When you look at the list of startup founders who dropped out of college and went on to make millions or even billions, or to just disrupt the world, it’s like a who’s who of entrepreneurship. So how these founders went from college dropout to millionaire entrepreneurs?
On the DealMakers podcast, where some of the most successful entrepreneurs share how they did it, I’ve uncovered that contrary to this perceived pattern, the majority of highly successful startup founders really do go to college. They may not all finish. Many hatch ideas in school, and then eventually go back to learn more about business and get their masters degrees.
Sometimes even after building multi-million dollar ventures. They often find huge advantages, not necessarily in the education, but the networks they build and the holistic perspectives they gain of building really large corporations.
Still, it is inspiring and freeing to see the incredible success stories of those who’ve left school early and accomplished so much. It means that no matter what you start with, or if you already dropped out of university or even high school, you still have a chance. Even better, there are no limits on what you can do.
One of the common themes behind how these founders went from college dropout to millionaire entrepreneurs is how great storytellers they all are in order to onboard investors, customers, and great talent. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted. Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M (see it here).
Here are just some of our famous dropouts…
1. Bill Gates
Gates is a college dropout out of Harvard. He went to work at Honeywell before building Microsoft. He says he knew that worst-case scenario, he could always go back to school.
Being able to get into business at such a key time wasn’t an opportunity that he could guarantee would come along again.
As of 2019, Wikipedia reports Bill is worth $100B. Perhaps even more significantly, he is not only on the board of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, but he is also respected as one of the most significant philanthropists of our time.
He is proof that you don’t need a degree to change the world or make it a better place.
2. Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg is our next college dropout on this list. HE is probably the most famous college dropout among entrepreneurs.
While worth substantially less than Bill Gates, and having come under fire for various issues to do with Facebook recently, Zuckerberg is considered the youngest ‘self-made’ billionaire and is the only person under 50 on the Forbes’ top 10 richest list.
He is unquestionably one of the most powerful and influential people alive. All of this from starting with just $1,000 in startup cash. He has also become a notable real estate investor, recently following fellow billionaire Larry Ellison by purchasing 700 acres of a Hawaiian Island.
3. John Mackey
Although John Mackey did attend university and is not a college dropout per se, he wasn’t obsessed with getting a degree.
He went on to found Whole Foods Market. The physical grocery chain recently acquired by Jeff Bezos and Amazon. The deal was reportedly worth $13.7B. Though Wikipedia puts John’s net worth at just $100M.
Mackey also authored the book Conscious Capitalism. He dropped out of school to start his first health food store with $10,000 in borrowed money and raised $35,000.
He is known to live very frugally. Including only having an executive salary of $1, and driving an old Honda.
4. Steve Jobs
If the fact that Steve Jobs was a college dropout doesn’t make you want to leap right into entrepreneurship, something is wrong. Yet, it is important to remember that he was certainly the exception, not the rule.
He had vision, sales skills and the ability to manage people. Including many people with degrees, and who have also been strong entrepreneurs in their own right. Guy Kawasaki being one of them.
5. Jan Koum
Jan is the cofounder of Whatsapp. He dropped out of school after being hired by Yahoo! Followed by taking a year out to travel South America playing ultimate frisbee. Then after being turned down for a job at Facebook created Whatsapp. A hot tech startup that was then bought by Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg for $19.3B.
Since then Jan has become a notable philanthropist, giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars to various causes.
6. Matt Mullenweg
Matt Mullenweg joined the college dropout club in order to work for CNET. Then became the lead developer of WordPress. A company that now powers around 30% of all websites on the internet.
In addition to founding other companies, Matt is also an angel investor through Audrey Capital, which has made at least 30 startup investments.
Matt has also donated millions to nonprofit causes, including charity: water.
7. Larry Ellison
Billionaire ‘samurai’ of the business world, Larry Ellison famously dropped out of college and drove cross country to California.
Today, Larry is the owner of a Hawaiian island, a pilot, trophy-winning sailor, and the formidable and legendary founder of Oracle. Worth an estimated $64B, and board member at Tesla. Larry is also reportedly a member of Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge.
8. Julian Assange
The highly controversial founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange also become a college dropout after studying at two universities in Australia. A hacker, politician and probably one of the most polarizing figures in modern history.
Although recently arrested after camping out in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for years, Assange previously won the Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal for Peace with Justice. An award only previous bestowed on three people. Two of them being the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.
His biography deal alone was reportedly worth over a million dollars.
Education is important. We always have to be learning. That is essential as an entrepreneur. It’s just that entrepreneurs often see little value in a paper degree compared to what they can achieve by taking action.
Though it is worth pointing out that many startup founders have only made it through the fundraising game based on the networks they built in college, and have often hired outside executives with degrees to secure serious venture funding for their startups. This is definitely a critical pattern behind how these founders went from college dropout to millionaire entrepreneurs.
Degree or not, you can do it.