“What if getting financing for college was as easy as calling an Uber? A new startup is trying to make this dream a reality.” Benzinga.com
Leif, which stands for “Long-term Education Investment Fund,” is a new platform that hopes to take the financial headache of getting a bachelor’s degree out of the equation. The goal is to allow everyone that wants to go to college, can now have access. The company’s motto, “Free university for all.”
For #YmazingPeople Francis Larson, the 29-years-old Founder of Leif gave us some exciting and informative insights about Leif and his career:
Why do you do what you do and how did you get to this point?
We started LEIF with the idea that people are very bad at thinking about big life decisions. One of the biggest ones is education. I can’t get over this. Look at any low-income neighborhood and what do you see? Payday loan shops. These people aren’t afraid to borrow. But you ask them to borrow to go to school, they don’t do it. They are afraid of debt when it’s an investment. It’s a product of our brains being set up to handle social decisions and hunting and gathering. Complex ROI decisions are not the domain of most humans, at least not naturally. So we are trying to solve this issue.
How did I get here? I have been extremely interested in human behavior from a young age. I think you learn enough and eventually solutions to problems start screaming at you. Look at how many people will wake up at 7am and go to work at a fast food restaurant but they won’t go to junior college? Well, what if we paid people by the hour to go to class and learn? Maybe just saying school is a good idea isn’t good enough.
If you had a message for your 10 years younger you what would it be?
Take more math classes. I somehow figured out to get out of many math classes over the years and it was a terrible mistake. It’s taken many more years of hacking to figure out basic concepts in statistics, econometrics, and calculus. There is no escaping it.
If you had 1 question to ask the 20-30 years older you – what would it be?
Getting older means knowing what’s actually important. I don’t mean in a sentimental way, but like what’s important to focus on, learn, etc. The older you get you realize how no one cares about certain things you used to worry about. It’s not important to focus on those things. I would ask the older me what’s really important to be worrying about.
What drives you?
I have this overwhelming feeling that I should be doing something good for the world. It’s not rational in the colloquial sense. It’s not even specific. It’s just a feeling, like being hungry. I think it’s lucky to have that feeling, though. Not everyone does. It’s a major source of inequality. Should I get credit for wanting it more? No, I didn’t decide to be like this.
What routines do you have in your daily life?
I read for at least an hour a day a book unrelated to anything I’m doing. Something like Sapiens or right now I’m reading Why Nations Fail. Having a really broad, global perspective on the world is important to making big decisions and having good ideas. Do I have either of those right now? That’s debatable. But let’s talk after 20 years.
What was the biggest challenge for you to jumpstart your career? And how did you solved it?
I had this idea about risk aversion after grad school and needed to code it up but unfortunately I majored in philosophy – twice! Once at UCI and once more at LSE. So I was worthless for anything other than sitting and thinking. So I decided to learn to code. It took 18 months. I literally put tin foil on the windows so to block out the sunlight. It was like one of those action movie training montages. 10 hours a day of coding. Eventually I wrote the software and got accepted into the best deep technology accelerator in Europe, Entrepreneur First. They basically only accept Computer Science majors from Cambridge. I was very proud of that. All good things to date have come from that experience.
Who is your role model?
I really like Trudeau and Macron. They are young politicians – it’s really tough to learn that much political awareness at their ages. But in a way they are just archetypes of people I generally want to be like. All my email advice comes from Bezos. Apparently he writes only in the subject line.
Who mentored you, and why?
I had a baseball coach, Mike Madigan, who mentored me for many years when I was a teenager. After that I’ve had a couple uncles say bits of advice now and then. In some ways I have so much to learn that most of the people I end up hanging around are my mentors. Some academics, some CEOs – it takes a village to raise a child they say.
What was the best advice you have ever received?
I used to play baseball – all through high school, through college, and then into the pros. And one of the things about sports is that people get very competitive. But in baseball, it doesn’t really help if you hate the pitcher. In fact, it’s such a subtle game that feelings like that might make you too tense to do much of anything useful. So I had a coach once say something I thought was so profound. He said “We’re not playing against the other team. We’re playing against the game of baseball.” This blew my mind. To do well you just need to hit the ball really hard, it’s irrelevant who threw it. It’s completely irrelevant! It’s just a ball coming at you and you need to hit it. The thrower can be an ugly ogre character or your best friend, it doesn’t matter. This changed my life. Playing almost felt like this collaborative process with the other team after that. As if we were striving for perfection, in the platonic sense. I think that applies in everything.
What could young hustlers learn from you?
We live to be 100 years old. We think that 30 or 40 is too old to get the phd or too late to learn to code or too late to do whatever. It’s not too late. I look at my grandparents, they thought they would die at 65. 30 years later they probably felt like it was a lot of “hurrying up and waiting”. You are going to have so much time at the end of life that you might as well take time to do it right. Do it right, you are going to work until you’re 80. At least 80!
What have you learnt from GenX/Babyboomers and from the younger GenZ?
GenZ is realistic about their place in the world. Athleisure, iphones, and realism. Athleisure means you’re a realist. They don’t think they will be important but they think they should do something important. GenX, similar. Everyone is hinting that it’s not such a big deal, get over yourself.
How do you influence society?
Ideas are the biggest way to influence. Who’s more important, the CEO who makes the amazing product or the person that wrote the book or had the conversation that changed that CEO’s life? It might be the person who wrote the book. Who gets the fame and fortune? We all know the answer to that.
How could GenY/GenZ change worklife?
Remote work, project-based collaboration, location-independence, moving beyond a single organization. More flexibility with the timing of work (how, when, what) will allow a happier, healthier, and more equal society.
From your perspective, what are the biggest differences between the young generations (Y (1980-1995) &Z born after 1995) in comparison to GenX (1965-1980) and Babyboomers (1950-1965)?
Baby Boomers and GenX seem to have wanted “rootedness” more than anything else. Having a house, stable family, financial stability, and “stuff”. Baby boomers have so much stuff. They take it with them when they move. They have paper books. It’s so expensive to move these things. Millennials want more than anything to be free. Travel, experiences, a varied career. It’s the same for GenZ. Millennials don’t talk about things. Boomers say “I want that”. Millennials say “I want to do that”. I’d probably be more ‘rooted’ without Google Maps though so maybe we’re not that different.
What will be the biggest challenge for humans in the next 10 years?
Automation and Machine Learning will take virtually all the jobs we have today. We will need to find a way to make sure society is equal when capital earns a larger share of the income. Our model of taxation for individuals and firms and even larger entities like states will need to change. Also how that money is redistributed.
Who are the most inspiring young people the world should know right now and why?
Matt Clifford and Alice Bentinck at Entrepreneur First. They are changing the world (they are in their 30s) by investing in deep tech founders at an extreme early stage. Amazing people, utterly brilliant.
Thank you very much Francis for that #ymazing interview!
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