March 3, 2021

A Very Specific Thesis

We have a very specific thesis at 1517 Fund: we focus on backing founders without degrees. While we’re happy to work with and support those with degrees and those currently in school, we exist to support those who otherwise wouldn’t get a second look from traditional investors due to their credential status.

This is intentional. When Michael and Danielle cofounded the Thiel Fellowship back in 2010, it was nearly impossible to land a meeting with Sand Hill Road firms without some kind of pedigree. It was even harder for younger founders. Even since then, despite big talk about backing founders without degrees, many firms still defer to scouts at top schools or some other similar credential.

Fellows from those first few Thiel Fellowship classes built and continue to build world-changing companies (like Luminar) and many still struggled to land those important first few meetings with the traditional tracked institutions for capital. This is even though a disproportionate percentage of the largest venture-backed technology companies in history were founded by founders without impressive credentials or a laundry list of experience.

That’s why 1517 Fund exists. While most capital fights for scraps among the same credentialing institutions and corporate tracks, we prioritize working with the founders who otherwise wouldn’t get a second look due to a checkbox on a worn-out diligence checklist.

We sometimes say we also work with founders “outside of tracked institutions.” We’re looking to back those founders whose backstories are strange or aren’t going to be seen as impressive by credentialists at a cocktail party.

That also means we’ll work with founders earlier than most firms and get as many leading indicators about their competence as possible. We have a community of 3,000+ people, all of whom we’ve met and vetted, for this reason. If we meet somebody when they’re a college freshman, it may be years until they’re actually raising money.

But between our community, our grant program, and working with our existing portfolio companies, we’ll have better indicators of that person’s abilities than a line on a resume. We tell our LPs that we're pros in "talent identification" for this reason. You can learn more about a person through building a community and tracking them over time than you can about where they went to school.

This doesn’t mean that if you have a degree we won’t work with you — we’re just not going to be impressed by that like some other firm may. We’ll break our thesis occasionally — for teams we know really well with great opportunities and for deep tech plays (we make a few deep tech investments every year) — but, ceteris paribus, we’ll focus on working with those outside of traditional, tracked institutions.