30 under 30: Alex Banayan


Learning from the best and spreading the word

Two days before Alex Banayan, 24, took his freshman year final exams, he was determined to get on — and win — “The Price Is Right.”

He stayed up all night and read articles with tips for being one of the eight contestants picked out of the 300 people in the audience. He even researched the show’s casting producer and learned about how to win people over by making physical contact.

The day of the taping, Banayan met the producer, a man named Stan, who, according to what Banayan read online, winked at his assistant after interviewing potential contestants if he wanted to choose them. They talked for a few minutes and Banayan made a point to shake his hand, but as Stan walked back to his office, he didn’t wink. Banayan panicked.

“I yelled ‘Stan!’ ” he recalled. “Stan turned around and asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ I had no idea what I was going to say. I just said, ‘I like your scarf! I’m an avid scarf collector. I have 300 of them.’ He cracked up and gave me his scarf. I gave it back. We joked around. He walked away, looked over at his assistant — and winked.”

Banayan won a sailboat on the show and sold it to fund his idea for a book called “The Third Door.” That was six years ago. The book from Crown/Random House, which is slated for release in 2018, features interviews with luminaries like Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Mark Zuckerberg and Steven Spielberg, chronicling how they launched their careers.

Banayan, who attended Beverly Hills High School, got the idea to write “The Third Door” when he was studying pre-med as a freshman at USC. “My first few months of college, I remember looking at my biology books and feeling like they were sucking the life out of me,” he said. “I started questioning what I wanted to do with my life. I found out that Bill Gates had started a company from his dorm room, and I wanted to know how he did it.”

This led Banayan on a journey to find and interview successful entrepreneurs and celebrities. Through his interviews, he found they all had the same mindset: They were determined, and would take whatever measures were necessary to achieve their dreams.

Banayan likens this mindset to a “third door.” “When you go to a nightclub, there are always three ways to get inside,” he said. “The first door, where the bouncer is, is where 99 percent of people wait to get inside. The second door is VIP, for people with billionaire parents. To get into the third door, you have to run through the alley, bang and bang on the back door, or go in through the kitchen window instead.”

During the time Banayan was writing the book, he switched his major to business, and, at age 19, became the world’s youngest venture capitalist, according to Forbes, through his job at the high-tech venture capital firm Alsop Louie Partners. He made the magazine’s “30 Under 30” list and was named one of the “Most Powerful People in Finance” by Business Insider. He alsowrites for TechCrunch, The Washington Post and FastCompany, and does public speaking at conferences for Apple, Harvard, Dell and Nike.

Banayan said he has cracked open that third door, but he’s well aware that he couldn’t have done it alone. The first-generation Iranian American said he has to give credit to his family and ancestors.

“One generation lays down the groundwork for the next generation,” he said. “If I was born one generation earlier, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”