College major: Mathematics
I majored in mathematics and really had no idea what I would do with it. My father was a math Ph.D. and so it just seemed like the thing to do. I was fairly good at it and there were no papers or reading or research, all of which would have interfered with my more important priorities in college. Despite that complete lack of thoughtful career planning, I actually found that mathematics has been surprisingly helpful in the business world.
None of the specifics that I learned really did much good, because let’s face it, nothing we do really stretches your mathematical skills beyond Algebra I. I cannot remember the last time I needed to know how to find an integral or break out some clever trigonometry. However, higher level math courses really do teach you how to think and approach complicated problems from different angles. It becomes less and less about calculating and getting “answers” and more and more about proofs and connections and finding contradictions to assumptions. Those skills come into play in almost everything we do and so it wound up being more useful than I might have expected.
College major: Science in human culture
I don’t have a traditional major, and I am certain that my unique college experience greatly helped me succeed as a journalist and an investor.
You see, I majored in science in human culture, a multi-disciplinary major that analyzed the impact that science and technology has had on history, medicine, engineering, psychology, literature and society. I dived into the history of science in literature, the nuances of human computer interfaces, the history of medicine and how society deals with the ethical concerns that arise from new technologies.
I wanted to be on the management end of science and technology, rather than the research end. And that’s exactly what happened with my career. It wasn’t long until I became the co-editor of Mashable, the largest independent technology news site in the world.
Now I’m using those experiences as managing partner of DominateFund, an early-stage venture fund I founded with two seasoned entrepreneurs, to identify startups that will be embraced by society at large. My combination of science, business and social knowledge has helped me project the impact a technology will have down the road, and it has helped me rise to the top of the ranks in Silicon Valley.
I believe I have a broader and more long-term view on technology investments, thanks to my science in human culture major.
College major: German Literature
Although I did eventually get an MBA, my college major has also been useful and for many reasons, I would not have changed it. Not simply because I occasionally speak German when appropriate or that it can be helpful in the lift queues at Garmisch, but also for applying certain situations found in literature to due diligence.
Goethe has proved particularly useful in this regard. I would cite the classic quote from “Goetz Von Berlichingen” as one example; and from “Faust, Part 1”, the ramifications of the Faust’s saying “Verweile doch, du bist so schoen” in his pact with the devil.
I will leave it to your readers to use their intellectual curiosity to understand what I mean, but this has saved me in more than one general partners meeting.
SL Capital Partners
College major: Economics
With my economics degree there were certain courses that I found fascinating, however, in my view economics is more of an art than a science. As George Bernard Shaw said, “If all the economists were laid end to end, they'd never reach a conclusion.” One course in particular I enjoyed was behavioral economics and understanding the emotional, social and psychological factors which can impact the decisions of individuals or institutions. This can be particularly relevant for private equity when considering management's, fund's and investor's alignment of interest.
I found Econometrics rather dry and laborious given the computing power available to us in the 90s. I suspect much of the analysis which we ran on the department's computers could now be done in a fraction of the time on an iPhone. That said, I have found it useful to have a solid foundation in econometrics which has allowed me to better understand and interrogate analysis.
One of my favorite courses was Economic history. I think it's critical, particularly when involved in any asset class such as private equity that can be cyclical, to be aware of experiences from the past as there are always lessons to be learnt.