Scott Nolan @ Draper University: How Much of a Difference Are You Making in the World?

scott nolan founders fund at duJanuary 28, 2015 - "When starting something, ask yourself: how much of a difference am I making in the world?" This is one of the truths that Scott Nolan lives by, one which inspires every aspect of his work - both as an entrepreneur and as an investor. This is why, as a partner at Founders Fund, Scott is constantly looking to back founders who work on solving complex problems by building companies working far into the future.

An Inside Look at Founders Fund

"We always ask ourselves this question: How do we make a difference as investors? That’s why we try to invest in  smart people solving difficult problems, especially those working with engineering-driven technologies." Usually, these "big problems" are less crowded places for investors. "When we invested in SpaceX, no one was doing anything like it, and it seemed too far-reaching. But we trusted the team tackling a difficult problem. We’ve created FF Science to make sure we invest a portion of our fund in deep technology that will make the biggest impact in the world."

Scott enjoys working at a venture capital firm that is willing to stand by the founders of their portfolio companies. "At FF, we believe in backing our founders. We have never replaced any founder in the company they started. We always bet on them, allowing them to run the company. We provide strategic support, but we are very hands-off."

When asked about the thought process behind his work, Scott said that FF tries to pick a future winner in an industry. They specifically seek out teams that will be leading a company in an industry that is not currently crowded because it's focus is on reaching for the future, not on current trends. Future and return come hand in hand.

Advice for Startups and Entrepreneurs

scott nolan founders fund du studentsEven as a young entrepreneur with little experience, going after difficult problems will allow a person to have more power when convincing others to be part of a team. Businesses should always think about the scope of what their trying to do; bigger and more complex problems make people think harder, ideate unique strategies, and make themselves more difficult to be copied in the future. "You want to make yourself unique. Find the right time to scale and then scale fast."

Here are Scott's tips for startup founders:

  • Despite experience and background, what matters is what you have done. Why should people join your team and dedicate years of their lives to build a company? How much have you accomplished? The team you build is critical, especially at early stages.
  • Don't work for a company you're not excited about.
  • Don't assume you can't do something.
  • Why you should tackle the difficult problems:
    • You can get more resources/specialization
    • You’re less likely to get competition
    • Motivation to bring talent
  • Ways to create a great company:
    • Create value
    • Capture the market (eliminate the possibility of someone copying it)
    • Build it to last

If you want to learn more from inspirational speakers like Scott Nolan, check out Draper University's entrepreneurship program where you'll meet over 50 guest speakers and mentors from Silicon Valley.

We’re now accepting applications for our Spring 2015 class. Visit our website to submit your application by the final deadline: February 20.