Part of my role at Upstart is to talk to people interested in participating in our program as upstarts or backers. Interestingly one of the first questions I get from people on both sides is about what’s in it for the backers. Is this purely a financial investment for them? If so, is the return great enough to bear the risk? And if not, what else do they get for participating? From my conversations, our backers are not looking exclusively - or even primarily - for a financial return on their investment. Like everyone their motivations are complex (for more on what motivates people, check out this TED Talk by Dan Pink).
I find they are looking for two things outside of the return. First is the chance to allow someone to pursue their dreams. Many of our backers have had that opportunity and they want to give that chance to others. Second is the chance to be involved as mentors and advisors to the upstarts they are backing. They know that good advice or an opened door at the right time can make a huge difference - and often mentors get as much value out of these relationships as they give. We want to encourage our backers to provide value to their upstarts, which is why one of the first things we ask a backer to do when they decide to join the program is to write a letter to themselves then they were 20.
Many people have lamented over the years “if I had only known then what I know now...”. Obviously none of us can go back and talk to ourselves at 20 to give ourselves advice. But when we were talking to Hal Varian, the Chief Economist at Google, he pointed out that we could do something potentially even more powerful - we can give that advice to people who are like him when he was 20. We thought that was a phenomenal idea - and now every backer is asked to publish a letter to themselves at 20 as a part of their backer profile.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out those letter from our first batch of backers, I highly recommend it - they make a great read and you might even find a bit of wisdom in there that’s useful for you. You can see them all on our website at www.upstart.com.
Posted by Jeff Keltner, Business Development Lead