5 things you learn at Draper U that no one will tell you about

Written by Summer '15 Alum, Ana Clara Otoni


I was at Draper U last Summer (2015) and I have to tell you: it took me a very long time to understand that I was having a great time and that I was in the right place.

I’m a journalist and besides having interviewed some of my entrepreneurial friends throughout my career, I had never thought about starting my own business until I got to Draper U. I had a vague idea of what a startup was, pivoting an idea, or building your pitch deck. Every time my mentor gave me  homework I got anxious and extremely stressed. I wanted to deliver my best but I had no idea of how I should start. Almost two months have passed since my graduation and  I am still working on my business idea. Yes, you read right: not my startup, not my business, but my business idea. And you know what? I’m totally fine with it. During the five-week program, Draper gave me all the lessons on “how to open your startup” but I’ve learned more than that from them. Here are the top five lessons I learned at Draper U that no one will tell you about:


1. Leaders go first

The survival week was a really intense experience. They taught us how to survive extreme situations using a military model (a method which I have serious reservations about). In the middle of one of the activities one of the instructors asked for a volunteer. In the first round he got three boys and no girls. In the second round I was ready to change that score and I volunteered. I remembered the instructor’s quote: “Leaders go first”. The sentence happened to also be the title of a book written by Mark Miller, but the way the instructor said it in that moment touched me in a very powerful way.  If you want to succeed you cannot be afraid of the unknown.You go to the front and you support your team. You go first and meet the challenge of learning to teach first and inspire others later.


2. There is always a different way

Draper U’s schedule definitely takes you out of your comfort zone. I remember the day we had a workshop with Felix Lin and Gina Kloes from the EOS Program. After an interesting afternoon learning about NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) techniques we were challenged to break a wooden board. I still have clearly in my mind everybody’s face. Some people were extremely excited and some were considerably doubting themselves. Mr. Lin enjoyed the process and taught us his techniques. He was confident: “We won’t leave until everyone here breaks a board. We made two big lines and cheered for each other. Sounds like “Bam”, “crack”, applause, cheers,  and some groans later… it was my turn. I tried once, nothing. Twice, and I almost broke my hand. Three times, nothing again. I stopped. I tried to relax. I watched the others. I took some advice. I practiced. Next round. There I was again and this time, this time...nothing again. Damn it! I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t break the board with my hand but it wasn’t about not being alone, it was about achieving a goal. I was tired and really frustrated. I heard the crowd rooting for me, yelling my name and I felt like I was disappointing my friends. At that moment, Mr. Lin showed me how to break the board with my foot. One try and it was done! I was relieved but not actually happy. “Why  couldn’t I do it like everybody else?”. And that was the moment when Gina whispered in my ear: “You are not not like everybody else. And remember: there is always a different way”. 


3. People will surprise you

At Draper University I had colleagues from 33 different countries and I confess, I didn’t know much about those different cultures. I remembered having a long conversation with a Lebanese girl about sex, homosexuality and drugs. Of course there are big differences between Brazil and Lebanon, but in general, a teenager facing any of those topics is always someone seeking for adventure and knowledge no matter where they are from. Getting to that conclusion surprised me. And I am pretty sure I surprised some people too. I remembered at least one episode during the meditation section when the fantastic Kirsty MacGregor asked us to hug each other. I’m Brazilian and in Latin-American culture, we give a nice, long and warm hug followed by a kiss or two. Considering that some people in our section were used to side-hugs for their whole lives, you can guess how surprising my hug was for them. That’s something about being open to learning and interacting with people: not knowing their culture shouldn’t stop you from interacting with them.


4. Take the risk

Draper has great relationships with some of the most popular and biggest companies in the Valley. So, it is not rare that DU’s students get to go on tour at companies like Tesla and Google. I was picked to go to Tesla, but one of my friends, Felipe Martinez, a smart Chilean who is working on sustainable energy production, asked to go in my place (Maybe he would get a chance to ask Elon Musk to sponsor his startup, who knows?). So, a few weeks later everyone was excited for the next tour. The final destination: Google. Unfortunately I wasn’t chosen to go even though I was crazy about going. We were in the middle of a section about the legislation to open a startup in the U.S when suddenly the people selected to go to Google’s Headquarters started leaving the room. I felt sad. I wanted to to go with them. I thought to myself “If I want to, I need to do something about it”. I left the room at Hero City with nothing but my cellphone. I left behind my purse, computer, books...everything. I needed to move fast. When I got to the street I saw the bus with my colleagues leaving. I started running and the driver surprisingly stopped, opened the door and said: “Are you going?”. I saw the IER (Internal Entrepreneur Resident) in the front seat and asked if I could go. You will never guess… somebody was missing and they had one spot! It was one of the most exciting and fun moments of my Summer. If you want something, take the risk and go get it!


5. Always follow your heart

During survival camp we had to do a “buddy trap” with our team in order to find a “treasure” in the middle of the forest. We crawled through the dirt and climbed ropes with a huge sense of warning and caution. At some point, we started talking about trust and commitment. Our mentor that day cleverly said, “When in doubt, always follow your heart”. It touched me in a tremendous way because I truly believe in intuition. Somehow I have a feeling about people and their intentions. This “power” helped me know and choose who I want around me. Gandhi has a great quote that says, “Nobody can hurt me without my permission”.  I love that sentence because it says more about your relationship with yourself than it says about your relationship with others. You better follow your heart and take care of yourself first.

I remember telling my good friend Daniel Gaspersz, from The Netherlands, on that day: The most beautiful way to prove love to someone is taking care of yourself first, because whoever loves you wants to see you happy and healthy. Daniel went crazy about that idea. He told me, “Wow, I want to write that down. That really makes sense, Ana”. I was happy to see that he understood my point.