Looking for the remarkable

Last week I visited Wash U in St Louis for a couple of days. The Skandalaris Center was kind enough to invite me to speak with their students and members of the community (you can see tweets from my talk here). In a nutshell, I was blown away. I likely learned more from them than they did from me and it came at a much needed time.

In the business of venture capital, it’s sometimes easy to forget how remarkable people can be, until you’re reminded otherwise. Unfortunately, the job of a VC often requires looking for the holes in ideas and it’s not unlikely to get “tech fatigue” or become a cynic after seeing a plethora of watered down versions of the same idea. Until you’re reminded otherwise.

From the graduate student who immigrated from Iran and is struggling to get his first seed check to the junior who created a drag-and-drop encryption tool inspired by Apple’s San Bernardino case to the team working on innovative Alzheimer’s solutions that only wanted to know about my hobbies to the sophomore engineer who just won $25k for figuring out how to condense humidity into drinkable water; everyone had their own story, path, and purpose. Not to mention, everyone was still in college but already pushing the limits of their own capabilities. For me, it was inspiring to see each of their stories unfolding and a gift to become a new chapter in those stories. It was a reminder of why I do what I do.

This role allows me to be inspired every day and hopefully help people make an impact greater than anything I could do with my own two hands. In that way, I’m equal parts altruistic and selfish.

After being consistently impressed by every student I met, I couldn’t help but wonder if these were the exceptionally remarkable ones or if students at large are pushing boundaries further and faster than ever before, or both. Probably both.

It made me wonder how their work/school/life balance looked. We often talk about work/life balance as adult professionals but college students almost struggle more, having to juggle the pleasure and enjoyment of college with the pressure to succeed, pave their own path, find internships, projects to work on, and still go to class. My concern for their resounding work ethic was eventually put to ease over a Natty Light and a late night game of FIFA in a dorm room (because some things never change), but I respect most the ones of them who can balance work/life/and play with ease.

As the cliche goes, you need to invest in people, not things. Everyone hears that, agrees with it, and appreciates it at face value but it wasn’t until recently that I absorbed how true that is. Last week was a reminder to continue to set the bar remarkably high in both work and play, because there’s so much of the remarkable still out there waiting to be discovered. While I get the privilege to look for it professionally, we should all be looking for it constantly.

The realization here is not to wait until you’re forced to see otherwise; the realization is that until you look for otherwise, you won’t see it.

Thanks for forcing me see it and reminding me to look for it, Wash U community. And a special thanks to Stephanie Mertz and Allen Osgood for showing me around for two days and even beating me in a game of FIFA (barely).