Left, Ashvin, CEO of Themer. Right, Me. Claremont McKenna Graduation, May 16th, 2004.
There is a really interesting article today in TechCrunch today about credentials and Silicon Valley. Great work by Danny Crichton that hits it right on the nose that Silicon Valley loudly proclaims its qualities as a meritocracy, free from the shackles of traditional society, when actually everyone’s AngelList profile screams out their education and previous employer credentials.
I went to Claremont McKenna College, a Top 10 (depending on the year and study) liberal arts college here in greater Los Angeles. It’s a great school with thousands of amazing alumni in all fields, but especially in finance, entrepreneurship, and government.
It’s not on your list of places that VCs say they want founders from.
The rest of team Wallaby has similar problems. We don’t look great when you’re trying to describe in the short nomenclature of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. You want to see “Undergrad @ Stanford, MBA @ Wharton. Worked @ PayPal, @ Google.” or perhaps “Engineering @ MIT. Worked @ SpaceX, @ Palantir” etc.
No, mine reads “Studied @ Claremont McKenna. Worked @ Green Dot @ YP” Sure, Green Dot IPO’d for more than $1 billion valuation (a “unicorn” at least at one time and a Sequoia Capital-backed company), but it’s not on the big list of amazing tech companies.
Todd, my co-founder and CTO has the same problem. He went to Drexel. It’s not that he wasn’t smart enough to get into MIT, but Drexel gave him a scholarship not to be turned down in a city he loves. We don’t all grow up in situations where we can go to whatever college we want to. He’s spent more than a decade working at startups and was the key engineer in Adobe’s $60M acquisition of Demdex. Then again, have you actually heard of Demdex (which was a great exit)?
We have people from Berkeley, not Stanford. We have whip smart, hacker engineers who went to small schools that aren’t on the cover of US News. We have amazing people without degrees!
Yet, we accomplish a lot. We’re scrappy, smart and we ship. A lot. On less than $2MM and 24 months we’ve shipped a great app, a great web tool, signed partnerships with big travel and finance sites and the best is yet to come.
Some day our bios will say “Worked @ Wallaby” and it will be a great credential. The one that VCs and other key partners in a startup are seeking, but today we don’t look great on paper, because we didn’t hit up the right schools.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m not complaining. I do this too! Our slides say things like “Investors include Founders Fund!” and “Angels who worked at Visa and Citibank” We all try to paint everything in the best light and in the absence of the time or ability to measure real ability, credentials stand in. I think this is a key point of Danny’s analysis.
We’re working hard to make great products and return value for our investors. I am hopeful at the same time we can join the many companies who credentials don’t look perfect on paper and bring one more data point to the community to show that going to Stanford and Harvard doesn’t solve all problems (even if it is damn hard to get in!).