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Help! The Nation’s Smartest Young People Aren’t in America

| September 30, 2010 | 16 Comments

Yesterday I poured myself into an article that really meant a lot to me, my work at Under30CEO and my career as a leader.  In case you missed it…

How Gen Y Needs to Redefine Success and Change the World

There was already been interest for it to be featured at Entrepreneur, Business Insider and Huffington Post.  I’m completely honored of course, but that wasn’t nearly the biggest compliment I received.  It was actually the text message that woke me up sometime after 1AM this morning from my good friend John Exley (who I met because of U30).  He told me how he was in the middle of pulling an all-nighter and how excited he was to leave a diesel comment on Under30CEO.

That’s the kind of enthusiasm that makes it all worth it.

Read the comments, none of them are less than 3 paragraphs, and Exley’s was so good, it’s getting republished as an actual article.  Pretty amazing stuff and a true testament to the brilliant community we have here at Under30CEO. Without further a due, Mr. John Exley

The World is Changing; We Need to Catch Up

First of all I think the “Generation Y is lazy, self-entitled, not committed blah blah blah” is getting a little tired. There are still scores of hard working, loyal, committed, sharp young peeps out there who are putting in 90+ hour work weeks. NYC, The Valley, Boulder, Chicago, Boston…just look at the ecosystems where our top universities are and I do not think you will struggle to find ’20-somethings’ who are more than worth hiring and investing in.

I think the “Gen Y talk” is all over-hyped…journalists looking for page views, employers having trouble understanding the changing paradigm of new hires no longer staying on for decades but looking for a change of scenery and/or responsibilities after 3-5 years. That said, there is something to loyalty, read Mark Suster’s controversial post “Never Hire Job Hoppers. Never. They Make Terrible Employees“.

The real challenge I see for Gen Y is debt

College loans. Students are graduating with more debt than ever before. Want a comparison? A couple weeks ago the USA Today reported that credit card debt in the US is about $828 billion. US Student loan debt is $850 billion, read “Student loan debt exceeds credit card debt in USA“.  This is a challenge the previous generation didn’t have to face to such a severe degree, and unfortunately it might hamper our generation’s ability to start companies, innovate, and rebuild our economy (which is why I respect Matt so much for taking the enormous risks associated with launching his own companies straight out of college…and doing well. And urging others to think creatively and create jobs as well).

Another much, much larger problem (IMHO) than all the over-hyped “Gen Y discussions“? The smartest students (engineers especially) are arguably not on our soil…they’re overseas. And guess what? Our country is making it harder and harder and harder and harder for foreign entrepreneurs to immigrate here and start their companies here in the US. Personally, I know at least 5-10 entrepreneurs overseas (Singapore, China, Germany) that would immigrate to the valley or NYC to start their companies and have access to our venture capitalists and consumers if they could (not to mention benefiting from the storied entrepreneurial camaraderie in our ecosystems like Silicon Valley and NYC)…but getting a Visa is so difficult.

Entrepreneurs are the driving engine of our economy & of economies all over the world

Countries like Singapore get this. (Rated the easiest country in the world for doing business…read about it here.)  They make it easy to start companies, and as a result startups are launching left and right, and GDP is increasing. Chile gets it. They’re inviting entrepreneurs from all over to come to Chile and start their companies (read about it here: “Start-Up Chile Program Launched for Entrepreneurs Interested in Starting Businesses in Chile”.

Chilean Economic Development Agency (CORFO) has launched a new program aimed at world-class bootstrapped organizations, high-potential entrepreneurs and early-stage companies with innovative and high-growth business plans to enable them to quickly launch and run operations in Chile.

This consequently paves a path towards improving their economy and creating jobs. Don’t agree?  Inc Magazine does. Read their support of Chile’s new initiative here: “For Tech Entrepreneurs Looking Beyond Silicon Valley, Chile is Ready and Waiting”.

Why aren’t we concerned that it might be in the best interest for our top students to go work for startups overseas or for our top entrepreneurs to take their companies outside of the US?

