Many of you know that I hate the word kids. It's like nails on a chalkboard to me. Drives me nutz. People apologize to me when the word slips from their mouths like salty sailors apologize for dropping f-bombs, "Sorry, not kids. I mean young people. Young people, right!"
And don't get me started on the adults who run programs for young people and call them "kids" -- to me it's a gigantic tell about respect and admiration, and in this case, a lack thereof. I have such a disdain for this word because it belittles the very real contributions of young people and dampens their potential. There’s also a self-aggrandizing logical inference at play. Because they're "just kids" then adult contributions must somehow be more real and important.
Last week at the Conrad Challenge (a fantastic teen innovation program) a woman behind me said privately to her friend, "You know we're going to be calling these kids 'boss' someday." I could hear the smile in her tone -- because she's right and she knows it. I smiled too -- she gets it.
But here I am, breaking my own rule for the subject of my first substack because I really have even more faith that "the kids are alright." These lyrics were made famous by The Who (ask your parents; Michael’s rock idol Eddie Vedder also covered the song in the 90s). But as a phrase, it proved popular with sports journalists in the 1970s to describe rookie phenoms -- and I'm seeing the same thing but more with younger and younger makers.
As we launch 1517 Fund III the energy is flowing. We brought on our fifth team member, Haylee (hi Haylee!); launched our 1517 Medici Project; we're back on the road with workshops; hosting our summit in July(!); making angel and preseed investments; Michael’s book launch is October 25; and best of all we're kicking off all kinds of new programs and really tripling down on what we do best -- supporting and inspiring young people to get started!
More than ever, Gen Z knows that they have agency over what they do -- and they make plain their belief that one person isn’t just the plaything of forces larger than themselves, but can really change their personal trajectory in a positive direction. While at the Conrad Challenge, Nick and I met a team working to support firefighters in getting better information and communication across their deployed teams. Over dinner we sprang into our old Medici ways, casually asking "So, what would you do with a thousand dollars?" Minutes later we were exchanging info so we could get them a grant. The next day their mentor came to us, "What you did yesterday really meant a lot to my teens. They are so excited to go further now and have your support."
For the last month, 1517 has experimented with a Teen Founder Coffee Hour on Saturday mornings. It's for teens who have a desire and will to build. They have passions, projects, interests, and some have growing startups -- and they long for community. A group of like minded peers hurtling through a future at the hand of their own creation.
"How and where do we take meetings while we have school classes?" [And I learned that the bathroom is a popular spot]
"What's something the adults in your life don't understand? What's a belief you hold in opposition to them?"
"How do I manage a team of people twice my age?"
“What mindset do I need to cultivate once I’ve raised money?” [Who asks that?!]
These teens are hungry for the nuts and bolts -- it's what separates them from the hype. They don't want to hack prestige to look good for college apps or young founder awards, they want to understand life and professional lessons that they can implement right now to carry forward. They are building the future in their present. They aren’t waiting for someone else to give them permission once they’ve passed a personal or professional threshold – they’re just doing it now, because, why not?
They ask a lot about how to shift their mindset to get to where they want to go -- they already understand that we are often the one's holding ourselves back. The self awareness and responsibility is very high in this group which inspires me greatly.
And believe me, they come back the next week advancing on their questions and progress from the previous one.
And we've had some amazing founders, all previous teen makers, who have taken a similar path:
Shahed Khan from Loom jumped in to share the importance of building quickly and iterating. He reflected on his teen years and shared stories about not being understood for his drive and seeming crazy passion to build a company -- but he did it anyway against the odds and against the wishes of his family. And he shared that as a company grows, so do the challenges and responsibilities -- so the leaders must grow with and ahead of those changes to keep up.
