Janice K. Lee
Student Spotlight: Rahul Rana
Updated: Aug 8, 2020
Q&A with Rahul Rana, author of Making Moonshots
Welcome to Student Spotlight, a series where I interview my peers about their passions and ventures. As a student entrepreneur I'm always open to learning and down for dialogues where others can share their goals and journeys. Today, I'm talking with Rahul Rana, author of Making Moonshots. Rahul and I met at Business School at our University's Road to Silicon V/Alley Cohort.
Making Moonshots explores the mindsets, philosophies, and strategies conducive to building moonshot startups. If you get the chance to read it, I highly recommend giving it a read when it officially launches in December 2020. You can find his Indiegogo here and preorder his book for special perks and exclusive access! Enjoy :)
Janice: Hi Rahul! So glad to see you bring your dream to the pages. What inspired you to write Making Moonshots? What does the title mean?
Rahul: Hey! First and foremost, a “moonshot” company is one that follows a three-part framework: futuristic and advanced tech/science, radically-creative solution, and solving a huge problem in the world. In simple terms, it’s impactful deeptech.
I was inspired for a couple of reasons. A major influence in my life is actually my dad’s workplace. He’s worked at the historic Bell Labs for more than my entire life. Thus, as a child, I was essentially surrounded by Nobel Prize recipients and breakthrough science. If you’re a fan of the tech world, I’m sure you know how impactful Bell Labs was. They’ve made some of the most valuable discoveries and inventions that we have to this day, and at the time it was all considered deeptech. Then, while I was entering college, I found the venture capital industry. It was immediately clear that this was my calling. I became super passionate about VC, specifically because I wanted to support founders who are building the future. I fell into the rabbit hole of deeptech VC and fast forward to now— I’m writing a book about it.
I’m obsessed with moonshot companies because:
1) I really believe in doing good in the world with advanced tech. The sheer amount of capabilities that are unlocked with the futuristic science and tech that we have is unknown to most, yet it's so widely applicable in solving the most pressing issues in the world. Thus, I wanted to create a toolkit on the mindset behind making a moonshot company so that we can make more of them.
2) I want to uplift the scientists whose life's work goes unnoticed! There's so much valuable science/tech out there, but these people don't have the business acumen to bring these breakthroughs to market and widespread use.
3) There are so many problems in the world, from food scarcity to ensuring planetary health to extraterrestrial matters. I want to inspire people to solve such problems through startups and other impactful initiatives.
Ultimately, I chose to write about moonshot companies as they are the crazy ones that everyone thinks are impossible to scale, yet they’re the ones that solve the world’s most intractable problems. The term “moonshot” comes from the Apollo missions in the 60s. Everyone thought going to the moon was impossible, but JFK and NASA did the impossible and came out victorious. I’m writing this book to inspire more people to do extremely bold things for the greater good, just like the original moonshot.
How did you get started with writing a book as a freshman in college? Who or what inspired and helped you along the way with your book?
I love this question. Everyone asks me about it and honestly, it’s because I’m passionate about venture capital and making an impact— I wanted to do something bold with it. Hence, I was driven to write it with an inner-motivation. I want to work with moonshot companies for the rest of my life. That said, I got lucky. I found an awesome mentor who helped me get started on the process, and with his help, I got in contact with a publishing company and boom. I’m on my way to being a published author, previously as a freshman but now as a rising sophomore. For all my non-target school students out there who want to do big things, this one’s for you.
Granted, doing all this taught me a big lesson. You can’t wish for luck and get it, but you can position yourself to better have luck come to you. It's like this one quote I heard that I forgot exactly: you can’t force lightning to strike a certain area, but you can put up a lightning rod during a thunderstorm and get a better chance at getting a strike. I’m all about maximizing serendipity. I was publishing content (LIBOR Financial newsletter), building genuine connections with professionals, and taking on big positions (Rutgers’ RSVP Venture Fund). My mentor (a complete stranger at the time) noticed all of my work and lightning struck.
What was your biggest challenge with the writing process? Was researching companies and startups and interviewing industry experts difficult to do?
The biggest challenge: time management. I love the research and interview aspect because I want to do it forever— it’s what venture capitalists do. But, juggling this book with my other internships and commitments definitely tested my limits. Back when we were on campus, I’d have to skip going out with friends and stay up super late as my roommate was sleeping to get some words in. Then, when COVID hit in March, the lockdown gave me a good amount of undisturbed time at home. Now, it's the summer and I have the ability to have my a social life back (from a distance). Devoting quality time to the book is tough considering all of that, but I’ve figured out a solid schedule.
What was the best part about writing the book?
Easily, it's all the people that I met. On one hand, my professional network exploded with the people who agreed to interview requests. On the other, I’ve been meeting so many university students across the world who have taught me so much and have helped me with my journey. Altogether, the people who I encountered as a result of the book made the journey so worth it.
What's your favorite chapter or topic discussed in Making Moonshots?
Tough question, but I think my chapter on philosophies. It gets really deep, but I’ve gotten good reviews on how I integrate philosophical concepts into entrepreneurship. From mental models to ancient beliefs, this is the most thought-provoking chapter in my opinion.
What was the most interesting thing you learned while doing research and talking to people?
Another tough question, because I find the entire concept interesting. But, I would say it's the idea that you don’t always need to be rich or an expert in a certain field to make a moonshot company. Sometimes, all it takes is extreme persistence and knowing some good people. There’s plenty of stories of founders coming from poverty and disadvantaged backgrounds. But, it’s important to note that that’s only the survivors. There's countless startup stories that end in worse ways— especially those that we don’t hear about. Thus, it’s interesting to see how and why the winners win.
Are you looking to make writing a part of your career? What are your goals or aspirations for your future?
My future aspirations revolve around a couple of core goals.
1) Become a deep tech venture capital investor. I actually devised a whole plan for a VC firm (name, vision, and everything) that I want to found.
2) Be a gen-z champion of moonshot companies.
3) The most important thing— make a positive impact on the world first through startups and VC, then maybe from the government- or a position of power/influence.
Thank you for sharing all of that, Rahul! It was amazing learning about your journey from the research, your burning passion to change the world, and the ups and downs of the writing process. I love how you want to share the ambitious energy of deeptech ventures and spread the light of its applications for addressing the world's most pressing issues. Best of luck to you and I can't wait to see it finally "launch"!
Final reminder to get your pre-order and contribute to the launch of this once in a lifetime book!
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