It seems we’ve lost sight of this

Especially amidst all of the hoopla surrounding Gen Y. Let’s focus on something more important…creating jobs for our economy like Matt and Under30CEO are doing. Renowned venture capitalists Brad Feld and Fred Wilson, seasoned entrepreneurs like Eric Ries, angel investors like Dave McClure and more are pushing a visa that would enable foreign entrepreneurs to bring their companies here to the US: it’s called the Startup Visa Act (read more “More Startups. More Jobs. Support Innovation & Job Creation in America”.  Please, support that.

Memo to other Gen Y’ers…

We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us. Debt, stupid perceptions to change, and so on. Here’s to those who ignore over-hyped trends and just hustle forward. Haters will hate, but players continue to play. Just keep moving. On that note, back to homework…

John Exley is currently studying at American University and is an intern at Syncables.  Follow him on Twitter @JohnExley.

About the Author: Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is co-founder of Under30CEO. After two years traveling and working from his laptop, Matt's official title became Adventurer in Residence, heading up Under30Media's travel company Under30Experiences. If Matt is around he will be easy to spot as his long luxurious hair is generally flowing freely in the breeze.

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  • Anonymous

    Some very good points are made here. Gen Y has an incredibly deep hole to get out of and the other generations are, for the most part, doing their best to make it even deeper.

    At this point in time anyone who is voting for either Republicans or Democrats is just making things worse. The two parties are interchangable and they’re the reason it is so hard for the motivated, driven, and skilled people of the world to come here.

    Meanwhile unskilled workers are given the OK to flock here and jump on our welfare and entitlement systems.

    This is a huge problem. We invite the unskilled to take at the expense of the skilled who want to create. And if you’re voting for either party, you’re to blame.

    And that includes our President.

  • Malhar Shah

    Hey Exley Excellent point raised..Even Mayor Bloomberg raised the same point today about changing the Immigration policy…

  • Giftasmile

    Great article!! Loved the one liner “Haters will hate, but players continue to play.” Hope the startup visa act gains some momentum.. It never took off from introduction of the bill Feb 24th 2010. It will give lot of boost to most of the foriegn students who would like to implement their ideas and put up few start up..Supprt the cause

  • JohnExley

    @Giftasmile – Thank you, really pumped you like it. Sometimes your best writing comes when you’re not worried about making the perfect piece of content but rather when you’re just super fired up by something and writing because of passion. That’s what this is for me. I was just really tired of the Gen Y stuff and also of seeing foreign entrepreneurs struggle to get visas to get to the US. The education system is in need of reform, college debt is soaring, our talent is going out of the country to serve other markets, and journalists/etc. are throwing their arms up about “Gen Y is lazy blah blah”?? Come on. Please.

    Thanks for sharing the link by the way. Just tweeted it and will check it out momentarily.

  • JohnExley

    Malhar appreciate the comment man, glad you agree. Thanks for sharing the link as well, good to see Mayor Bloomberg considers something like this a high priority as well. Wish we could people like him to support the Startup Visa Act more proactively as well….that ought to be passed in my opinion!

  • JohnExley

    Rob, I’m glad you liked my article and thanks for your comment! While admittedly I do not research politics as much as the average fella in D.C., I can’t agree with you that “The two parties are interchangeable”. I think there is a lot of disparity between Republicans and Democrats and I do not agree that voting for either party directly continues problem of illegal immigration. The issue of illegal immigration is very complicated and I will not pretend to understand all the dynamics at play, but what solution are you offering? To open our borders to “skilled people” but to slam the door on “unskilled workers”? I think the issue is a bit more complicated than that.

  • Anonymous


    I live in CA so maybe that has something of an impact on my feelings. When I look at the two parties, we have Tax and Spend, Democrats, and the Spend and Spend, Republicans. The two parties both have a lot to gain from allowing illegal immigration at the expense of promoting skilled and educated immigration.

    On the D side, we see them growing their voter base, which the SEIU and many State Senators here have flat out stated. On the R side, we see the creation of a near-slave class that can be exploited.

    With educated and skilled immigrants they are not beholden to one party and will not be exploited by one party’s special interests, so there’s little value for the politicians who only care about how they can stretch out their own power.

    I see it everyday in my own business and some friends businesses.

