Tim Draper ’76 Discusses Risk-Taking And Entreprenuerial Spirit

Whether he is belting out his original song “The Riskmaster,” investing in global markets for the first time or starting his own eight-week university for entrepreneurs, Tim Draper ’76 defines himself as someone who thinks outside of the box.

At his presentation and question and answer session on Friday night, Draper discussed his experiences as a creative entrepreneur and venture capitalist, as well as his decision to found a new school for entrepreneurs, Draper University, in 2012. Starting this year, the university will hold three eight-week sessions during the academic year and one six-week session during the summer.

Draper hopes the school will foster a new generation of entrepreneurs, focusing not only on the academic side of building a startup, such as finance, public speaking and marketing, but also on the “survival skills” needed to succeed as an entrepreneur.

“Every day is different at Draper University. One day you’ll be interviewing entrepreneurs, and the next day you’ll be in a yoga class, and the next day you’ll be cooking, and then there’s survival camping, and ‘deathball’… and at the end, you pitch [an idea] to a panel of venture capitalists for two minutes,” Draper said.

Andover served as the inspiration for Draper University’s boarding school-like campus. “I thought, ‘Well, Andover was so great, what a great experience we all had; I should start something like that in my experience,’” Draper said.

Draper said that the liberal arts experience helped him in the world of venture capital and entrepreneurship. “At Andover, I learned poetry; I learned acting, music, all these wide things. Having this broad swath of learning really helped me,” said Draper.

The founding of Draper University is only the latest in a string of Draper’s risky yet highly successful projects. Draper was one of the first venture capitalists to invest beyond the United States in countries such as India, Estonia, China, Russia, Singapore and Ukraine. Draper argued that the globalization of venture capital, the amount of money invested in relatively new or risky start ups, helps increase competition and quality of innovation.

For example, after initially unsuccessful investments in China, Draper said, “We decided to back entrepreneurs that were extraordinary in one way or another. They had this energy, this enthusiasm, and they wanted to work their hardest to succeed.” With this credo, Draper invested in Baidu, the hugely successful Chinese search engine often referred to as the “Google of China.”

“Nowadays, there is a huge demand for creativity. Because now, if you come up with an idea, it’s going to spread around the world faster than it ever could,” Draper said.

With regards to investing in Russia, Draper said that the communist past of the country affected its business culture. “Imagine being an entrepreneur, and your parents, their parents and their parents all believe that business is bad. Then, there’s no hope for a country,” he said.

“If you focus down on need, you get culture of need, and if you focus on opportunity, you get a culture of opportunity,” he continued.

Draper also emphasized the importance of innovation and thinking beyond what is typically accepted. According to him, great entrepreneurs are iconoclasts. “I also like markets where there is a company like the post office, or ‘the neighborhood’ that you never thought would change, ever, that we now see being redefined by e-mail and Facebook,” said Draper.

One market Draper hopes will be redefined is the government, which he believes is responsible for over-regulation of business. For example, when Draper purchased an old hotel with the hopes of turning it into Draper University, he later found out he had to pay large sums of money for “change of use” permits.

“The government has been a monopoly for too long; it really needs competition,” said Draper, who hopes his as well as other’s entrepreneurial efforts will provide this.