My answers to Peter Thiel's questions he asks startups

Blake Master's class notes for Peter Thiel's startup class have been great, which is why I immediately was intrigued by the PandoMonthly event with him. One of the more interesting things to me that was said was his pointed questions to ask startups.

As an angel investor I usually ask:
  • How did you (founders) come to be entrepreneurs?
  • What led you to this market/idea in particular (and what markets/ideas did you discard along the way)?
  • What is your path to victory?
  • What are your exit expectations?

Peter asks...
What is something you believe that nearly no one agrees with you on?

This question immediately made me think of a post I did on what makes you weird? However, this variety seems more ideological.

Here are two things I believe that elicit a lot of eye rolls (or even worse, severe boredom):

  1. The US would highly benefit from a modern Constitutional convention that produced a set of constitutional amendment proposals that would circulate through the state legislatures. I don't like the concept of a living constitution, but it has become almost necessary since our constitution is a bit outdated in various ways and it is nearly politically impossible to pass amendments. At the same time, there are a set of amendments that I think would garner super majority support (e.g. more restrictive eminent domain and a modern equal rights amendment, etc.). None of these have enough political pressure to pass individually, but if they were part of a bigger process, maybe so.

    With the power of the Internet I think you could get a lot of movement -- viral youtube videos are the new Common Sense. And perhaps more importantly it could engender a higher level of political discourse (at least for some time) as debates could ensue around particular language. Whereas bills are hundreds of pages and almost indecipherable legalese, amendments are generally short and sweet. While I disagree that one should have an up or down vote on a Modern Bill of Rights, I still think they could be packaged in such a way to create a possibility of actually passing. 

  2. We should have gone to Mars already and should accelerate plans to do so because it will more greatly ensure our survival as a species.

What is a great company no one has started?

  1. For a long time my answer was a crowd-sourced house remodeling site where if you wanted to remodel your kitchen you could go and see all these ideas. However, it looks like someone has done that now somewhat successfully at Houzz. Nevertheless, they haven't executed on the broader vision which was to enable you to upload a picture of your say garage or mantle and have it automatically show you different ways it could look via photo manipulation and inserting real products. There are software packages that enable you to build models of your home, but none have gone far enough for my tastes with automation and inclusion of real products.

  2. Since that idea is arguably started and doesn't qualify, a bigger one I have in mind is a Wikipedia for premises and facts that underlie ideas. I'm not talking about the long-tail approach that Factual is taking. Think about political conversations you have around things like Social Security. They are usually ridiculous because we don't start from the same basic facts and premises. This undertaking would serve to educate and deliver an agreed upon starting point to be a jumping off point for those conversations. The second layer would be a place to coalesce ideas/innovations on top of that starting point. Our presidents are always saying, if you have good ideas, we'll listen. But I feel there is no good place to showcase, share, and form those good ideas. The third layer is then more of a kickstarter for ideas, but then you could relay it back to the first layer and thus have more of a real underpinning. Reading this back, it is obviously very unformed and arguably one big ramble :).

Why will the 20th talented person to join your company join your company? They'll make more money at Google, Google will look better on their resume -- why would they join?

I've been thinking about this one a lot recently as we've been building out our team at DuckDuckGo. I think ultimately by 20 people it has to come down to product vision and culture. Product vision is often relatively clear by this point, but that culture piece is one of those things that is very hard to write down on paper. So the short answer is they will join because they like our product vision and culture and want nothing more than to be a part of it. But what is that magic culture? For us it seems to be (and this is of course evolving):
  • A flat place where people can easily take ownership of something (or even think it up) and almost instantly run with it. The negative of that is that it is a bit of sink or swim.
  • A collaborative place where there is a lot of cross-communication and helping out/learning/teaching on various topics. The negative on that is that you will be required to get out of your comfort zone.
  • An open place where transparency, privacy and connecting directly with users is highly valued. The negative on that is a lot of people aren't used to dealing with customers directly -- I think it ultimately is great but it can be a bit of an acquired taste.
  • A flexible place where it doesn't matter too much how you live and work as long as you're contributing positively. The negative on that is that there isn't a lot of structure and so you have to be somewhat self-motivated.
  • An impactful place where you can quickly make a real and big impact on the product. The negative on that is that it can be a bit daunting and you can quickly get slapped in the face with edge cases and stuff that doesn't work in production.
  • A fun place because the first 19 people were awesome and share a passion for the product vision. In our case that vision is a better search engine with way more instant answers, way less spam, a cleaner less-cluttered interface and real privacy. 
I just did this post stream of consciousness so I'm sure the thinking in it will evolve over time (especially the culture part). But that's sort of the point of the questions, isn't it?

How would you answer one, two or all of them?


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I'm the Founder & CEO of DuckDuckGo, the search engine that doesn't track you. I'm also the co-author of Traction, the book that helps you get customer growth. More about me.