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John Adractas, C’98

CEO/Founder of Encircle Labs; Board Advisor at Simplee; Angel Investor at One Shared Mind Ventures

San Mateo, CA

Mathematics Major

I entered undeclared. The freedom to explore is a privilege—and I took full advantage at Penn. In my first year I studied everything from human biology to religious studies with a Star Trek twist! Increasingly I saw math and philosophy at the root and thus found my majors.

Being cold-called in Prof. Jonathan Block’s advanced analysis class for a proof was a terrifying experience. At first, I just stared and tried not to freak while gripping the chalk. After an awkward pause and some rambling, I started in with observations about what was given, the desired end, and potentially related concepts I hoped might help. I even called out the class to share ideas. Before I knew it, a mental map became clear. While I wasn’t destined to be a career mathematician, or even make use of Stoke’s theorem again, I learned to attack the unknown.

One recommendation I would share is to make a written map of your life decisions. From education—where and what to study—to professional—what to do—to social—who to learn from and share your time with.

My educational foundations at Penn and later HBS have proven invaluable. And not surprisingly, even those seemingly random electives are shaping the way. Think Gene Roddenberry’s tackling of controversial social matters veiled in science fiction or how a gene proves dangerous in one context yet invaluable in another, like Sickle Cell anemia vs. malaria.

My passion for exploration found its professional calling in the technology sector. I continue to build my collection of lenses, from venture investing to Google to young companies that dare to change the world. Now in my fifth startup and a founder, I saw first-hand the benefits of lean thinking, where we test, learn, and iterate, and work to mentor others.

One recommendation I would share is to make a written map of your life decisions. From education—where and what to study—to professional—what to do—to social—who to learn from and share your time with. No need to share this with anyone. Just look back and think about your mental model at each junction. How has your process for making decisions evolved? Which ones forced your hand later or opened new paths?  When are you proud of the process followed, versus proved lucky despite it? — March 7, 2019 • Photo by Brooke Sietinsons