Will Weisman is an Executive Director at Singularity University. He is passionate about people and ideas and has spent his life working to bring them together to help curate great opportunities and experiences. Will is also an active venture investor helping support early stage tech companies. Will joined SU in 2013 to create our large programs and he’s been involved with everything from Exponential Medicine, Exponential Finance, and Exponential Manufacturing to International Summits and is now spending more and more of his time focused on building our Global Summit.
Thanks for taking some time to talk with us, Will. You had a record Global Summit in 2018, with more than 1800 attendees from 64 countries. What were the highlights for you?
Thanks, Merry! So let me start by saying that Global Summit is my favorite SU event of the year, as it’s the result of the magic that happens when we bring together our top faculty and outside thought leaders with our amazing global SU community. Getting to see and share what’s happening at the forefront of technology and helping lead discussions around how we can all work toward making a better world is part of what makes this such a special gathering for me.
I also love seeing the meaningful new connections and relationships that come out of the Global Summit. To see new ideas and new relationships come together to spark bold new opportunities that often change the trajectory of people’s lives brings incredible fulfillment to me and helps achieve SU’s mission to positively impact people’s lives and the world.
And you certainly found an unusual way to celebrate: you went up in a jetpack! What was that experience like?
I did indeed, Merry, and it involved having five flame-spitting jet engines strapped to my body! So at our most recent Global Summit, we had Richard Browning, the inventor of the Gravity Jetpack, speak as well as fly for our attendees at our big Tuesday night party. Afterward, he invited Peter Diamandis and me to join him for a test flight. We met up a few days after the Global Summit in an airport hangar outside Los Angeles to spend the day trying to become the first Americans to fly a jetpack. Sadly the 6-12 inches I got off the ground, didn’t qualify as flying, so that title is still up for grabs!
Richard makes it seem so easy, but the reality is that it requires a tremendous amount of practice, strength, and coordination, which is maybe where I ran into problems. 🙂 Ultimately, though, it was pretty extraordinary to have these jet engines strapped to my body, seeing flames shooting out of them and trying to control the vector of the thrust to get up into the air. Nothing like the smell of jet fuel and the noise and the heat of the engines to keep you on your toes! I’m looking forward to giving it another shot.
Wow! Sounds like it was an exciting experience for all involved! You had mentioned to me another pretty intense experience from a few years back. Want to share that with our readers?
Sure! So a few years back, I got to know Andy Walshe who ran Red Bull High Performance, the group within Red Bull that helps their athletes accomplish the incredible feats they’re so well known for. I got a tour of their HQ one time and he was telling me about their “Performing Under Pressure” program when I mentioned that I was interested in this type of stuff and would love to volunteer if it was ever an option. “Be careful what you wish for,” he said. About four months later, I got a call from him, and he said he was thinking of inviting someone from the business world to join a small group of 10 or so of their sponsored athletes. Would I be interested? My immediate answer was “Yes!” He was right, though. Be careful what you wish for! It turned out to be one of the most challenging weeks of my life.
I showed up in Venice, CA and I was about 20 years older than the rest of the crew: a crew made up of professional and Olympic athletes from motocross, freestyle skiing, big wave surfing, triathlons, ski jumping, and more. We’d start our days every morning at 6am with yoga and meditation on the roof of a hotel. After a light breakfast, they’d take blood and saliva samples so they could track how our bodies reacted to stress. And then they’d sometimes ask us to strap on a heart monitor. We knew that when they did that, we’d be in for some bonus excitement.
There were some really intense experiences during this week! Once, we were crawling blindfolded through a two-foot tall maze filled with large 8+ foot boa constrictors. Pretty unnerving to feel snakes slithering over you after being shown their teeth and warned that they will bite you if you startle them. At another point, we were all blindfolded, kidnapped, and thrown in a van with crazy music blaring while being yelled at and having water tossed on us. Then we had to overcome our claustrophobia and do breath-holding exercises underwater while carrying weights or doing math problems. My record was 3 minutes, which really surprised me. It was a crazy but incredible week that taught me a lot about myself.
Whoa! Talk about being out of your comfort zone! So what did you learn about yourself?
I learned about the power of the mind and the impact that your breathing and heart rate have on your ability to think clearly and to perform in very intense situations. I also learned that we’re all so much more capable than we think we are. I see this over and over again in myself and others. How we see ourselves, what we think we’re capable of, and how we see the world IS our reality. If you can open your mind and see yourself differently, or see the world differently, almost anything becomes possible. It’s one small step in front of another small step that ultimately will get you to the top of a mountain. You just have to believe you can do it and start taking those steps. It’s one of the things I love about SU. We see people day after day shift their thinking and start off on incredible journeys.
Amazing. And speaking of amazing, are there any spoilers you can tease about next year’s Global Summit? What stage of the planning are you in at this point?
We’re still early in putting this year’s program together. We try to take it up a notch every year, so whether it’s the speakers, the quality of the production, or the companies demoing their product’s, this year’s Global Summit will be a special gathering and is shaping up to be our best one yet!
We’re increasingly focused on showcasing the global nature of our community, so you can expect to see more international speakers and participants than ever before. One thing I can tell you is that we’ll be back at the Academy of Sciences again for what has become one of our attendees’ favorite parts of the Global Summit, our Global Celebration. We’ll take over the entire Academy for an amazing evening of food, drink, and music to help celebrate our incredible community and our combined efforts to create a world of abundance.
That sounds amazing indeed! Will, I know you’re also actively involved in the startup community as an investor and advisor. Can you tell us more about that and why you’re drawn to it?
My background is a mix of entrepreneurship and venture capital. I started my first business when I was in eighth grade and have been passionate about entrepreneurship ever since. I’ve been fortunate to get to spend most of my adult life in Silicon Valley and as a result, have gotten to see a lot of great companies get built as well as witness my share of implosions.
As an investor and advisor, I love getting to work with companies that are trying to dramatically change the world and to bring my lifelong learnings and passion to help them succeed. This is an amazing time to be an entrepreneur, as the scope of the problems we get to focus on has never been bigger. And our access to resources and the speed at which successful companies have been built has never been greater. Fun stuff that makes for a rewarding life!
That sounds fascinating, Will, and those startups are fortunate to have someone with your depth of passion and experience to guide them. What motivates and inspires you about working at SU?
Thanks, Merry. I think this is the most important time in human history and believe that we have an important role to help educate humanity about what’s happening and to help present an understanding and a vision for what the world could be. We have all the resources we need to provide food, shelter, education, energy, health care, and security for everyone in the world if we chose to do so. I really believe that we can create an abundant future for everyone, but we have to overcome some of humanity’s most base impulses and help share a vision for how we get to that abundant future. SU provides an extraordinary platform to help educate global leaders and to help act as a voice for what the world CAN be if we all work together with the right goals in mind.
Agreed! Thanks for sharing so many great stories. You certainly lead an interesting life! Anything else you’d like to say to our readers before we go?
Just that I hope you’ll join us at the Global Summit. It’s a great chance to learn and connect in an incredibly welcoming environment. Come be part of the solution!
SU has an incredibly diverse, talented team and extended family. Many shine on stages around the world. Some lead key departments and initiatives to keep SU moving forward fast. And others work behind the scenes in fascinating roles that we’ll also explore. In this “Catching Up With…” blog post series, we meet members of the SU ecosystem, learn about their roles and what motivates and inspires them, and give our readers rare behind-the-scenes access to Singularity University.