    I’m not proposing we block out all unskilled folks from entry, because I believe that a lot of people with potential can come here and then gain skills but what both parties are allowing to occur with illegal immigration is simply unsustainable. The older immigration policies with quotas and whatnot, which are what most European countries are doing now after seeing the failure of open borders policies, should be reinstated.

    At the same time we need to make it less of a cluster-eff for people to come here legally, but since I’m not directly involved I don’t know the necessary steps to fix that particular issue.

    By doing these two things I think that we can create a better environment for innovation and opportunities.

    Also, I’m probably somewhat jaded with our representatives.

  • Jared O’Toole

    “Here’s to those who ignore over-hyped trends and just hustle forward.” That is what it is all about Exley! I know you love the hustle and it really is the best thing anyone can do. Whatever you goal is in life you have to keep working hard to get there. If you do you will get there…It will take a ton of work and you will have to overcome many ruts but it will be worth it in the end!

    Thanks for the great comments and this article as always Exley!

  • Giftasmile

    Even the success of many Gen Y entrepreneurs wont let this debate cool down!!! People must read about the guy heading SCVNGR to see how actually Gen Y is working to make their dreams come true.. There are many Gen Y entrepreneurs out there slogging to make it big.. Yeah people who are influential like Mr. Bloomberg must take up this issue and support the Start up visa act.. So that many people American Dream wont come to an end and they need not return to their home countries to continue with their start ups.. I think you must have come across this article abt the SCVNGR guy, tweet it, an interesting one for sure…

  • JohnExley

    Wow…what an article. I’ve read about SCVNGR on TechCrunch quite a bit this year (most recently here: “When Group Buying Met Check-In: SCVNGR Hooks Up With BuyWithMe On Local Deals”, but hadn’t caught onto the motivating story of this superhuman founder Seth Priebatsch haha. Thanks for sharing that story.

    Meanwhile, some more to that over-hyped “Gen Y is lazy blah blah”…well then how come venture capitalists/angel investors Always, ALWAYS talk about funding the 20-something year old entrepreneurs? This isn’t just something I’ve read….VC’s have told me that they prefer to fund ‘younger’ entrepreneurs because the middle-aged entrepreneur tends to have less energy and ability to work crazy hours (family, kids, debt, etc.).

    But okay don’t take just my words. How ’bout some data. BOOM: the average age of founders that Y Combinator funds? 26. (read here:

    Here’s some more. Private investment research firm CB Insights released a study that examined “the makeup of the 185 companies that received seed VC and Series A investments during the first half of 2010.” Guess what they found? “Companies with an average age in the range of 26-34 had the highest median funding.” 38% of seed/series A fundings in NYC went to founders in the age range of 26-34, and 33% of the same stage financings went to 26-34 year old founders in California. (read the whole article here: “Venture Capital Human Capital Report Examines Who Gets Funded”

    Admittedly, it’s not the majority (48% of the fundings nationwide went to founders between the ages of 35-44…experience takes the cap on this one). But COME ON. “Gen Y” is actively raising funding, almost the majority. I’ve heard enough. If you’re in your 20s, just please ignore all of this hype, buckle your seatbelts, and PUNCH IT. Keep hustling and moving forward, these negative perceptions will Not slow us down.

    Back to studying.

  • JohnExley

    Rob, shoot I wish I knew more on this so I could respond to you and Not sound like an uninformed blowhard throwing opinions around with any foundation. Needless to say, I just don’t know enough about this issue in California. So, I will agree with you that Something needs to change.

    Perhaps reinstating the European policies of immigration with a quota is the best way to go. It just might be. The Startup Visa Act is all but a no-brainer to me. Just pass it. I did some research over the weekend on the Act, and meeting the requirements to qualify for the Visa (if it was passed) are certainly not ‘easy’. Perhaps they might even be lowered. Meanwhile, the requirements for immigrating here as an unskilled laborer…I honestly am hesitant to comment on it because I have researched that part of the issue so minimally. I would say that inaction is making the situation worse though….perhaps it would be best to reinstate the European policies of immigration with a quota.

    The overall point is that I passionately believe we need to do everything we can to attract workers to our country…whether entrepreneurs or not. Because, right under our eyes some of our most talented students are leaving the US and chasing dreams in emerging markets around the world.

