Mentor Profiles

Tim Draper’s Search for Superheroes


Tim Draper, renowned Silicon Valley venture capitalist whose list of successful investments includes Tesla, Baidu, Skype, Twitter, DocuSign, Hotmail,, and more, is one of GMN’s resident mentors.

Tim Draper
Tim Draper’s Search for Superheroes

Tim Draper, renowned Silicon Valley venture capitalist whose list of successful investments includes Tesla, Baidu, Skype, Twitter, DocuSign, Hotmail,, and more, is one of GMN’s resident mentors.

Draper was born in Illinois and attended Stanford University, graduating with a BS in electrical engineering. Later, he earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. He cut his teeth at an investment banking firm before forming his first venture capital company in Silicon Valley.

Sitting down with Thuy Vu, president of GMN and seven-time Emmy award-winning reporter, Draper reflects on how the most significant obstacle in life is often a mental/emotional barrier: fear.

It’s the people who can cut through the fear, take bold actions, and strive to disrupt industries that he considers to be our modern-day superheroes and most celebrated leaders, like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.

The superhero analogy runs deep for Draper. Hero City, a centerpiece of Draper University, is a co-working community space that promotes creativity, collaboration & entrepreneurship. The open space features a much larger-than-life mural of Batman, Robin, Superman, and Wonder Woman. There’s even a superhero with a “D” on his chest, which looks familiar… When Draper’s firm, DFJ Growth, decides to invest in a company, they look for someone with bold ideas. Someone who has a solution to a problem and refuses to accept the status quo.

Being a superhero takes a lot of grit. According to Draper, they are sometimes viewed as loners and might be ridiculed for their grandiose ideas. But, they are steadfast, creative, and brave. These are the same qualities Draper says great entrepreneurs need to have to build their idea into an iconic company out of thin air.

“It takes being willing to be a little embarrassed, being alone, [and] to be wrong—all of those things. If you really want to be a hero. If you really want to be a great leader, you have to be willing to stand alone.”

Draper teaches this principle at Draper University to inspiring entrepreneurs during their five-week accelerator and incubator course in the heart of Silicon Valley. On the first day, Draper has been known to jump into a pool fully clothed in a suit and tie to demonstrate that you are not fully invested until you are brave enough to dive-in and go for it.

Draper likes to quote a favorite sci-fi novel, Dune, which says, Fear is the mind-killer.” According to Draper:

“Every `fear’ decision that I’ve made has been the wrong decision. Every bold decision I’ve made has not always been right, but it has always been more creative and exciting (with a) satisfying outcome.”

The university has trained 1,200 students from over 75 different countries who’ve started 350 different companies.

Using his success to help others find their way brings Draper particular satisfaction.

“I love the concept of pay-it-forward,” he says.

Draper is also the author of “How to be The Startup Hero: A Guide and Textbook for Entrepreneurs and Aspiring Entrepreneurs.”

Looking back at his career, “I would say the biggest failures I’ve had are the failures to act,” Draper says. “The ones where I did not invest in a company or I did not try something. Now, whenever I find myself at the fork in the road, as Yogi Berra says, I take it.” 

One such failure was not investing in Google because Draper and his team had already funded six search engines. They didn’t see what made Google different. But they learned a lesson and didn’t miss on the Baidu search engine in China.

As a venture capitalist, Draper’s worked in an environment where he’s observed numerous companies never take off, including ones he invested in.

It’s all part of the process, he says.

“Failure is something that every entrepreneur and every leader needs to understand — that it’s part of leading,” he says. “You lead, you fail. You lead, you fail. Then eventually, you lead, and you succeed.”  

(Watch dozens of short video clips from Draper’s interview with GMN’s Thuy Vu at

Optimism Runs in the Family

The First Step

Tim Draper’s List of Great Entrepreneurs