“I want them to pick up the optimism of Silicon Valley,” Draper tells me one day while looking out over his students. That optimism isn’t empty puffery—in fact, in some respects, it’s the fuel that drives the tech economy. If there is some misdirection, then, in Draper’s superhero shtick, it’s probably the useful kind.
On graduation day, the superheroes assemble for the last time. It’s been a full eight weeks since they arrived, and the vibe in the room is reminiscent of the last day of summer camp. Students are exchanging phone numbers, signing each other’s commencement books, and promising to get back together for reunions in San Francisco.
“You came to this school as good, solid citizens, and you are leaving as superheroes,” Draper says. “Before, you may have been satisfied with the status quo. You may have been perfectly fine to get a job, have a family, live and die, avoiding trouble and not making waves. Now you are the waves.”
In lieu of diplomas, Draper U. students receive masks and capes printed with their superhero nicknames and are instructed to jump on each of a series of three small trampolines placed in a line in front of them. While bouncing from trampoline to trampoline, they’re told to shout, “Up, up, and away!” Then they assemble for a group photo.
“The world needs more heroes,” Draper says. “And it just got 40 more of them!”
After graduation, I walk to a nearby restaurant with Alex and several of his classmates. Alex orders a Stella and lets me in on the news that, in addition to the idea he pitched at session’s end for a restaurant-bill-splitting app, he and his classmates have decided to start another company. Their idea: a web business that allows people to post screenshots from their phones—of funny text exchanges, e-mails, and photo gags—and collects them all on a series of sites.
“There’s a market for screenshots,” Alex says. “Everybody takes them, but nobody’s really consolidated them all in one place.”
Alex and his friends went on a domain-name buying spree, snatching up names like nakedscreenshots.com and bullshitpix.com for use as possible spinoffs. They’ve already pledged to use any dollars they bring in not on Teslas or mansions but on trips to exotic locales together, where they’ll reunite and party.
Walking back to the school to collect my bag, I run into Scott tanning shirtless by the pool. He tells me that unlike many of his classmates, who are moving to the Bay Area in an attempt to continue their start-up quests, he’s planning to move to Seattle to be with his fiancée and possibly start interviewing for jobs at medium-size tech companies. “I don’t have to do a start-up to be happy,” he says. “But I don’t want to walk into a company like IBM, have them go, ‘Here’s your badge,’ and be bored there for the rest of my career. You want to have fun doing what you’re doing.”
A few weeks later, I talk to Collete. After the session let out, she flew to Florida, packed her bags, and drove right back to San Mateo. She’s living in the dorms again while working on a start-up idea and helping out at Draper U. She says Draper is opening a new building on the campus that will house space for both his son’s accelerator and start-up offices. He’s calling the building “Hero City.” Meanwhile, she’s raising a seed round of venture capital to start her own IndyCar company that will allow investors to buy the rights to a share of her future race winnings and sponsorship deals. She already has a lead investor, she says, and is hoping for more. I ask her if this means she’s given up on her dream of starting an educational program for girls. She says it hasn’t, but she needs to contend with her racing company first. “Once I close my round,” she says, “then I can focus on promoting my brand.”