Andrew Yang

Founder and CEO of Venture for America, a Fellowship program for recent grads who want to revitalize cities.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 30, 2015

Discussion

Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
Hi, I'm Andrew Yang, Founder & CEO of Venture for America, a Fellowship program for recent college graduates who want to build companies and revitalize cities through entrepreneurship. Prior to VFA I was the CEO of Manhattan Prep and in a past life I was a corporate lawyer. I tell the story of Venture for America and the current landscape of entrepreneurship in my book "Smart People Should Build Things". Ask away!
Ben Center@benhcenter · Investor Relations Associate, Onevest
@andrewyangvfa thank you for your time! How did you design the interviewing process for VFA Fellows? I went through part of the process and was intrigued with the originality of the different steps, as well as the intensity of the group stage.
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@benhcenter Hey Ben. We took some best practices from some other orgs and then put a VFA take on it. Our process has evolved over the years and improved. Our hope is that people feel like they learned something from going through it. That's very much the VFA mantra - always try and spur both introspection and development.
Ben Center@benhcenter · Investor Relations Associate, Onevest
@andrewyangvfa Thank you for your reply Andrew. I can definitely say I learned from that process. The biggest lesson: always be authentic. The process does a great job of drawing out authenticity, and leaves little room for fluffy interview BS and superficiality. Thanks again!
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
Hi Andrew! You became the CEO of a major test prep company (Manhattan GMAT) at age 31. That kind of thing just doesn't happen for most people. :-) When you think back on your journey pre-31-years-old, what are the 4-5 critical moments, lessons, mindsets that led you to becoming a CEO at such a young age?
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@melissajoykong Thanks Melissa. I agree that I was extremely fortunate to have had that opportunity, and sometimes think about how different things would have been if I hadn't been introduced to Zeke. The main things I'd reflect on as positive moves in that direction were 1. I started and ran a couple things during my twenties (an Internet company that failed, a party network). Win or lose, that stuff makes you more capable of figuring out what you need to do. It's one reason why so many successful entrepreneurs have failures in their past. Trying and failing is much better preparation than not trying. 2. The jobs I did required general management of diverse people that weren't there for money or brand. You get better at relating to and understanding different sorts of people. 3. I worked with Zeke for 5 years and he had confidence in me. You have to do great work so people want to give you opportunities. 4. My friend thought well enough of me to introduce me to Zeke years earlier. Friends matter, and being someone who people would entrust with significant responsibility (from your dog up to a company) matters. Hope this is somewhat helpful!
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · VC at Shrug Capital
@andrewyangvfa I just posted your book to Product Hunt Books!
daniellevine@daniellevine · Fireside
@andrewyangvfa Hey Andrew! Thank's for doing this AMA. I'm wondering, what's the best thing you've come across in the last 30 days and why? Could be anything, a product, an article, a tea, a quote. Anything! Thanks for answering.
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@daniellevine Two articles in the Atlantic blew my mind in the past two weeks. The first one was 'Silicon Valley Suicides,' about a string of suicides in a Palo Alto high school among high-achieving Asian kids. It got me thinking both about how our economy and the meritocracy is wired and how I want to try and raise my kids. The second was an article about the diverging fates of American cities. http://www.theatlantic.com/busin... Apparently a lot of it was deregulation of airlines, banks, retail, etc.
Lukas Fittl@lukasfittl · Product Hunt
@andrewyangvfa Thanks for taking the time to chat! Whats the best way you think founders and employees at a tech startup could contribute to the mission of revitalizing cities? If one looks at cities like San Francisco, I often feel like there is a parallel world of tech startups that seem to exist without really interacting and caring about the actual city underneath. I really wish it'd be different, but often see myself being too ignorant or simply without enough time to spare.
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@lukasfittl It's a great question Lukas. In SF the situation is a bit different. A tech startup in San Antonio or New Orleans is pretty directly impactful just because there aren't that many growth firms or opportunities. In SF I actually think the bar is higher - the rest of the country needs what you guys have. My thought would be to either find an on-the-ground org in SF that could use your help (folks like the Full Circle Fund do great work) OR pick another place like your hometown and put your energies, relationships and resources to work. I'd almost prefer the latter. Your hometown or university would look up to you like you wouldn't believe, and they need you worse than you think!!!
