Thiel Fellow Dale Stephens Drops Out (Of College), Moves In (To Silicon Valley), And Starts Up (Talent-Scouting RadMatter)

Quitting college at 18 to move to Silicon Valley and pursue your startup is the stuff of Hollywood dreams. Now add a billionaire benefactor—PayPal founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel—bankrolling you and under pressure to prove that entrepreneurship can rival Harvard as a path to success. The inaugural class of Thiel Fellows is blogging about their experiences for Fast Company. Here is Dale Stephens's story.

Dale StephensI'm not special.

Last Tuesday I was sitting in San Francisco International Airport, waiting to board my flight to speak at TEDxPlazaCibeles in Madrid and the man sitting next to me asked, "What do you do?"

I responded, "I lead a social movement changing the notion that college is the only path to success." Before I could say that the movement was called UnCollege, he said, "Oh you got one of those $100,000 fellowships, didn't you?"

I was impressed, but dismissed it as a matter of coincidence. I figured that the Thiel Fellowship was better publicized in Silicon Valley—the heart of technology entrepreneurship—than in other parts of the world. But while I was in Madrid the same thing happened. At dinner, the wife of one of the speakers again asked what I do, and I responded with the same line. She exclaimed, "I heard you on National Public Radio last week!" I was shocked.

Five months ago, before UnCollege, before the Thiel Fellowship, before speaking at conferences, before being interviewed on a regular basis by national media outlets, this wouldn't have happened. Before I left college, one of my fellow classmates wrote me an email telling me I had "fallen into an elaborate fantasy and need to wake up." Yes, I live in a dream world, but why do I need to wake up? While my "fantasy" continues I'm going to have as big an impact as possible.

For me, impact means empowering everyone to hack their education and change the world, irrespective of the letters after your name. UnCollege, the social movement I lead, is developing resources and a community to help students take their education beyond the real world. I'm an evangelist for RadMatter, the platform revolutionizing how people and institutions develop and demonstrate talent. I'm writing a book that gives people a framework to gain the street skills requisite for success in today's global entrepreneurial economy.

Naysayers like to dismiss me as an outlier, telling me I'm the 1% of the population that can succeed without a college degree. That's false. I didn't start out with any special connections, I didn't go to an Ivy League school, I'm not a genius, my parents aren't rich, and I didn't graduate from college at 14. If you call me "special" it's only because I learned early to live by the words of Mark Twain and "have never let my schooling interfere with my education."

Dale Stephens was homeschooled and then unschooled. Now he wants to build a platform called RadMatter to revolutionize how we develop and demonstrate talent in the 21st century. At 19, he is a non-conformist in most aspects of his life.

Read about other Thiel fellows. 

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8 Comments

  • Loni Nguyen

    I'm glad Dale got multi-billionaires backing his ambitions. I had lived the UNCOLLEGE life and had my own business that he's writing a book about. It can be done but society we live in this generation value the college degree vs. the talent you have. I look forward to reading how he is going to lead this social movement and map the world image of credibility without a college degree.  

  • Free Enterprise

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    Thanks Dale for sharing your thinking on the current education system and for paving this unconventional path for future entrepreneurs. I work with the Campaign for Free Enterprise, a project of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and we encourage innovation among small business owners and entrepreneurs. Undoubtedly your choice to drop out of college and lead this social movement will challenge many people to rethink our hire education system. Thanks again for your post! 

    -Hilary,

    www.freeenterprise.com

    www.facebook.com/AmericanFreeE...

  • Free Enterprise

    Thanks, Dale, for sharing your thinking
    on the current education system and for paving this unconventional path for
    future entrepreneurs. I work with the Campaign
    for Free Enterprise, a project of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and
    we encourage innovation among small business owners and entrepreneurs. Your
    choice to drop out of college and lead this social movement should challenge
    many people to rethink our higher education system. 

     

    -Hilary,

    www.freeenterprise.com

    www.facebook.com/AmericanFreeE...

  • dave

    While you can't discount what Dale is doing and the impact of social media and the internet, it strikes me as ironic that one of the people he cites heard him on the radio and that he is going to write a book. Maybe he is not as "out there" as he thinks.

  • Mike Sullivan

    I also thought the piece was by Anya, but just because it reads like the
    untested, buzzword-heavy, insight-light material she mills out.  I checked out the totality of the RadMatter website: "Welcome! We're thrilled to launch soon."

    Two of my sons have been foot soldiers in the vanguard of Dale's social movement and they didn't even know it.  I still love them.

  • Bette Boomer

    Dale Stephens is just one of many who, like the baby boomer generation of revolutionary & forward thinkers, reinforce our belief that, like this extraordinary tech savvy entrepreneurial young man, our planet is in good hands and will continue to change for the better. Paul Thiel & his fellowships are another example of what we boomers call, doing good AND living well.

  • Michael Feldstein

    It's not immediately obvious to the reader that this piece is written by Dale and not Anya, particularly given her by-line at the top and her name and picture at the bottom. I suggest putting a prominent notice of authorship at the top of the piece.

  • Kevin Ohannessian

    Agreed. We have updated the byline and the intro to make it more clear. Thanks, Michael.