The Path to Success Starts in The Mind

From messing around with a programmable calculator to founding Udacity, Sebastian Thrun perfectly demonstrates the mindset you need to make a big impact on the world.

Sebastian Thrun

The reason for his success isn’t a secret. It is because of who he is. His drive, passion, perseverance all contributed to where he is today.

His interest in problem solving and understanding the world started with a simple programmable calculator. He was fascinated by how it responded to the commands he gave it. Fast forward 25 years and Thrun is teaching AI and computer science at Stanford.

Sebastian Thrun at DARPA

One of the first things Sebastian did at Stanford was compete in and win the DARPA Grand Challenge 2005. The challenge was to build a self-driving car that could safely travel 130 miles through the Mojave desert in the fastest time possible. More valuable than the 2 million dollars awarded to Thrun’s team was him catching the attention of Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet Inc. Thrun eventually became the head of Google X where he continued to experiment with self driving car technology.

A high position at Google, working with cool technology, and making tons of money? What more could anyone ask for! For many of you this would be your definition of success. However, Sebastian Thrun always opted to looking at the bigger picture. In his mind…

“I could be at Google and build a self driving car or I can teach 10,000 students how to build self driving cars and then I serve humanity so much better”

Thrun’s definition of success was maximizing his impact on society while working on things that he enjoys. These thoughts guided him to founding Udacity, one of the largest online learning platforms in existence.

Salman Khan

Watching Salman Khan, Founder of Khan Academy, present his creation on the TED stage was inspiring to Thrun. Khan, who had no teaching credentials was able to create this huge platform, so being the optimistic and ambitious person Sebastian is, he thought, “I can do that!”.

When many would have dismissed the thought shortly after, Sebastian turned thought into action. He approached his co-instructer at Stanford with whom he teaches a class on AI and suggested to put the class online.

We expected 500 students at best…when everything was said and done, we had 160,000 students

After realizing how big of an impact he was making in the education field he decided to pursue online teaching further and eventually Udacity was born.

From analyzing Sebastian Thrun’s experiences and listening to his talks, I broke down what I think are the 3 biggest takeaways if you want to emulate his successful mindset.

Be passionate about what you are doing

Passion was the driving force behind all of Sebastian Thrun’s successes. His interest in computer science/programming led him to teach at Stanford, then compete at DARPA, work at Google, and finally create Udacity.

Don’t do anything for the sake of doing it or just to make money

When you set high goals for yourself, expect to put in a lot of work. You need to be able to enjoy what you are doing otherwise you will give up when times get rough or not put in 100% effort. Figure out what you are passionate about and go hard on that. You will learn so much more, feel incentivized to dig deep and keep pushing. And you will have fun in the process!

Be ambitious

If you are someone who wants to create a lasting impact on society, you have to think big.

Think 10x.

Think of something crazy. Something that will be useful even 10 years from now, not something small that you think consumers will be absorbed by and you could make a quick buck. Fill yourself with the excitement of making the seemingly impossible a reality and go for it.

Find a problem in society and fix it.

Solve a problem that affects millions (or billions!). Your goal should be to maximize the impact on society. Don’t worry about impossibilities and/or doubt yourself because you will be able to figure it out along the way.

Thrun demonstrated his ambitious nature when he made the bold decision to leave Google and pursue Udacity. He wasn’t content with what most people would be ecstatic to settle with because he had higher goals for himself. And he believed that he could accomplish them.

Always persevere and never stop taking risks

You know that the first course Thrun put online got an attendance of 160,000 students. Did you know that the 2nd and 3rd lessons only got 90,000 and 5,000 students respectively?

In an attempt to gain more popularity, Udacity started offering credit bearing courses for $150. Did you know that teacher unions hated Udacity because they were fearful of losing their jobs?

Did you know that publications such as the New York Times and the Financial Times attacked Udacity calling them a flop?

That’s settled. Udacity was only hype and never had any real potential. Wrong.

Being able to push through hard times, adapt, and overcome is something that many people struggle with, but it’s super important if you want to reach your success.

Thrun never let these problems discourage him. He had strong, unwavering faith in what he was doing. And he never stopped taking risks. So offering credit courses blew up in our faces? Let’s try something new! Now Udacity offers nano-degree courses where you achieve a nano-degree in a subject when completing the course.

And by the way, Udacity currently has over 4 million registered users.

Key Takeaways

  1. Be passionate. Passion is strong motivation. You will likely give up doing something you don’t enjoy.
  2. Be ambitious. Think big and don’t settle for small victories. Aim to make a lasting impact.
  3. Persevere. If it doesn’t become hard you aren’t doing it right. Never give up and never be afraid to take more risks.

“I don’t watch science fiction. I make them.”

— Sebastian Thrun

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Vedant Gupta

I love sharing my learnings/experiences from working with new emerging technologies.