Venture College Admissions on Harvard Truth’s Current
Reference: The Money of Invention: How Venture Capital Creates New Wealth by Paul A. Gompers and Josh Lerner.
The venture capital cycle is best explained via the college admissions process in the United States where we see young people become their own ventures from the incubation process which has many similarities to that of young firms asking for money to be invested in them. We see that young people in high school fear losing their competitive advantage as they discuss ideas especially on committees of extracurricular activity. We see a great deal of focus on competition and where a young person stands relative to his peers according to admissions criteria. This competition is really twofold, one for venture capital financing and one for eventual listing to the stock market which entails an examination of the young person’s future viability as a competitive entity or no one would pay for rights to the young person’s labor, he or she would be unemployable. Let’s examine the first one first. What is the analogue of venture capital in high schools? The primary identifier of a student is his or her grades. I will assume the student is female. So what do grades encompass? The grades are equivalent to the main product line which is always the result of hard work and reading books but really differs by each student as each venture would have a different product line. The different subjects are the different markets the ventures participates and grades are an indication of the quality of the product per market. If you have a student who is for whatever reason unable to pass on grades then he needs another product line presumably extracurricular activities such as a job. The venture funding would naturally go to students with highest grades in each subject but in practice in the college admissions process this is not the case. Instead we see students classified by type.
Some students are math capable for example and some are deemed qualitative. Some students are well rounded and others are good at one subject and strive to be well angled. What this means is a venture is not simply judged as the sum of its parts in each market but as to how the venture compares to other ventures. A venture that is capable of participating in many markets or subjects is well rounded and that is a desirable characteristic because that venture is adaptable and can settle in a market or subject that it needs to. That venture or student can also look at connections between subjects or markets. A venture that is well angled is capable of innovation in a field and is capable of solving some problems that well rounded students simply cannot do in that subject. So we see ventures should not strive for the highest grades in each subject in high school but should instead decide if they are going to be well angled or well rounded for example and build from there which allows them to maintain a competitive niche relative to other ventures while if they pursued the highest grades in every subject they are producing products of quality but losing sight of the fact that in the long run they are being judged. They are going to college not their grades.
So this allows for optimization of the appropriate time spent on each subject area. A common phenomenon in high school is the complaint of lack of sleep. Certainly I struggled with this after classes got hard in junior year until my senior year when I still took hard classes but managed my time much better. The question to ask is what happens to ventures that overwork their employees? Presumably the employees will leave and help other ventures. So your teachers in high school will abandon you if you so called grind and make class so miserable during your sleepy presence in them that your teachers will have more work to do if they teach you and will give up. But there is a baseline of work that needs to get done in high school to excel in your classes and where do you pull back as opposed to grasp for the last A plus for example to maintain your quality grade point average?
Traditionally the answer is put in as much work to compete with other valedictorian candidate students to get the top spot but many high schools no longer give out valedictorian status for this reason and only rank students by percentile. Moreover how do you know how high grades other students are getting and how do you balance your personal life and your grades? The answer in my view is you should not know how other students are getting their grades just as a venture which excessively tracks market competition and does market research on its peers probably isn’t spending the adequate resources on improving itself. The question then is what should you be improving? Certainly it is not the understanding of the meaning of what you are reading as semantics is a complicated field about how meaning comes from words and your job really is to take tests as you could spend inordinate amounts of time deriving learning for learning’s sake. Yourself as a venture is your ability to internalize the markets you participate in be it chemistry or US history and produce items of value in those fields. It would be your class participation that should be optimized it looks like. Some students are intrinsically motivated by the socialization in class and try really hard to optimize their learning to get good test scores to participate in class on a friendly basis with the teacher. Certainly, I was like that in American history class and also English class as well as later in economics.
In classes where you are just lost and unable to participate well but still can get decent scores on the tests if you fake the homework from the answers manual and try really hard to solve all the problems on the cheat sheet before the exam: that for me first of all was math class especially BC Calculus. What’s going on in that class is your venture is capable of producing goods that sell on the market of math but is at a competitive disadvantage of math produced per hour spent and cannot direct the flow or keep up with the flow of conversation topics about math in class. Do we leave the market? No we hang on especially if the market is math which keeps us labeled math capable regardless of how many students think they are better than I was based on simply beating me on a test score. Particularly we know we are still learning the material if we are able to hang on through the course of a semester as if our products continue to make it in the market and just sell at a lower position than others we still can make a great deal of profit, we just have no market power and so staying in the market is very burdensome. The enemy isn’t your math competitors it’s your own inefficency at solving the mathematics and it can be resolved only by private tutoring or in other words bringing in consultants or by waiting until you get into college to receive this private tutoring.