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Andrew. Thanks for joining and for creating VFA (some of my best friends are in the first class). Obviously there's so much great stuff you guys are doing that's highlighted everywhere - but can you tell us a bit about the challenges you've faced? What's the one critique of VFA that you are most sympathetic to?
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@eriktorenberg The challenges that people in VFA face tend to be as much personal and professional. It's more "What do I care about?" as much as it is any technical or sales tasks. I know that I would have struggled mightily if I'd moved to a new city as a 22-year old for a host of personal reasons. The best things about VFA are also the hardest - we put people in different environments where they get space (sometimes too much so) and may not have many natural connections. How does someone deal with that and grow? Our expectations of Fellows to help revitalize cities are almost unrealistically sky-high, and in some ways cater to the less circumspect elements of the competitive meritocracy. We're about people, and people have many things going on independent of what we would wish for and of them. I remind myself of what I was like at 22 all of the time - and it wasn't too awesome, to be honest.
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
Hi Andrew! VFA has been around for almost 5 years now. What have been the biggest successes of the program to date? What have you changed since its inception to improve the program overall?
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@alexcartaz Thanks Alex. The biggest successes have been seeing VFA's Fellows grow into managers and leaders. We've had over a dozen company founders out of our first two years, and many of the companies have really taken off. Others run teams and are huge contributors at their orgs. You can't anticipate that sort of thing. My first company flopped, so I know how tough it is. That we've had so many people take on the challenge of starting a company and do it successfully is amazing to me.
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
Do you think higher education is broken? What is the biggest limiting factor to minting more capable founders, entrepreneurs, and early stage employees in the ecosystem?
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@alexcartaz The biggest problem with higher education is that it doesn't really allow for failure. If you actually fail a class you get dinged from every competitive process. Meanwhile, entrepreneurship requires failure in ways big and small, day in and day out. An effective salesperson is like a major league hitter, in that if you get on base 30% of the time you're doing phenomenally well. Our schools are doing a terrible job of training that reality and mindset. It starts young and persists through college. The best way to address this is to kick kids out of the classroom for a couple years (i.e. gap years) to give them some context and perspective, put real money and customers on the line in any entrepreneurship class or program, and incorporate work into college whenever possible (e.g. coop programs like Northeastern).
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
What kind of placement do Venture for America alumni seek?
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@andrewmettinger Hey Andrew. About a quarter of VFA Alums start their own companies, which is amazing. Another 50% are managers at early-stage companies, startups and orgs in VFA cities. About 20 percent are managers at startups or orgs in a non-VFA city, typically either SF or NY with a few in DC. And the remainder are abroad (Mongolia, Zimbabwe) or in grad school (GSB, LSE). So if the goal is to be a manager at a startup or early-stage company, we're a very good bet!
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
What entrepreneurship tools are higher learning facilities failing to address? Are any of them feasible for large institutions?
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@andrewmettinger One of the biggest overlooked elements in school is sales. Any entrepreneur is going to need to do a lot of it. But sales is looked down upon in high learning as unintellectual. It shouldn't be. Good sales is a huge difference-maker for any org and any entrepreneur. After that, probably building and tech proficiency. But not everyone is going to be a coder, nor should they be.
Eric Huang@ericwenweihuang · Co-Founder, Ash & Anvil
Hey Andrew! What were some of the biggest challenges in building out the VFA team? What might be the one thing you'd do differently if you could start all over again?
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@ericwenweihuang We've been very very lucky here at the VFA Team. So many strong and dedicated people have put their all into making VFA what it is today. If I could do something differently, it would probably be that Mike Tarullo guy. His gravelly voice distracts everyone.
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
What is one belief you hold that is fairly controversial? (e.g. leadership is learned vs. innate; you can't successfully build a startup without X, etc.)
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@melissajoykong One belief that's out there is that entrepreneurship is innate. I couldn't disagree more. People respond to resources, narratives, incentives, role models, experiences, culture and everything else. There are outliers out there who are just going to do it. But me and a lot of other people are in the thicker part of the curve, where we could do a bunch of different things depending on what we're presented with. Israel is the most entrepreneurial country in the world in part because their college grads spend 2-3 years in military service and travel the world before starting school, so they've worked in an operating role with diverse people and then graduate college at 25 as fully-formed adults. That stuff makes a difference. Entrepreneurship can be trained and encouraged (though we're doing a not great job of that in most environments).
