Cyan Banister (Founders Fund) tells her surprising origin story | Summary and Q&A

September 5, 2018
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Cyan Banister (Founders Fund) tells her surprising origin story

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In this video, Cyan Bannister, a venture capitalist at Founders Fund, shares her inspiring journey from being homeless at 15 to becoming a successful entrepreneur. She discusses how she embraced incrementalism, turned life into a game, developed individualism, found mentorship in unexpected places, and leveraged technology to transform her life. She emphasizes the importance of curiosity, surrounding oneself with talented individuals, and creating opportunities through persistence and hard work.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Cyan go from being homeless at 15 to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

Cyan explains that her journey was not easy, but she embraced gradual progress and improvement through incrementalism. She focused on small goals, such as getting a shower or a meal, and continually worked on bettering herself. She treated life as a game, constantly leveling up, and turning everything into an opportunity for growth. She also credits her transformation to mentorship and the power of technology, which opened up new possibilities for her.

Q: What role did mentorship play in Cyan's journey?

Cyan acknowledges the significant impact of mentorship on her journey. She mentions how her friend, Chris, exposed her to the world of computers and the internet, which sparked her curiosity and passion. She also talks about her mentor, Lee Burton, who recognized her potential and helped her develop her skills in system administration and technology. Mentorship provided her with guidance, opportunities, and the belief in herself to strive for success.

Q: How did Cyan leverage technology to change her life?

Cyan describes how her initial exposure to computers and the internet opened up a whole new world for her. Through online platforms like Internet Relay Chat (IRC), she connected with people from all over, read about her interests, and immersed herself in the tech community. With the guidance of her mentor, she pursued a career in tech support, eventually becoming a system administrator. Technology not only provided Cyan with a compelling career path, but also ignited her entrepreneurial spirit.

Q: What did Cyan learn from her experience at IronPort?

Cyan reflects on her time at IronPort and the pivotal moment when her co-founder, Lee Burton, gave her a book on system administration. Initially dismissive, she eventually delved into it and discovered the power of root access on a UNIX operating system. This revelation changed her trajectory and led her to become a system administrator. The experience taught her the value of seizing opportunities, continuously learning, and venturing into new territories.

Q: How did Cyan transition from a tech career to becoming a venture capitalist?

Cyan shares how her husband, Scott Bannister, encouraged her to invest her windfall from the sale of IronPort in startups. As she gained experience and developed a track record of successful investments, she caught the attention of Bryan Singer Minh from Founders Fund. He recognized her talent and invited her to join the team. After a rigorous interview process, Cyan landed a role at the venture firm. She considers herself fortunate to have the opportunity to stretch herself intellectually and make a difference in the startup ecosystem.

Q: What advice does Cyan give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Cyan emphasizes the importance of being endlessly curious, surrounding oneself with talented individuals, and playing the game of life. She highlights the significance of mentorship, which can be both formal and informal, and mentions how numerous influential figures believed in her and offered guidance. Cyan also encourages individuals to create opportunities for themselves by showing up, being persistent, and seizing every chance to learn and grow.

Q: How did Cyan deal with failures and setbacks along the way?

Cyan admits that failure is a natural part of the game and acknowledges that she has experienced her fair share of failures. Yet, she stresses that perfection is not the goal, and it is essential to embrace failures, learn from them, and keep moving forward. Cyan describes how she has stomped around, screamed at the sky, and then picked herself up, taking a deep breath, and pressing "start" once again.

Q: How did Cyan overcome self-doubt and believe in herself?

Cyan admits that self-doubt can be a challenge, but she learned to give herself props and believe in her abilities. She shares that the support and encouragement of others, as well as her own persistence and determination, helped her overcome self-doubt. By surrounding herself with talented individuals and focusing on her strengths and achievements, she was able to build confidence in her abilities.

Q: What advice does Cyan have for those in a position to help others?

Cyan emphasizes that everyone has the ability to help and mentor others, even in small ways. She encourages individuals to offer guidance, acknowledge others' achievements, and believe in their potential. She believes that by creating opportunities and supporting others, we can make a positive impact on their lives.

Q: What are some of the key takeaways from Cyan's journey?

Cyan's journey highlights the power of incrementalism, the importance of mentorship, the transformative potential of technology, and the value of embracing failure and self-belief. Her story also emphasizes the significance of persistence, curiosity, and seizing opportunities to create a transformative path. Overall, Cyan's journey serves as an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs to persevere, seek guidance, and strive for success.


Cyan Bannister's journey from homelessness to venture capital success is a testament to the power of persistence, curiosity, and seizing opportunities. Her story highlights the importance of incremental progress, the role of mentorship in nurturing talent, and the transformative potential of technology. Cyan's determination to succeed, despite setbacks and self-doubt, reminds us that embracing failure and believing in oneself are essential for personal growth and success. Her message encourages individuals to surround themselves with talented individuals, offer mentorship to others, and create their own opportunities through relentless pursuit and unwavering determination.

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