO who’s obsessed with solving problems.
I’d argue that Thiel’s point goes beyond entrepreneurship. Too many people fall in love with sexy job titles like “entrepreneur” or “movie director” – when really those titles are the result of curiosity and tinkering with specific problems.
If you’ve never seen Thiel at the World Affairs Council, I encourage you to watch this video. Thiel makes it glaringly obvious that we, as a planet, need to get resources behind people who enjoy tinkering with big problems.
People like Elon Musk.
Unfortunately, investors in Silicon Valley are often disincentivized to place their money on “long game” bets like clean tech or curing cancer. The exit strategies are too distant when compared with, say, an enterprise software that’s already making money.
We need to align money with important problems. But how do we get there?
Maybe Higher Ed is one area where we can make change from the ground up. Why not give Ivy League universities money for each “Clean Energy Startup” curriculum they add? This way, we’d give America’s brightest young minds a venue to think, research, and build products (and create VC pitches for clean tech in the process). These are the projects we want the next Mark Zuckerberg working on.
Like Thiel, I’m optimistic. We have the human capital as a planet to tackle transformative problems.
Now let’s figure out how to get more Silicon Valley money behind the people, like Musk, who are making it happen.
It’ll be tough. But hopefully, we’ll get there sooner rather than later…