What I learned Meeting 'the World's Youngest Venture Capitalist'

When he was a freshman at the University of Southern California, he made it onto television’s longest running gameshow, The Price is Right. Knowing nothing about the show, he stayed up studying it all night—instead of preparing for his upcoming finals. On The Price is Right, he finessed his way to winning a sail boat in the final round. He then sold the sailboat to finance his journey of tracking down the world’s most successful people. He would uncover the secrets of how they launched their careers. After reading an article about venture capitalist Ernestine Fu at 19 years old, he scoured the Internet to find her email address, reached out, and had a meeting with her soon after. Only a few weeks later, he had met with the firm’s founding partner and had been hired to Alsop Louie Partners, becoming a 19 year old venture capitalist.

This is the story of ‘the World’s Youngest Venture Capitalist.' This is the story of Alex Banayan.

I first discovered his story in a magazine at Northeastern University’s library a few years ago. As a kid from a low-income community with aspirations to rise above my environment, I was astonished by his success. His success was inspiration for me to create my own.

In the summer of 2015, I joined his Inner Circle where I receive updates regarding developments with his book and his interactions with the world’s most successful people. Within the first email I received, he shared his aspirations—and solicited mine. I thought, “Really? This is a standard email blast. You can’t possibly be interested in my dreams or actually spend the time to reply.” However, being inspired by his story, I thought “why not? I don’t have anything to lose.” So I decided to go ahead and share with him my ambitions to use entrepreneurship as a platform to pursue my passion for basketball by revolutionizing the way the game is played and the equity of the players involved. I also voiced my ultimate dream of uplifting my family and community while inspiring others to do the same.

A few days later, I checked my inbox to catch up on emails and I noticed an email coming from what appeared to be his email address. I proceeded to open it and was shocked to find out that it was really him. He first apologized for the late reply and then continued to share his thoughts on my dream. I definitely did not expect that.

We continued to correspond via email for the following year. He has graciously shared his experiences, given advice, and even shared a free link to the classic Think and Grow Rich. After watching his speech at IBM on YouTube, I thought “we have to bring him to Northeastern to inspire our community of go-getters, entrepreneurs, and innovators to chase after their dreams even when it can be irrational to do so. He’s someone we can relate to and his millennial story will easily resonate with the student body.”

For months of contacting administrators and programming board members, my attempts to bring him to the university were met with resistance and the plan eventually fell through. At that point, I shifted my focus back to my academics, extra-curricular activities, and job. I didn’t think much more about it.

I saw an advertisement on Facebook announcing that he would be in Boston as the keynote speaker for an event. The opportunity to hear him present would have been enough to attract me to attend the event but including the fact that it was free, there was no way I was going to miss it. (if you know me, you know that… if it’s for free, it’s for me.)

Alex was going to be keynoting Journey Re’s kickoff event in Boston. The purpose of the event is to raise awareness about Journey Re’s entrepreneurship competition, attract young innovators, and inspire the community with Alex’s personal story.

So, on April 14th, I headed to Boston’s Seaport and made my way to Artists for Humanity Epicenter to hear Alex’s keynote address on innovation and entrepreneurship.

Alex recounted his inspirational story and how he discovered that the world’s most successful people treat life and business like a nightclub. He explained the concept of the third door as follows:

 

There are always three ways to get in

 

1. THE FIRST DOOR:  “Where 99% of people wait in line, hoping to get in.”

 

2. THE SECOND DOOR: “Where celebrities and VIPs slip through.”

 

(Society makes you feel like these are the only two ways to get into the club.)

 

3. THE THIRD DOOR: “The door that you have to jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door a hundred times, crack open a window, sneak through the kitchen. There is always a way in.”

 

Here are a few of the things I learned from his speech and meeting him:

Pick up the Phone

 

Bill Gates and Microsoft almost never become what it is today, had Gates not picked up the phone. Gates saw an advertisement for a microcomputer and sent a letter to the company trying to sell software that had not yet been developed. The company replied expressing their interest in doing business with the upstart company. However, the letter contained a Seattle address and Gates was away at school in Cambridge so he did not see it. Later on, Gates and his best friend, Paul Allen, decided they were going to follow-up by calling the company but were too frightened to do so. They argued back and forth about who would be the one to do so until they finally came up with a solution—Gates would call… BUT, pretend he was Paul Allen. Gates made the call and was able to convince the company to bring them in for a demonstration. They did this, closed the sale, and then got to work feverishly writing the code they had just sold.

Alex told this story of Gates and urged us to ‘pick up the phone.’ To identify our pick up the phone moment—the thing that frightens us but that we all know we need to do to achieve our goals—and to set a hard deadline to keep us on track and motivate us to accomplish it by a certain date.

What is your pick up the phone moment? You must’ve had something come to mind. Whatever it is, write it down and set a deadline to go out and accomplish it!

Listen to the whisper

 

In life there is a lot of noise. Noise can be pressure from parents to pursue a safe career, advice from advisors to do what they think, or criticism and doubt from people that don’t want to see you succeed. Most times, this noise drowns out the voice in our head telling us to do the thing that we love—the thing that is “irrational.” The thing that is risky and goes against conventional wisdom but will bring us the most happiness. If we do not listen carefully then we may start to believe the outside comments and cede to a life that we are not happy with.

So, listen to the whisper. Take chances. Allow yourself to be irrational. Be audacious enough to go after your dreams. If not, you will live a life like most of society that chose to do the safe, rational thing.

Inside Man

 

The final thing I learned is the concept of the ‘inside man.’ The inside man is the person that can get you into the club. It could be someone you know, or a stranger, but they have the power to help you get your foot in the door. First, you must identify who your inside man is. Once you identify who it is, you must figure out how you are going to approach them, and in what way they will be able to help you to get inside the club.

Go ahead and think of your inside man (or woman). This is probably someone that has a job at the company you want to work for, has accomplished something that you aspire to do, or someone that can make a life altering introduction for you…

Have someone in mind? This is the person you must reach out to, to help assist you to achieve your dream.

Banayan.JPG

 

Alex has applied the previous three lessons in his life and it has enabled him to be in the position he is in today.

The story of Alex Banayan is an obsure one by conventional standards but not unlike the stories of Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, and Lady Gaga—people who chose to go against the grain and create their own avenues to success rather than travel the logical path—the one that tends to lead to mediocrity.

The success stories of these public figures and many more—Pitbull, Sugar Ray Leonard, Peter Guber—and the secrets to how they launched their careers will be detailed in his upcoming book. As an avid reader, I am excited to get my hands on a copy so I can learn more lessons like the ones previously mentioned and get an inside look at what it takes to achieve the highest level of success in life.  

I encourage you to take the third door that Alex speaks of and overcome the challenges of doing so. There is always a third door but it is different for everyone. Just as you seek to achieve success by opening up the third door, I will be doing the same.

Like the Price is Right, behind closed doors is everything you ever dreamed of, it is just up to you to open it up.