Stacey Ferreira from My Social Cloud and Forge shared the importance of mindset and great management skills. We talked about how she was able to bring in the first set of capital for her startup by attending a philanthropy event with Richard Branson. And how she worked with her brother to build and sell their first company at 19-years-old. Today, as a leader at GameStop managing over 200 people on her team, she's a huge proponent for setting culture with teams and learning how to build and maintain trust with employees who have worked at the company almost as long as she has been alive.
Micah Green is the founder of Tailos, a robotics company that makes a mini self driving car to do industrial cleaning. We learned from him that founders have to be in it for the long haul especially in deep tech. After six years of R&D they are scaling their sales and now growing from being an R&D lab to a real business working with customers and focused on mass adoption. He shared the very real numbers of how supply chain issues have effected his business and lastly how founders have to be focused on the long term, he’s spent 1/3 of his life working on Tailos — it’s a big commitment.
Cory Levy founder of After School and investor with Z Fellows, shared his life tips with us. Don't know enough about a topic? Build a meetup or event around it! Start where you can -- for example the first event that Cory hosted that turned into Internapalooza, was just tens of people hanging out together before it turned into a five thousand person event with lines outside of the ballpark in SF. Most importantly he told us that he met some of his closest friends when he was a teen -- they all grew in success together and knew that they could go to each other for everything because they became friends before they became known as successful people.
Cory is right and it amazes me to see who jumps on our discord chat and think "gosh, some of these people are going to make great contributions to others. And even if they don't make it, I know they are trying." The effort counts for a lot because it's often not the first, second, third, fourth, etc. thing that is successful. It's the nth and we don't know when that will be.
What has started as a month-long experiment is blooming into a real community -- a place for these teens to gather, collaborate, and learn together. We're planning future build sessions where we make together, guest speakers as before, chill spaces for hanging out, 30 day challenges to support each other in shared goals, etc.
This community will grow and change over time but we are really excited to be focusing on what we do best to work with people before anyone else knows who they are -- even themselves. And a huge shout out to Jai, a teen from New Delhi, who reached out to me months ago wanting us to create a position for him on the 1517 team. I appreciated his gusto, but I had no idea who he was or if we would gel together. I proposed that he propose a project for us to work on together as a starting point – and long story short, the Teen Founder Coffee hour was it! Thank you for your leadership and persistence Jai!
So there is good news and bad news:
The good news is that we are going to continue to grow this community! We want this community to be a great place to get that nudge you need to move forward with your ideas, cheer you on as you try new things, troubleshoot problems, and make everyday a win because you tried something new. It’s about building authentic character and working towards making a meaningful contribution – and that can start with building in your bedroom. As a community we will build norms and protocols together to keep it a wonderful place to grow and learn.
The bad news is that if you're looking for a group with badges, some buzz you can put on twitter (“I’m in __”), or fake belonging like joining the blockchain club for the resume bump, this group isn't for you. We won't be Punishing by Rewards and extinguishing your own motivations for false ones. No prizes for "getting in" or looking cool -- this isn't a popularity contest.
So the great news is that if you don’t like looking cool, this group is definitely for you! Because we’re definitely not cool or trying to be. Trying to be cool is inauthentic. To quote one of my favorite movies, Almost Famous, “the only real currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with each other when we’re uncool.” It’s such a great movie. It’s about an uncool teen who gets swept up into the industry of cool amid the hype of rock n’ roll stardom. Some interesting parallels for today (cough *web3*)! It’s also based off the director’s own experience being a young journalist. The thing I admire most about this movie is that every character has a growth ark — check it out!
Anyway, back to our community…
If you’re a teen looking for a place to contribute and learn with peers, we’d love to hear from you!
Have a young sibling or know a teen this would resonate with? Share this with them!
Know someone shy that you think would make some great friends with other builder teens? We’re happy to reach out to them!
We’d love to hear from you! Email us (first name @1517fund.com) or send us a 5 minute Loom!
1517 is here to support you really early on your journey and we’re excited to build this new decade with Fund III (as it’s a ten year timeline!). Let’s build together!