It’s my 45th birthday on 4/3, so I want to look back on my life. I try to live consciously.
I was born in 1972 and grew up in NYC. Starting at age 14, I spent the summers living on a commune in Arizona, Arcosanti, working to build a city of the future. I did construction, carpentry, welding and metal casting. I started to see a better way to live, but a lot of work was still needed.
My goal was to build the city of the future, so I went to architecture school at Carnegie Mellon and became one of the first 4.0 students in freshman year, which eventually lead to being invited to apply for a Rhoades Scholar. The whole experience was disturbing, so I dropped out to ride freight trains. Then, returning from the journey and study abroad in Vienna, I eventually wound up at the University of Pennsylvania.
At Penn in 1992, Elon Musk and I became roommates, starting a nightclub in order for us both to escape the dorms as transfer students. I created my own “Revolution” major, which failed to be supported by the university, and launched the Green Times, an environmental newspaper with a 30,000 circulation. I also lead the environmental group, since was I was concerned about the evolving environmental trends.
Done with school, I launched my first company to publish one of my many books of poetry on Gopher and FTP in 1994. This was a bad idea. So, when HTTP came out, we “pivoted” to release the first commercial website, creating an online newspaper. The company was Total New York, which eventually became AOL Digital Cities. We were covered by all major media outlets, helping start the first internet revolution.
I then launched a services company to take all major media brands online. This company became a key part of a digital media roll up that went public in a reverse merger as Exeed, giving me a range of public company experiences. I did some venture partner work for a fund started by former friends and colleagues at Exeed, allowing me to see Google, eBay and others very early on.
In 2000, I started helping venture capitalists save failing portfolio companies that suffered from the crash. I also flirted with launching an incubator, and briefly joined Idealab as a portfolio CEO. This was my second foray into venture capital and entrepreneurship as a business.
As this was going on, Elon and I started working on a project called Life to Mars. Our goal was to inspire humanity to inhabit Mars. I also joined the board of the X PRIZE foundation, helping to fund the initial private space exploration purse. Once the X PRIZE was won and SpaceX was started, I knew that private space exploration would happen.
Space and games were of interest to me at the time, so I launched a video gaming company, Game Trust, in 2002. I figured AI would first appear in games. We developed many of the modern day gamification concepts, which was a term coined by my friend, Gabe Zichermann. We sold the company after a Board struggle for control.
Some of my Game Trust investors were very bad actors, which lead me to launch TheFunded in 2006 as a weekend project, allowing CEOs to rate VCs. My life changed in many ways at this point, as I became relatively well-known among entrepreneurs. While semi-retired at age 35, I was being regularly villainized by some venture capitalists, and change was needed.
I wanted to improve the world of entrepreneurship and fix the funding landscape, so I launched the Founder Institute in 2009. FI was designed to wake people up and turn them into competent entrepreneurs, and it grew much faster than I had ever imagined. By 2010, we were in a dozen cities around the world. We mandated Founder-friendly investment terms. We started to predict entrepreneurial outcomes through social science. Entrepreneurs started recovering from the long years of abuse after the 2000 crash.
Today, through FI, I have helped to create key legal concepts for startups, such as the SAFE note and the FAST agreement. We are operating programs in 173 cities worldwide. In 2017 alone, we will put 100,000 people through our free events, eventually creating about 1,500 companies. Well over 15,000 jobs have been created by FI Graduates, and well over $15 billion in enterprise value have been generated.
At 45 years old, I feel that I have done some good in the world. I want to see FI become the largest entity in the world of entrepreneurship across every metric. I want to fulfill my childhood dreams for the city of the future. I want to explore ways to wake more people up and help them realize the inherent good in humanity. There is a lot more work to do.