  • JohnExley

    Captain O’Toole the Twachelor, if achieving a huge goal was easy and the journey had no valleys/obstacles, then what would be so great about it? It doesn’t just apply to entrepreneurs, but that’s the easiest example so let’s go with that really quick:Paul Graham always helps guide the founders that Y Combinator works with to develop a big, world-changing vision for their company (read YC’s philosophy here: Not all the companies will ever be enormous, world changing companies. But one thing we can guarantee? If they don’t think and plan big, the chances of successfully scaling like that accidentally are next to zero. For individuals, randomly moonwalking through life wondering if they’ll win the lottery will work about as often as the Bills win the Super Bowl. Oh wait….they’ve never won a Super Bowl (that’s right, I HATE the Bills…..diehard Patriots fan since I was 6 years old). But seriously: having a bigger goal in mind will make it much more likely IMO that your hustle yields big-goal-achieving-results. Whatever that means. HERE’S TO THE HUSTLERS! Haha, thanks a mil for the opportunity to write on Under30CEO Jared, you know I love you guys. – Exley

  • The G

    Hi guys – like these comments. Very interesting. As far as the Repub v Democrat, in CA there is no diff at all. And many of the Repubs have become more and more like Democrats in my opinion. And if they don’t become more freedom loving, small govt, reduce spending and taxes they will only aid in developing a third party which may give longer life to the socialistic / anti-business tendancies of the Democrats. This will only serve to weaken America, again in my opinion. Our country has a problem with illegal immigration and it is affecting our economy. See what is happening in France when a nation opens itself to uncontrolled immigration. Opening the US to entrepreneurs only strengthens a country as we bring the smartest, brightest to our shore which means they are not somewhere else growing their ideas. For sure that will stimulate our economy. It’s as if our politicians like Mr. Obama et al are still smoking weed and playing their idealistic one world love & peace theories on our national stage. They see the US as the problem, not part of the solution as it has been in the past. His “change” is to make us his dream come true; European Socialism. See Greece. How quickly he apologizes for the US rather than defend her. Such do not understand that the foundation of our country which led to its’ emergence as the world power was based in honesty, individual freedom, integrity and love of and belief in God. Remove these tenants and we are any other country stymied by its despotic leaders. Acceptance of evolution has social implications, but that’s another discussion. Our Democratic Republic was founded on law governing a free people and governing the government as well. Unfortunately our leftist leaders (such as our new Supreme Court Jurist) want to redefine our constitution, open our borders, and ultimately gain more and more unlimited unbridled control of our country. You young men will need to fight against this as they view entrepreneurs / business as their enemy as you become too powerful for them to handle. As the hated Ronald Reagan stated: “Entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States.” and again “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” again “Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.” again “Government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them.” to this “The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” and finally “Without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure.”. Understand some of these principles and you will see the difference between Democrats and Republicans, unfortunately the longer Repubs drift towards the middle, like a warm cup of coffee, they become repugnant. Warm regards gents, ~The G

  • Giftasmile

    Yeah i totally agree with you on the VC part,Gen Y …truly what Seth Priebatsch set to do is a dream ..Creating a game layer on top of the world.. yeah he is superhuman to work like that ;-) The best companies in the world(Apple,facebook,Microsoft to name a few) were set up by passionate youth in their early 20s.. Yeah lot of the big funding is going to guys the age group you have told.. we are in a fast changing world,daily we need to learn, adapt and keep trying to make our dreams come true.. Yeah I am in my 20s and passionate to make it big!! Nice that you are passionate about writing.. I follow under30ceo daily.. I wish there is more content updated daily to read.. Will start contributing once I get free from my current project.. Follw me @yashwantram

  • Evan Stuart

    generation y has not wrecked the economy. We have been given the unfortunate responsibility of transforming the economy for it be accurately reflective the the earth resource capacities and usages (sustainable economy)… and then we have to create a new social theory to keep humanity from destroying itself…. and then create the structural physical / engineering foundations to teraform/travel to other planets. Quite a bit for a generation, huh?  We are the first generation have to explore the actual physical possibilities of the universe allowed by science to preserve our species. We are alive in amazing times.