Felix Salmon kindly put the questions I posted last week about Udacity to its founder, Sebastian Thrun, and wrote up a lengthy post about it here. Thrun helps to explain some of the uncertainty about the relationship between his various employers (Stanford and Google) and his new start-up venture, Udacity. Read the entire piece, as they say. Two things got my attention: On Stanford and Udacity:
Looked at from a 30,000-foot view, Stanford is the institution being disrupted here, it’s not the institution doing the disrupting.
I doubt that the Stanfords and Harvards of the world are worried about their own business models. As a friend told me, it's a really exciting time to be a first rate university or a first rate teacher, but a terrible time to be a third rate university or third rate teacher. But even if Stanford can be secure in its future, it seems to me lamentable that Stanford isn't leading the way in online learning instead of simply getting out of the way (as is implied in the Salmon piece). On for-profit vs. non-profit: And in response to the question why he organized Udacity as a for-profit venture rather than following his own inspiration, Khan Academy as a non-profit, Thrun said:
“for profit is not forced to make profit. I needed to get people together really fast, and it’s much easier to do that under the ways of a Silicon Valley company.”
I wonder what his Silicon Valley VC investors think of his view that for profit is not forced to make profit. Are VCs investing in social returns over financial returns these days?