Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This week, Philadelphia hosted the first annual Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Summit, inviting over 1,500 of the world’s biggest entrepreneurs and innovators. Altogether, attendees’ net worth easily added up to many billions. One message echoed throughout the summit — if you want to change the world, youth is a unique advantage.
The summit celebrated the third year of Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 list, which highlights the top 30 players under 30 years old in 15 fields, from Hollywood to education to finance. All 30 Under 30 honorees and numerous individuals invited by Forbes gathered at the Philadelphia Convention Center for a four-day summit including a concert featuring Afrojack and Wiz Khalifa, speakers ranging from Malala Yousafzai to Monica Lewinsky to Palmer Luckey, a fashion show featuring the industry’s up-and-coming designers like Stephen Mikhail, Chanwong Kang, and Dom Streater, and a food festival celebrating the world’s top young culinary minds such as Sam Gorenstein and Jason Pfeifer.
The conference began with Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and the Thiel Fellowship, which provides under-20s with $100,000 if they drop out of college to pursue their startup dreams. Thiel offered several pieces of advice for attendees hoping to create a successful startup and reflected on his own road to success.
“I think there are too many bad businesses getting started and not enough good ones,” said Thiel. In order to create a good business, he suggests to do something nobody else can or would do rather than imitate a tried-and-true model. Throughout the summit, speakers often referred to themselves or their peers as “disrupters,” or entrepreneurs who changed the face of their industry with their businesses. Thiel encouraged attendees to be the next disrupter and find the thing that they, and they alone, can do and to not rely on luck. “Luck is like an atheistic word for God,” he said. “When we attribute things to luck, we could be thinking a little more.”
The summit focused on what it takes to create successful startups — from being one’s own boss to securing funding. In the panel “How to Be the Boss When You’ve Never Had a Boss,” panelists focused on the need to motivate your staff and get every team member deeply involved in a project.
Nick Taranto, co-founder of Plated.com said, “Get your team invested in their projects. Whether or not it’s equity, get them involved in something.” Additionally, panelists echoed the need for transparency and to avoid blocking oneself off from any employee. Taranto described his company’s weekly “town hall” meetings where offices from around the country attend a Google Hangout where they hear updates about the company and can ask questions about any department.
The summit also featured several notable speakers who described their rise to success and their plans moving forward. Monica Lewinsky delivered her first public speech at the summit. Already covered heavily in the media, Lewinsky made waves by announcing a new campaign to end cyberbullying once and for all as she referred to herself as the internet reputation shredder’s “patient zero” when her reputation was destroyed after her affair with President Clinton was revealed in the Drudge Report.
Sean Rad, creator of Tinder, spoke about the app’s future plans and announced that a paying version of the app will be available early next month. While he remained mum on what these “premium” features would include, Rad spoke at lengths about the possibilities Tinder’s technology can have for social interaction and what he calls, “discovery.” Rad described possible uses for networking, travel, and friendship — rather than the traditional romantic use for Tinder now.
Speaking in a Hawaiian shirt and jumping on and off the stage, Palmer Luckey, the 21-year-old creator of Oculus Rift, who, earlier this year, sold the technology to Facebook for $2 billion, exuded Silicon Valley techie stereotypes as he discussed his success. When starting to fund his invention, Luckey turned to Kickstarter rather than the more traditional venture capitalist route “because it, literally, was free money.” In the end, he owned 100% of the company he sold to Facebook and does not regret the Kickstarter roll out. In the coming months and years, he is confident that Oculus Rift can redefine how we use media similar to how to the telephone redefined communication.
But the most-anticipated and closing speaker of the summit was Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient and advocate for women’s education. Yousafzai — who was shot on her way home from school in Pakistan on October 9, 2012, and eventually became an international icon for anti-Taliban activists — spoke about the Malala Fund and what it was like growing up with international attention.
Yousafzai often remarked on how normal she felt: her brothers often teased her and her English teacher chastised her for not turning in homework after she had a “busy weekend” receiving the Nobel Prize. Yousafzai delivered several funny moments throughout her 45-minute talk — from joking that she’d be okay with inequality if it was women getting more rights than men to saying heads of states’ positive response to her movement is likely only political.
Yousafzai’s goal, though, is for education for all. She wants to encourage the “youngsters to ask questions” to challenge popular notions of who should receive education and why terrorism and violence exist. But perhaps her most impactful statement came towards the end of her speech when she said, “When I grow up, I’ll be the change.”
A palpable feeling of excitement, youth, and entrepreneurship permeated the summit, with #Under30Summit Tweets updating in real time on large screens on either side of the stage. Participants who managed to maintain the top 20 spots on the leaderboard for number of tweets received a special prize at the end, encouraging attendees to get involved on social media. Additionally, the Forbes event team created an app exclusively for attendees to connect, network, and share tips. The summit acted as both a networking event to find like-minded, successful professionals or pitch your idea to investors who were in attendance and a platform to hear young speakers from across the world.
Many of the speakers spoke to the advantage of being young and experienced: Jessica Matthews, founder of Uncharted Play and inventor of the Soccket, a soccer ball that generates electricity through kinetic energy, said many engineers told her the Soccket would be impossible to create, but she owed her success to not knowing where the boundaries were and trying to create something new. Many speakers advised to approach your job as if you knew nothing about it, often allowing room to question the way things are “traditionally” done.
Though not explicitly intended, strong themes of social responsibility permeated the conference. Speakers and panelists often spoke about not only creating a lucrative enterprise in a company, but also using that company as a cause for good. Attendees learned about how to create a global brand that carries a positive message and responsible practices in both companies and investments. John Paul DeJoria, co-Founder of the Patrón Spirits Company, John Paul Mitchell Systems, and ROK Mobile, said “When you make it, don’t forget: If you don’t share success, it’s a failure.”
Throughout the week, the Daily Gazette will continue to post content inspired by Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Summit. Tomorrow we will highlight some of the top businesses and young minds that we encountered at the 30 Under 30 Summit. Over the course of the coming days, we will have several pieces featuring personal thoughts and reflections about our time at the conference.
For more information about the summit or Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 list, visit http://www.forbes.com/under30.