Rohit Krishnan has an interesting new essay, “On Medici and Thiel
” that argues in favour of “Medici-style” patronage of talented individuals at scale. The core thesis is, first, that exceptional individuals need time and space to pursue projects that have no immediate goal but might ultimately have outsized impact and, second, that the best mechanism for this is financial support from wealthy individuals. Krishnan points to the extraordinary success of the Thiel Fellowship
and asks why this hasn’t been scaled, by Peter Thiel or anyone else.
Long time readers won’t be surprised to hear that I’m sympathetic - and, indeed, Krishnan (who I don’t know) calls out Entrepreneur First
as one of the closest models to what he has in mind. But not quite:
Goal orientedness is kind of the name of the game [at EF] and the grant itself is de minimis. If the program was ostensibly longer and/or more diverse in its intake this could be the very ticket!
This resonates. I think the key question is what kinds of outcomes you’re looking for. If - like the Thiel Fellowship - it’s primarily company building, I don’t think philanthropy is necessary. A more open-ended iteration of EF might be tricky to package as a traditional LP-backed fund (our current business model), but I think for less than $100m you could build a fairly scalable (and very profitable) evergreen capital version of it.
It gets trickier if you’re looking for non-company-building outcomes, like exceptional achievement in science or the arts. As we discussed in TiB 127
, the VC risk/reward profile is hard to make work outside startups. It requires benefactors who are willing to measure the magnitude, not the frequency, of success, even though (unlike in VC) you can’t use the upside of the wins to pay for the losses. But perhaps as tech entrepreneurs become a larger and larger share of the world’s wealthiest people, power law
-savvy philanthropists will become increasingly easy to find…