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
@andrewyangvfa Andrew, these are such incredibly thoughtful and useful answers. Thanks for taking the time! I wonder how many more people would give entrepreneurship a try if they knew the purpose wasn't so much if you're "born" with the ability to start a company, but how you shape as a person, a leader, an entrepreneur as a RESULT of starting something.
Evan Fried@friedevan · Design for America Michigan State
@andrewyangvfa @melissajoykong This is something I've been thinking about. Too many people really just think you either have it or you don't. Entrepreneurship is a career path in itself, something you can learn and become better at. Great question and great answer!
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
All right, thanks for joining me here! If you know someone who you think wants to help build a business, become an entrepreneur and revitalize an American city please have them check out Venture for America and maybe even apply. Apps are open through March for 2016. http://apply.ventureforamerica.org/ We will help them achieve their goals and maybe even become the sort of person they want to be! - Andrew
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@andrewyangvfa Thanks for joining us today. During your career to date, what is the best piece of advice you've ever been given? Flip side - what's the worst?
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@ems_hodge The best advice I got was to try and find a person whose career and life I wanted and work with him or her to see how they do what they do. The worst advice I got was to stay a lawyer (which I was for 5 months, sorry Mom).
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
@andrewyangvfa what is your take on University for very entrepreneurial minded young people. Should they go even if they do not feel it would particularly add to their life? Is it worth it for the security?
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@harrystebbings I'm of the stance that most people should go to college if it's something they're considering, if only for the socialization. It will probably give you a better sense of many social situations for the rest of your life and tamp down any innate natural extremity (which could be helpful for entrepreneurs, I realize). The dicier questions to me come in post-grad education (law school, MBAs, etc.). That's the lower-hanging fruit that should be debated. College is the high-hanging fruit. That said, if someone really didn't want to go to college because they were already a dedicated entrepreneur, more power to them.
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
Hey Andrew, any hidden talents? The world wants to know!
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@russfrushtick I can speak in unison with my brother. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of cheesy 80s action stars (e.g. Mark Dacascos, Jeff Speakman) from growing up wanting to be a ninja. I'm an above average participant in Renaissance Faire activities (axe throwing, archery, etc.).
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
What are your goals for VFA over the next 5 years?
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@alexcartaz So much that VFA can do! I'd like us to have a measurable impact in our cities, and add to the ~2,000 jobs or so that our Fellows and partner companies have helped create many times over. I'd like VFA to be the established post-graduate option for enterprising college seniors around the country. I'd like our Fellows to be managers, leaders and founders at dozens of companies around the country that are in turn creating all new services and opportunities. I'd like to have an endowment so that we can plan for the future better. On a human level, I'd like VFA to have played a role in how we measure and define achievement. Our third mission statement is to 'Restore the Culture of Achievement to Include Value Creation, Risk and Reward, and the Common Good." I've met so many people who are just scratching the surface of their potential impact. So many people see themselves as constrained when the constraints are all in their mind. If we free people, the sky's the limit.
Alex Vinogradov@alexvinogradov4 · http://www.cfc.io http://heartin.net CEO
@andrewyangvfa hi, I'm looking to help with http://heartin.net HeartIn aim is a bring remote, professional clinic cardio-diagnostic to your home. For that, we release portable, designed for consumer market device, just 200$ cost. HeartIn also includes doctor's marketplace, where customers can get appointment time and receive a diagnostic result, similar to hospital's do, but remotely and cheap. All results saved in the cloud, where doctors can verify it. I just need business development based in ur current relationships. Is it possible? Alex Vinogradov alex@heartin.net
Evan Fried@friedevan · Design for America Michigan State
@andrewyangvfa Hey Andrew! Nice to have more opportunities to learn more from you! My question is this: What is one thing you wish VFA could be doing better?
Andrew Yang@andrewyangvfa · CEO of VFA
@friedevan Hey Evan. Like a lot of companies we'd like to get better at a lot of things - we like to believe we continuously are improving. I'd like to enable VFA to address the vast number of young people out there who'd like to take on the challenge of building something. As proud as I am of what we've done, I feel like the needs are so much bigger. So I guess I think we could do a better job of both getting resources and getting the word out to young people like your buddies at Design for America who want to have a positive impact that we're here for them and this path is real! You can really join a startup, start a company and make something great happen in a place that needs it!!
Evan Fried@friedevan · Design for America Michigan State