Thiel Fellowship Semifinalist Advice

I wrote some advice about the first round of the Thiel Fellowship. Here’s some advice for all of the semifinalists this year. I haven’t passed any of this by the Thiel Foundation and these are all just personal viewpoints. For full disclosure, I am interviewing some of the semifinalists myself.


You will go through two interviews in the next 10 days. Each one will last about an hour. Make sure to be very flexible with your schedule and accommodate your interviewer. Your interviewer will be either a Thiel Fellow or a mentor. These people have full-time jobs and are volunteering some of their time because they care so much about this program. Make sure to respect that and give them a full hour of your time if need be.

One of your interviews will be a “technical” interview. This means they will pair you up with someone who is very knowledgeable in your field and they will be grilling you about your background and expertise. Make sure you come well-prepared to this interview and even bring previous projects/papers you’ve worked on in this field if possible. Your other interview will be a “general” interview. This means we’re looking for someone that is a good cultural fit. Relax, talk about yourself, and make sure you explain why you’re so excited to apply for the Thiel Fellowship. Huge plus if you’ve already been participating in the community and have come to some of the summits.

 Written Application:

List your latest project pitch (this should be clear and concise):

Pretty standard question. This really shouldn’t be more than 2 or 3 sentences at most. Make sure to describe why your product is important not what it is, i.e. we allow people to fly and achieve their full emotional potential, not we make hoverboards.

Reflect on your two sentence pitches in your original application. How are your 3 month goals coming along since you applied? What have you learned in the process of working towards your 3 month goal? If your goal has significantly changed please reflect on those changes below.

This is the most important question on the update. The Fellowship wants to fund people who can actually execute. It’s been two months since you last applied. Yes you’re taking a full class load, but you better have accounted for that when you set your 3-month goal. The more concrete of answer you can give, the better, i.e. built a prototype, here is the link or connected with this mentor or applied to this program.

Who advises you regularly? How have you used this person’s feedback to make progress?

One of the most effective aspect of the Thiel Fellowship is the mentor network they pull together. They want to see that you have managed mentor relationships before and have actually adjusted your life course based on advice they’ve given you. Again, the more concrete of answer you can give the better. If you can point to a specific piece of advice you followed or specific introduction you asked for from you mentor that they gave, that would be best.

List your plans for the next month. Star the plans that will be most challenging and share your strategy for meeting those challenges.

Second-most important question on the application. If you make it to the finalist round, they will be looking at what you’ve said here and this will play a very large part in whether or not you get the fellowship.

How will you leverage the resources of the fellowship (2 years, $100k, community of like minded peers and advisors, workshops, etc.) to make the most out of the opportunity? Additionally, many projects will require more resources (mainly funding) than we can reasonably provide in the fellowship. What other resources will you consider applying for, or utilize (if you already have them), to fully actualize on your goals?

The Fellowship is a great program, however it’s been clear that the fellows who do best are the ones who can also pair it with a shorter-term and faster-paced program. Whether that’s a startup accelerator if you are working on a company or some sort of research program if you’re a researcher. Make sure to have very specific resources that you are planning to take advantage of and even talk about having started the application process for some of them, i.e. StartX or YC.

Over the course of the two years, fellows spend a lot of time with each other, our summit community, and with Foundation staff. What is it that you’ll bring to this larger community? How will you contribute?

Got any cool hobbies you like sharing with your friends? Share it here. I took a bunch of Thiel Fellows rock climbing and orienteering. Talk about how you are fun outside of work and what you can bring to the table. The Fellowship is very community-driven, a lot of the resources put on the table have been brought in by previous fellows. What can you bring?

If you do not receive a fellowship, what will be your plan of action moving forward?

Third-most important question on this application. They want to see that you are passionate enough about your project that you aren’t just relying on the Thiel Fellowship to realize it. What other programs are you applying for? What’s your backup plan if you don’t get the fellowship? Do you have an internship or some freelance work you can rely on to get yourself to Silicon Valley to start making the connections necessary to take your project to the next level?

Recommender’s name, email address, phone number, relation to you, and number of years you have known this person.

If you can get someone in the Under 20 Community as a recommendation, that’s great. Second to this would be having someone that is somehow involved in the startup community. Best if they are based in the Valley. This recommendation isn’t critical to your application but can only help.


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