Startup Catalyst – Before and After

The thing I hate most about our Future Founders Mission leader Pete is that the man is always right, especially when I am almost certain he is wrong. When he asked us to write a reflection before we started the mission, I remember thinking, ‘who is this hippy who wants me to think about my feelings?’ and more to the point, ‘why does this hippy think that my feelings have anything to do with science and technology mission I’m about to embark on?’ Still, I had a boring five hour flight from Washington DC to San Francisco, so I wrote the following:

‘I have never been more sure of what excites me, or what my purpose is. When I was young, I loved making people’s lives better through charity work, and I loved science. Over the last 12 years I have evolved. I know that I want and need to use science for the good of humanity. My question right now, is what is the best use of my time? What is the best way to make an impact?

I worry sometimes that I will peak down a rabbit hole of a particular scientific study or technology and be stuck there, while the world passes me by. How do I remain agile and ready to continue this evolution of my life’s purpose? This is what I am here to discover. Plus I want to play with new toys, network and expand the depth of my imagination (obviously).’

Turns out, sure it was a mission about science and tech, but we weren’t there to learn about that. Between the 20 of us with diverse technical skills, I doubt there was one technical thing that we learnt that was new to absolutely everyone. We were there to look at how our lives, our reach, our careers can expand in this industry. I learned that I had skills that were considered useful to a huge range of people, that I had never considered useful myself. I was able to see what my life would look like, if I chose to go big. It was scary, and it was emotional, and there were so many feelings (damn you Pete, you hippy).

I am definitely still processing all the information, and I am interested to see where this change in mindset has taken me, but this is what I have observed in my attitude change so far:

  • GET THE PROTOTYPE BUILT. I’ve been sitting on a piece of tech that could change the lives of millions of people for over a year, too confused about co-founders and the process that comes next. That’s like 100 years in Silicon Valley time. Build it, and run. By the time I get home, my prototype will be finished and I am going to run.
  • DON’T DELAY THESIS SUBMISSION. While it is a badge of honour in San Fran to be a PhD dropout, I refuse to be one. I have been writing faster and working harder than ever before in the past 3 weeks, determined to have a full thesis draft and 4 published papers before my PhD even hits 3 years. The sooner it’s done, the sooner I have more time to dedicated to progressing other things.
  • BE FUTURE-READY. Realising the future of my field is going to be in machine learning and neural nets, at night I’ve been taking a Stanford online course in machine learning. I will not ignore technological advances or rely on other people to guide me through. I have to understand and be able to use these things myself.
  • BE THE BOSS. Want to use science and technology for good? You big idiot. The only real way I have learned to do this is to work on projects that align with your morals, and build an empire. You want to have Gates scale impact on the world? Yeah, you’re going to need Gates scale cash. Being the boss is also a good way to peak down the rabbit holes of various scientific advances, but remain distant enough to be agile.

It’s hard to get a read of how long these effects will last. I haven’t seen any of my loved ones since the mission, I am still in a bubble of science and innovation in Washington that is probably kicking these feelings along. I am sure when I get home to Canberra and there are chores and work and life this will all get a whole lot harder. For now, I’m moving as fast as I can and strategising for the smoothest possible transition home. Wish me luck.

 

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