Peter Thiel: Your questions answered

Peter Thiel Peter Thiel invested in PayPal and Facebook, and has launched his own fellowships for entrepreneurs

We're facing the biggest youth unemployment crisis in a generation, according to the International Labour Organisation.

All this week the BBC is focusing on the lost generation of young people and what's being done to generate jobs.

We have given some young entrepreneurs the opportunity to put their questions to a business professional.

Peter Thiel co-founded PayPal which has more than 100 million active accounts. He also made the first outside investment in Facebook, a social networking hub that now has more than 800 million active members.

Your questions

Victoria Coffey, Bangor, Northern Ireland asks: How did the ideas come to you? Did you purposely sit down and think of something that was lacking or that could be bettered?

Peter Thiel. Photo: The Thiel Foundation

PETER: Innovation is not mechanistic; it is rare. It requires a blend of intuitive leaps and thoughtful analysis. It's hard to say exactly what that blend is, but it always involves a serious attempt to solve a problem that will improve the lives of many people.

Gareth Brookes in Leicester UK asks: Many start-ups fail. When running a business in its start up phase and faced with tough trading conditions how do you decide whether to call it a day or continue riding the storm?

PETER: Have a specific plan that aims to solve a real problem. It doesn't have to be a great plan—a bad plan is better than no plan at all. As long as you're honest with yourself with the feedback coming in from all information sources, you should be able to adjust your plan from worst to better to best.

The other half of the equation is just as important. If your company isn't focusing on a real problem for consumers, then it's time to move on and build something else.

Young and jobless graphic

High youth unemployment is one of the biggest problems confronting societies around the world, condemning whole generations to a life of much reduced income.

In our special report we look at the challenges facing today's young and jobless, and the attempts to overcome the problem.

Vaughan Johnson in Shenzhen, China asks: What role can the internet and social media have for small companies and how best can I tap into it?

PETER: The internet has lowered the barriers to market entry for many small companies. And that's great. But one open question is whether the internet is more like the auto industry of the 1920s or the auto industry of the 1950s.

If it's like the new industry of the 1920s, there's space for competition and for small companies to make progress. But if it's like the mature auto industry of the 1950s, then it's going to be very difficult for small companies to make progress, because big companies can easily copy any incremental innovations.

Ntombenhle, Johannesburg, South Africa asks: What are the main focal areas and issues when trying to differentiate yourself from competitors?

PETER: You want to do something that is both new and not easily copied. But you have to be careful because it's easy to persuade yourself that you're creating a new market.

If you open the first Burmese restaurant in Springfield, are you creating a new market, or just competing with all the other restaurants in Springfield? To create significant value, you need to create something that is truly new.

Jacob Lamoureux, Ohio, US asks: I'll be graduating from college in May and launching a social entrepreneurial venture in the area of education. Having a rock-solid team of diverse talent is essential to our chances at success, so I'm wondering if you have any advice on how to put together a dream team. Where can I find prospective partners and how should I recruit them?

PETER: There's no right or wrong time in life to become an entrepreneur. Is a college credential worth delaying your project by six months? It may depend on the project, but probably not. If you're passionate about your venture, turn your passion into a compelling narrative that inspires others.

If you have a great idea, do it now. That's why we created the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship: to help young entrepreneurs get started immediately when they have ideas that cannot wait.

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