English Major To Venture Capitalist
Venture Capitalist and USF alum Frank Caufield (‘90) spoke to current USF english majors today about the value of pursuing a liberal arts degree.
From very early on, Caufield knew what he wanted to be: an entrepreneur. He knew this meant business school, but when it came time choose an undergraduate path, he knew he couldn't stand six years of business school. He chose instead to major in English.
Using his English degree, he was accepted to and graduated from the Anderson School of Business at UCLA, and has since accumulated over 25 years experience in high technology finance, business development, marketing, and sales, founded several companies (most recently, MarkLogic), and become an active angel investor in 24 Silicon Valley based startups.
“I attribute my success to coming to USF and changing the way I was thinking, and embracing the strangeness of my thinking, and surrounding myself with other strange-minded people,” Caufield told the students. “English majors — we’re weird thinkers. Just embrace that everything you do, people just won’t understand it.”
And that’s actually a good thing.
A lot of people think, especially in the Bay Area, that you need to get into coding. Get into science, join a startup, code away. We’re building all of these machines and programs and it seems like pretty soon it’s all going to be a bunch of machines running machines. But what machines can’t replace is weird thinking.
Which, according to Caufield, is the real factory of new ideas.
“When you get a lot of weird minds together — well, you get a lot of weird bad ideas. But you also get really great ideas,” he said.
English majors carry around a lot of angst about how they are going to succeed in life with a degree in English, but according to Caufield, English majors are actually aptly positioned to succeed in the business world. And this is because they are storytellers.
"All of life is in stories. Even if an idea you have for a company isn’t compelling," Caufield said, "if you present it right — if you can make its story compelling — it will succeed.”
The same concept can be applied to employment.
“Your life is a story you write with your education, your career, your relationships,” he said. “Being able to craft one that’s compelling to an employer, investor, what have you, is an incredibly valuable skill.”
Speaking to a group comprising predominantly English majors, Caufield managed to discover a cluster of Business majors, who asked if there might be worth in minoring in English.
“It never hurts to be able to write,” Caufield responded. “Even to this day, people can’t write. It’s absolutely horrible. Poor communicators get ignored, period. I have a lot of things going on — businesses, a wife, kids — I don’t have time to delve into your email and pick it apart to see if just maybe you really aren’t a muddled thinker.”
Even something as simple as communication among coworkers, if it’s poor, can be volatile, Caufield added.
“These people — they have very little grasp over the voice of their words,” he said. “In business, writing emails to each other, you have to be hugely aware of tone. A lot of times people will have no idea what tone they’re projecting, and the people they email have no idea whether they are happy, angry, sarcastic. That can be poisonous to your working relationship.”
Hence, an English major’s ability to wield the nuances of the English language, clearly and succinctly, with an audience in mind, can be an extremely valuable, extremely marketable skill.