Photo: Flickr/Kevin Krejci
Aaron Levie is the classic Silicon Valley story.He’s a super smart college dropout who, at 27, is running a 500+ employee startup valued at over $1 billion. He’s a living example of why Libertarian billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel created his no-college Thiel Fellowship program.
So, surprise! Levie isn’t a fan of the Thiel Fellowship, he told Business Insider when we talked with him at his new Box headquarters this week.
He’s also not a fan of people dropping out of college for the most part—unless they do it at the right time for the right reasons.
Here’s what he told us:
BI: So you famously dropped out of college yourself to run Box. Would you go back?
AL: I would definitely not go back.
BI: There’s a whole thing that Peter Thiel is advocating about college not being the best choice. What do you think of Thiel’s Fellowship?
AL: Peter Thiel has an amazing point which is the cost of college is not correlated with the value you get later on. It’s a flawed model. It should correlate with your expected earnings, or should correlate with the job market. Unfortunately it just keeps incrementing up and people are basically taxed for the next 20 years in paying off student loans. I think he’s right about all that.
I don’t think the solution is to drop out of college.
It doesn’t do anything to solve the problem of college. It creates a conversation which is useful. But it would be more useful to create a conversation about the actual problem, rather than some kind of weird route that very few people are going to be able to take. I think the Thiel Fellowship is cool and clever but does nothing to solve the systemic issue that we have about colleges.
BI: Would you insist your kids go to college when, and if, the time comes for that?
AL: Yeah. College is critically important.
The other problem with the Thiel Fellowship is that the people drop out of college prior to executing their idea. So they propose an idea and then they drop out to do it. If you look at the successful dropouts in history—whether that’s Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or whatever—they do the idea first. It gets traction and then they drop out.
I can’t tell you how many people get an idea that doesn’t take off. Unfortunately this is going to produce a lot of people that are college drop outs that don’t actually have the idea that’s taking off that they can go spend time on. It’s not the right sequence. I think it’s cool and I don’t think it’s going to harm these kids—these kids are usually pretty freakin’ smart, so they’ll do fine. But it doesn’t help solve the actual problem.