- Founders Fund
- Cyan Banister is a self-taught engineer, entrepreneur, and angel investor.
- Banister made early bets on companies like Uber, SpaceX, and Postmates.
- Now, she manages multi-millionaire dollar deals at Peter Thiel’s venture firm Founders Fund.
- But Banister didn’t have a traditional education: She dropped out of high school as a teenager amid issues at home, and learned through odd jobs and picking up books.
Cyan Banister is a self-taught engineer, entrepreneur, and angel investor who made early bets on companies like Uber, SpaceX, and Postmates. Now, she manages multi-millionaire dollar deals at Founders Fund, Peter Thiel’s San Francisco-based venture firm.
Banister’s path to success isn’t typical for a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist: As a teenager, she dropped out of high school to provide for herself after issues at home forced her to become a ward of the state.
Since she was 15 years old, Banister cobbled together a living working as a sales associate at record shops and as a call-person at tech-support hotlines. Most of Banister’s engineering knowledge comes from books she picked up in her early twenties.
“I used to be ashamed about the fact that I never went to college,” Banister said in an interview with Business Insider. “Years ago, I’d never speak about it.”
Now, however, Banister says she feels differently. Among her Ivy League-educated peers, Banister considers her lack of formal education to be “a badge of honor.”
Banister’s nontraditional education figured as a compelling selling point when she was in talks with Founders Fund’s partners to join the firm. The fund’s founder, Peter Thiel, is famous for his unconventional outlook on education and for incentivizing students to drop out of college with his technology-focused fellowship program.
“I think that was one of the things that Founder’s Fund really liked about my background and experience,” she said. “I don’t fit the traditional mold.”
Bucking the status quo has long been a defining quality of the longtime investor. She’s critical of San Francisco’s left-leaning politics and identifies as a socially liberal libertarian.
Two years ago, Banister came out publicly as genderqueer – a move she feared might cut her off from potential business opportunities.
“It’s very difficult to be gender fluid and sexually fluid and fit into the business world, because you get excluded from a lot of things,” she said in an interview with Wired.
At the office, Banister, who doesn’t have a preferred pronoun, goes by her favorite nickname: “dude.”
Now, Banister has plans to write a book about what she calls “the power of incrementalism.”
In an interview with Business Insider, Banister described the qualities she credits to her success:
1. Be individualistic.
“A lot of people will want to label you. They’ll say, ‘There’s more power when there’s all of us together,’ but I believe there’s more power when you find yourself and when you don’t become a part of group think. If you can think with individual thoughts, you’re more likely to set yourself apart.”
2. Take ownership — even for the things you aren’t proud of.
“Let’s say you do something you’re not proud of. It’s so much easier to blame everyone around you. You have to sit and face yourself in the mirror – I’ve done this many times in my life. There’s been times where I said or did something that I wasn’t proud of, and took ownership of it internally. I don’t believe in blaming others for your circumstances. Individual responsibility is where everything starts.”
3. Don’t count on other people’s praise.
“I don’t depend on people to cheer-lead for me. If I do a really awesome thing, I’ll take a moment and recognize that I did a great job on it. Maybe people see this as egotistical, but I think it’s important to own your successes and feel proud for what you’ve accomplished.”