Now the next layer we examine is math competitions since they have a legendary reputation for differentiating who is smart and who is considered not smart in American high schools. I did well enough on those exams but really they are asking you to apply college level mathematics at the high school level so you are being asked to study way ahead of your subject and that’s all they are about. Anyone who has done college level mathematics doesn’t need fancy tricks to solve high school level advanced problems, he can just apply college level math. So why do these examinations exist? I think some colleges like to differentiate themselves from major players like the Ivy Leagues and they set up these standards which are different. So really what we are seeing is some ventures are competing in markets which are generally not accessible to young ventures so you can imagine most of our ventures in modern day America being tech startups and you see some ventures for example competing in CPU engineering of the type that Intel does which is typically reserved for larger research and development platforms for more mature companies. They are trying to stand out and the downside is of course that the route faces obsolescence in the sense they invest to learn very hard college level math in high school but the math they learn may be totally inapplicable to life as they don’t have the resources to learn college level math in a way that keeps them up to date. In college it is easy to find a tutor who can explain to you the latest breakthrough in solving a particular problem or at least make you not care anymore by the brilliance of his mathematics. In high school how are you going to find someone who can teach you that or do you just have to blindly trust the test preparation material and get a high score and then rest in your elevated status that you’ve done parts for a pentium chip but maybe you should worry at the back of your mind that you’ll never get a job at intel and then what will you do as a math guy?
So there we have it, we see there are also extracurricular activities and teacher recommendations. Extracurricular activities are all about the leadership positions which are usually given out in a competitive process with negotiations about co-chairs which generally weaken the constitution of the team. But who gets them? Not the people who do the most work or the people who are friendliest with the sponsoring teacher but the people who show the most leadership which in my view is always by example as extracurricular activity for a venture is basically their networking skills with venture partners. Speaking of which who are the venture capital firms? They would have to be the universities wouldn’t they? So if you want to go to the same university as your girlfriend in high school you would try to make yourself look good as a team in high school and you might be jointly invested in. As for teacher recommendations, we said teachers are like your employees but they are also your customers and you’d be surprised at how true this is for many firms in real life. Customers write reviews of your product and a good review is worth a lot and a lot more than temporary market position though we remember the key is can you keep producing products, that is can you pass your classes and keep showing up. So we know passing classes is something special and that is knowing the material well enough that your product produced passed government standards to sell on the market. These standards are set with the public welfare in mind and if you find yourself unable to pass in a school, try your best and then gracefully drop out if they can’t accommodate your disabilities or life circumstances. The reason is if the government has set standards that way for passing, then there must be a place for people who can’t and they usually go into the workforce instead of trying to make a company out of themselves. You can still be an individual just not a whole company unless you work really hard and make yourself into a company again one day with your own sources of capital and own route to success.
Now lastly we examine sports and prestigious programs like the writing programs at Telluride for example. They are in a sense similar in that sports make you a recruitment candidate and those prestigious programs pretty much guarantee your admissions into a top notch school as you become a desirable candidate. For sports I did cross country but I didn’t run very fast so I wasn’t recruited or even close. Talking about me being recruited is preposterous. In any case by participating in sports at all I however placed myself in a pool of people that a college could call if they needed a distance runner. And a bit more than a decade later, I’ve lived in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Seattle and I worked a few weeks in San Francisco but didn’t rent a place there as I had an alternative. So what makes a distance runner? Anyone can have grit which is the latest buzz word in corporate world, but as the Goo Goo Dolls say, time will never steal my soul and distance running is basically the concept of barefoot running which is that you run faster without shoes or in flip flops over very long distances because our bodies were in a way born to run. So distance running is the triumph of man over the myth of Sisyphus which tells us we have to keep inventing more and more just not to starve: not if we can throw away technology and lead just about a good life though short it would be good. Incidentally I also became a speed skating fan later in life and picked up how to to be a speed skater in spirit which is just about speed really but running remains something special to me no matter what shape I’m in as running teaches us the legs of Pheidippides are really the fire inside which, what is the word, burns per Disney.
As for prestigious programs, they are really just early stage venture and I was never invested in by anything really exclusive because of the profile of my venture meant I would almost certainly be invested in by a major college so early stage ventures didn’t take a lot of pride in discovering me and trying to expand their ownership stake. I did attend a youth leadership forum on medicine and it was a good experience and they were indeed somewhat akin to an early stage venture firm but if they backed me I wouldn’t know except all the doors in medicine remained open to me a decade later and I think they had something to do with it.
So that’s what I can do for you which is demystify the college admissions process and tell you, you did it yourself. In my case I got accepted to Harvard early and I lived fast and died young when I got stricken with bipolar at age 25. If you want to grow old together you may not want my venture which was focused on valedictorian. But I want that too sure. However, the most important thing is you live fast, die young, love again and again. It was always worth it as I lived fast and died young because it was the best option available to me and if I didn’t go crazy from studying I would have had less than my life which is unacceptable from skydiving to Galapagos before I was 25 and maybe there is a diamond out there I’ll never get back, but I found sapphires elsewhere which are just as good and I study again. As Aragon said “blessed is he who dies of love” and I will add to that “heureux c’est elle qui meurt a voler”: blessed is she who dies of flying, blessed is she who dies of stealing. So please come home per Johnny Rzeznik. I started high school in the south with all the men who said they were Dixieland and finished it in the hometown of the American Revolution where every daughter is a patriot. We all won. Wish you all the best.