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Some people think there’s only a limited amount of money

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When I was in high school, a lot of my friends and I applied for scholarships. Most of my friends came from middle-class families; a few came from wealthier families. When the wealthier kids applied for scholarships, I remember others getting get mad at them: “Why are you applying for those? You’re taking away the chance for someone else to get that scholarship money that you don’t even need,” they said.

I found that ridiculous. First of all, you don’t know how rich someone is just from looking at the car someone’s parents drive. In fact, The Millionaire Next Door reveals, quite counterintuitively, that most millionaires drive older cars.

Second, most of those scholarships never gave away their funds, anyway (more on that in a second).

Third, stop doing someone else’s job for them! It’s not your job to decide whether you get the award or not–it’s theirs. You just apply and let them pick the best candidate.

I frame this by making the distinction between a zero-sum issue or not. And when it comes to philanthropy, I happen to know it’s not.

I know because I have my own scholarship, The Sethi Scholarships. I released it last year to my high school–a free $1,000 to anyone who wrote a few short essays. Do you know how many people applied?

The Sethi Scholarships

Zero.

This is all too common at philanthropic organizations. I’ve consulted for a large one, work closely with another, and have friends at many others. They’re dying for more people to apply to each award they offer. And in my experience, if they run out of money and find an extraordinary candidate, they’ll often find the money to make it work. I know I would have.

That’s why I find the approach of “there’s only a limited amount of money!” so foreign. Coming from the small-time businesses I started a long time ago to being in the world of entrepreneurship and venture capital with a lot bigger numbers, it’s simply not a zero-sum game.

As Paul pointed out in my post about PBwiki raising venture money,

There’s two models of getting rich that seem to prevail in blogs – the scarcity model where you live like a hermit and save your way to wealth and the prosperity model where you create new value (and wealth). I prefer the later and you seem to also.

Right on.

I never quite understood the idea of a limited scarcity of money. It’s just not true. When people say, “My boss can’t afford to pay me more because the budget is limited,” do they count how much it would cost to replace you (advertising for a new person, recruiting, logistics, signing papers, legal fees, training)? Have they really researched the best way to negotiate their salary, including talking to experts and reading books?

Or are they just complaining about a world that has limited resourced that they seemingly have no access to?

I’m tired of whiners who don’t apply to stuff. In my inbox, I have a folder called Failures. If I don’t get 5 every month, I’m disappointed in myself because it means I’m not doing enough stuff. Whether it’s a lunch with someone or a new speaking gig, I’m trying.

I’m also writing this today because the deadline for the Women2.0 event is tomorrow–and all it takes is an idea on a cocktail napkin. The winner gets $1,000 and a meeting with top venture capitalists. Why wouldn’t you apply?

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71 Comments

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  1. Very good points. I’m in a scholarship program designed to encourage women in technology (although they do accept men into the program!) and they give away $5000 to a full ride to students at my college. The scholarship program is geting a lot of pressure from the university to get more people in the scholarship program in order to increase enrollments at my school. However, they’re having a really hard time getting enough qualified applicants.

  2. I’ll trll you why I don’t apply. I have an idea, but I don’t have a team. Also, I am not female and I am not under 35. Tell me where an individual male over 35 can apply and I’m on it.l

    Also, I have a minimum wage job and as I understand the VC world, they check out the principal(s) as much as or more than the business plan, so I doubt I’d measure up to their standards.

  3. Terry,

    You’re just selecting yourself out of the pool. If you read that original post about the Women2.0 event, I invited people to leave a comment and find other team members. In fact, there’s a young woman who left a comment volunteering to be on a team.

    As for the minimum wage job and your background, stop doing the selection committee’s job for them.

  4. Kevin Cherrick Link to this comment

    I wouldn’t apply because I’m not a woman. Warning: Tangent ahead! How important is it to have patent protection before trying to build a team. It’s been a barrier to me and I just want to get on with it.

  5. Kevin Cherrick Link to this comment

    Hey, I’m not using gender as a qualification or a requirement to be on my team. I won’t add some random woman so I can write my idea down on a napkin and send it in. If my idea is worth anything, I’ll find the best available (and interested) team members to build it, gender, age, race, have nothing to do with it. I certainly understand the idea behind the woman 2.0 event, and think it’s a good idea, but isn’t the market essentially saying it isn’t needed if you can’t get ONE napkin to get a sitdown with a VC principal? Come to think of it, I’ll just put my wife on the team and send in my napkin. Thanks!

  6. Excellent point – and one I have a hard time holding onto – thanks!

    I have a lot of experience reading job listings and have self-selected out of applying for so many, thinking they’re asking for the moon and I’m not up to their standards.

    I forget that while they’re asking for the moon, they’re usually not likely to get everything they want in an applicant, so my prospects are better than I think.

  7. Ramit:

    Maybe, the students in your high school don’t know about your scholarship.
    Yes, there is a lot of self-doubt in our society that’s why they are so few entreprenerus in relation to the population.
    I liked what you said- I’m tired of whiners who don’t apply to stuff. In my inbox, I have a folder called Failures. If I don’t get 5 every month, I’m disappointed in myself because it means I’m not doing enough stuff. You have associatted failure with improvement. Great way of seen it.
    I never quite understood the idea of a limited scarcity of money. Well that comes from a poverty experience either from our granparents or parents. Most people are socialized and conditioned to follow rules since they were in pre-k so it is very hard to break the mold as adult.

  8. You make some excellent points! Once I was in a company training course and sitting at a table with a guy who years later became the head of my department. I did badly on an exercise and said something negative. His response was…don’t worry about it…see it as a learning experience. I have forgotten the course, the exercise but I always recall what he said. His subsequent successes proved the value of his “view failure as learning” attitude.

  9. Amen! Don’t let those opportunity buses pass you by!

  10. Excellent points.

    It seems to me that the (or at least A) big problem is information… where can someone find out what opportunities are out there? Is there a “google scholarships” out there? Or does one have to first look up institutional contacts, then figure out if they offer anything, and only then apply?

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