The way Dylan Field saw it, enrolling in Brown University was the risk... not dropping out.

Field was exceptional with math and technology from an early age. He started solving advanced algebra problems at 6 years old. By middle school, he was competing in Lego robotics competitions that required him to solve complex coding tasks.

Growing up just north of San Francisco, Field had plenty of opportunities to hone his coding skills early. Just a week after he graduated high school, he moved to Berkeley and started working for an accounting software startup called Indinero.

And after working all summer, Field had a tough choice to make.

Indinero was ready to launch. It just needed to find some funding to build its customer base. The company's two co-founders offered to make Field their third... and give him a ton of equity. All he had to do was defer his upcoming enrollment at Brown.

Brown was Field's dream school. His parents were saving practically all their money for his education. So he turned Indinero down and went to college for computer science.

For the next two years, Field watched as Indinero got into a venture-capital funding program...

All the while, he felt like he wasn't getting much out of his classes.

Field's favorite class was art history... nothing to do with computer science. Instead of working hard at school, he spent all his free time on a side project to make creative design tools more collaborative.

That's when he heard about the controversial Thiel Fellowship. Billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel would pay promising entrepreneurs $100,000 to pause or leave college and focus on their careers for two years.

Field submitted his application on New Year's Eve 2011. He was named a Thiel Fellow the following summer... dropped out of Brown... and teamed up with a former classmate to start Figma.

Similar to how Google Docs allows multiple people to write at the same time, Figma lets multiple users work on one design simultaneously. It's like a collaborative version of Adobe's (ADBE) Photoshop.

And that's exactly why, 10 years after Field started the company, Adobe tried to buy Figma for $20 billion.

While the deal fell through due to pressure from regulators, Field remains one of the most successful Thiel Fellows to date. Out of 271 recipients, only 11 have gone on to build "unicorn" businesses... meaning private companies worth at least $1 billion.

Stories like Dylan Field's are exceptional. And the Thiel Fellowship remains a hot topic because it encourages students to abandon a traditional education. For every successful college dropout, many more would have been better off getting their degree.

But regardless of your personal beliefs, Peter Thiel makes one point that's incredibly valuable for investors...

You don't need to rely on school to keep learning.

Learning never really stops – or at least, it shouldn't. As an investor, you can't afford to stake everything on one piece of information or one opinion, even if it's from a reliable source.

To get an accurate sense of risk and reward, you need to consider all the possible outcomes. It's sort of like a mosaic. Each piece of data comes together to create a clear picture of where you're putting your money.

That data doesn't just come from investing sources, either.

Of course, it's important to check the fundamentals... price history... and company management. They're part of the key framework that makes up any successful investment.

But the best investors tend to be the most well-rounded folks... the ones who dare to venture beyond the markets.

One of my favorite ways to expand my own horizons is by listening to the experts...

I talk to other analysts and investors whenever I get a chance. And when I have some down time, I turn to resources like TED Talks and MasterClass.

These video series – and others like them – offer lectures and classes on specific topics, taught by folks with firsthand experience.

(Most TED Talks are available for free on their website or YouTube. MasterClass charges a subscription fee. But in my opinion, it's well worth it.)

I recently watched a MasterClass from presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin. She covered the history of Abraham Lincoln, both Roosevelts, and Lyndon Johnson... and used their stories as a lesson on leadership skills.

As much as I enjoyed the history aspect, it was also a great reminder of what qualities to look for when analyzing corporate executives.

Leadership that knows how to handle a crisis can help a great company stay great. These folks tend to be the best at keeping an open line of communication... and maintaining investor trust, even if times get tough.

You're not limited to what you see online, either.

Take a moment to understand how your health care claim gets processed after a doctor's visit... and you might shine a light on an entire new part of the health care ecosystem.

Ask your plumber what kinds of tools he likes and where he buys them – and you might find out about a secret monopolistic supplier that's worth investing in.

It's that innate curiosity that often leads to the best opportunities.

As an investor, the world is your 'master class'...

Even if you don't sit down for a video course, there's still plenty to learn every day.

This is one of the few fields of focus where nothing is irrelevant. Pretty much anything you learn can make you a better investor.

When it comes to the financial world, our team is always learning... and we're thrilled to pass our knowledge along to subscribers. If there's ever an investing topic you want us to tackle, let us know at [email protected].

(We can't promise we'll cover every request... But we do read every note.)

It might seem like a daunting task to keep learning when you're years – or even decades – out of school.

But remember, there's an investing lesson in just about everything you do... so long as you're paying close attention.


Rob Spivey
with Joel Litman
April 26, 2024