Why Nerds Make Great Entrepreneurs

Since centuries the world of science and entrepreneurship seemed very far apart. Almost like two planets orbiting in parallel, which would never gravitate around each other. Yet, especially in the last century, those orbits have slowly changed.

Technology, which is the byproduct of scientific progress, walks hand in hand with the creation of new business ventures. Therefore, if before, scientists and entrepreneurs were two distinct roles; nowadays it is more and more common to find those two roles encapsulated in the same persona.

In other words, we see more often the rise of “scientific-minded entrepreneur.”

The Rise of The “Nerdepreneurs”

Mark is in his dorm room, with a bunch of friends. He has just created a new website called Facemash. The aim of this platform is to rank the Campus’ girls, based on their attractiveness. Edoardo, Mark’s friend, enters the room. Suddenly Mark asks for Edoardo’s chess-ranking algorithm. Edoardo writes it down on Mark’s dorm room window[1]. This is the beginning of Facebook!

Although this scene of the movie “The Social Network” is just a romanced version of the reality, nonetheless it makes a great point. Mark Zuckerberg, the guy behind Facebook was a computer geek. Persons, like Mark Zuckerberg, would, just a few decades ago, have looked the farther from the entrepreneur’s stereotype. Although Mark Zuckerberg was still a student, he was acting with a scientific mindset.

The World Wide Web Like the Hydra Monster

Hercules was in trouble. Due to the goddess Hera, he had temporary lost his mental and killed his own wife and kid. Once he recovered from Hera’s spell, Hercules asked help and forgiveness to the god Apollo.

Apollo, in turn, subordinated Hercules’ penitence to twelve Labors, which were so difficult that any human being would have considered them impossible. Once completed those Labors, Hercules would be set free[2].

It was time to overcome the second Labor, which consisted of killing a monster, with nine heads, called Hydra. Hercules was accompanied in this adventure, by his nephew Iolaus, which was also his charioteer.

Hercules initially started to cut the Hydra’s heads with his sword; there was only one glitch; the Hydra’s heads regrew swiftly, making Hercules’ feat impossible. None had tamed that monster before, and Hercules seemed doomed.

Yet he had an idea. He called for help, his nephew Iolaus. While Hercules chopped the Hydra’s heads, Iolaus kept a fire torch to its neck, making it impossible to grow. Thus, Hercules took the opportunity; chopped and buried the last immortal head of the monster and so he won[3].

Throughout human history, knowledge had traveled from head to head; that was the only way we knew. It was possible to transfer knowledge through books, but those books had to be physically transported from human bodies to human bodies.

The World Wide Web changed all that. Once the information and knowledge were transferred to a computer, then it could be shared worldwide to other millions of machines[4].

In 1991 Tim Berners-Lee gave birth to the first global hyperlinked information system. It was a revolution! Science, commerce, and the military already used some sort of web networks, but they were closed and limited. Instead in Berners Lee’s vision, the web was supposed to be universal and “worldwide.[5]

By 1996, the World Wide Web was like the Hydra’s monster. It was growing exponentially but none really knew what it was and how it would have evolved.

The “Polymaths’ Mob”

In this scenario, a young man, named Larry, was working on a research project, BackRub, for his Ph.D. The aim of this project was to understand the mathematical properties of the web. In other words, Larry wanted to link the content of the web, based on the citations they contained.

Like Hercules called Iolaus to help him tame the Hydra, so Larry Page called Sergey Brin to help him tame the World Wide Web. Through hard work the two young men came up with “PageRank,” named after Larry Page.

In other words, web pages were ranked based on the citations they contained and how many times they were cited by other web pages. In addition, these links were also ranked based on the importance and prestige of the linking and linked sources[6]. This is how Google was born.

Facebook and Google are just two of the many other examples of the “Nerdepreneurship Phenomenon.” In short, while the “old school entrepreneurs,” like Ford, didn’t deem necessary to know anything, except having a bunch of polymaths answering to his questions. Now we are assisting to the rise of the “polymaths’ mob.”

A New Religious Credo

What do they all have in common? The scientific mindset. Which can be summarized in few, but very powerful commandments:

These commandments form part of the new “Entrepreneurs’ religious beliefs.” Like any other religion, the worshipping of deities to drives this credo. From Richard Feynman to Karl Popper, a new world order is taking over. Let’s see their main credos:

  • You shall have no other mind before the rational one (Biological Hacking.)
  • Don’t make assumptions. Test them (Let algorithms do the work.)
  • Be comfortable with not knowing (The Feynman Paradox)
  • Let your ideas be falsified (Popper’s Mindset)
  • Think for yourself and Think from first principles (Musk’s Heuristic)

Share the article if you like it. If we hit a certain threshold of readers we will expand on the five commandments mentioned above.

Subscribe for more…


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzZRr4KV59I

[2] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Herakles/labors.html

[3] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Herakles/hydra.html

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hIQjrMHTv4

[5] http://webfoundation.org/about/vision/history-of-the-web/

[6] https://www.wired.com/2005/08/battelle/

Published by


Gennaro Cuofano, International MBA. Author of "The Enlightened Accountant," and "The Art of Mentorship."