Famous Entrepreneurs Who Didn’t Go To College

It’s common to believe that the best way to become successful in business is to go to school for 4+ years. The truth, however, is that there are many famous businessmen out there who never even finished high school. They just had a dream and took their chances with it – and as the below entrepreneurs prove, this is what really matters in the end.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney, Founder of the Walt Disney Company, dropped out of high school at 16 to join the army but was too young. Instead, he forged a birth certificate and joined the Red Cross war effort. He landed his first job as a commercial illustrator at the age of 18. He the founder of the Walt Disney Company and eventually was awarded an honorary high school diploma at 58.

Michael Dell

michael dell

Michael Dell, the founder of Dell Computers, began his business from his dorm room at the University of Texas. He dropped out at the age of 19 to work full-time on the company after making almost $200,000 in his first year.

Steve Jobs

steve jobs

Steve Jobs will always be the leader for college drop-outs. Steve Jobs was known for his tenacity. Not only did he drop out of college after just a few months to start Apple, but he also famously said that if he had not dropped out, then he “would have become the person I always said I hated.”

Richard Branson

Another billionaire “dropout,” Sir Richard Branson, is one of the world’s most powerful businessmen. At the age of 16, Virgin’s creator dropped out of high school to start Student magazine, which became his first lucrative business venture. He bought his own Caribbean island when he was 24, was knighted in 1999, and is now believed to be worth $4.1 billion.

Bill Gates

bill gates

Bill Gates, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, dropped out of Harvard to concentrate on his company. Bill Gates was the world’s richest man from 1995 to 2017 when he was surpassed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, proving that degrees aren’t always needed.

Evan Williams

Evan Williams

Evan Williams only spent a year and a half at the University of Nebraska before leaving to pursue a career in information technology. He co-founded Twitter in 2006 and later founded the publishing sites Blogger and Medium, making him worth $2.2 billion.

Daniel Ek

Daniel Ek

Daniel Ek co-founded Spotify at the age of 21, after dropping out of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden after just eight weeks. The business currently has over 217 million users worldwide, and Ek is worth 4.5 billion dollars, making him the most influential person in the music industry.

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook from his dorm to help fellow students learn the people’s names in their classes. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard in 2004, during his sophomore year, to work on Facebook full-time and remains its CEO to this day. He is now worth an estimated $86.3 billion.

Matt Mullenweg

Matt Mullenweg

Matt Mullenweg has been an integral player in the evolution of WordPress from a blogger’s tool to the world’s most used Content Management System (CMS). Now powering over 30% of the web, WordPress is in all likelihood the most widely used CMS in existence. The former political science major dropped out of the University of Houston to work at CNET Networks. He left CNET two years later and founded Automattic, the business behind WordPress.com, Akismet, Gravatar, Tumblr. He currently manages the WordPress Foundation.

Rocco Fiorentino

Interview with Rocco Fiorentino of Benetrends Financial

What was the first business you started?

My first business was a mechanical contracting business which I started with my partner in 1976. I was still very young and had a lot to learn.

What is your background, and did it help you get where you are today?

During the early years of my first business, most of our customers were franchise brands like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and many more. This was my opportunity to learn about franchising.

How did the idea for your current business come about?

The current businesses I am currently involved in have all stemmed from my early days as an entrepreneur. I am always wondering what else we can do to serve our customers better and what other products we may provide to them that would fit our current model, and we would be able to execute with “Best in Class” service.

What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur?

Since my first job at the early age of 14, I wondered what we could do better, whether it was the restaurant that I worked in as a busboy or any of the jobs after that. When I could start a service business since I was already in the business working for someone else, I knew I wanted to do it, and I knew I had the passion for doing it better than anyone I have worked for in the past. Since then, I have always enjoyed entrepreneurship, and I truly enjoy going from one mistake to the next… Very enthusiastically!
I enjoy taking risks, and I try to take a calculated risk, and I enjoy the opportunity to see some of my vision come to reality in whatever I do.

Did you raise funding for your business or bootstrap it?

As a young man, I always was interested in engineering, and I wanted to go to trade school. My dad thought I was just wasting time, and we made a deal. I would pay for the engineering school while I was attending by working nights and weekends. If I did graduate, he would have the money waiting for me and re-inverse to my tuition. I graduated at the top of my class, and my graduation present was my full tuition returned to me by my dad. I used that tuition money to start my first business, buy my first service truck, and purchase the parts I needed to get started in my business.

How did you build a successful customer base?

I always pride myself on building personal relationships, especially with the initial customer base for any of the businesses I have been involved in.

Customers are just simply people who need a product or service. Any of us in business has a unique opportunity to serve and provide that product or service better than anyone else.  Customer service and customer relations are what I love best about business in general.  Regardless Of the product or service, you will always know what Is best for your customers and your employees if you have passion.

Which marketing tactics have been the most successful for you?

Marketing tactics continue to change and evolve and are certainly different in the many businesses that I have been involved in. Technology has allowed us to step up our game and be much more effective and efficient in our marketing efforts. I always try to focus on the messaging as I believe it is very important in any marketing type. My philosophy is “keep it simple” No need to overstate or over-engineer your message to a consumer who may not be aware of your product or service.

My rule of thumb in marketing is “always state the obvious.”  How many times have we all seen a commercial or an advertisement and have no idea what the company does or what the product is?

This is a simple rule that everyone should follow in whatever you are marketing or advertising can certainly be done in the simplest format.

What kind of culture exists in your organization, and how did you establish it?

Culture is a very tricky word. All entrepreneurs aspire to develop an amazing culture within their organizations. That is certainly a tall order. Culture typically comes from the top but not always. How many times have we seen mission statements that are so long that no one can remember them? I’ve been a trans financial, and our mission statement is simple.

“We make every client a champion.”

All of the staff members at Benetrends Financial can certainly remember that line and can certainly practice our simple policy and mission to make every client a champion. Culture also requires the senior leadership team to live the culture and mission statement in the most obvious ways. That allows The entire organization to be aware of their actions at all times. It is not prudent to allow the culture to get in the way of building a solid profitable organization that is dedicated to the customers and the employees and is an organization that everyone is proud to be part of.

Can you describe your typical day?

My day starts at 5:30 AM. I usually do not set the alarm, but my body clock wakes me at 5:30, whether I like it or not. I typically take 20 to 30 minutes in the morning to get my thoughts together, walk on the treadmill a little bit, make my coffee and get my day started.

Time management is something that many entrepreneurs struggle with. I’ve taken several time management courses over my years, and humbly enough, I have learned how to better manage my time and have become better at managing my time and schedule with my direct reports.

How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?

Family life and work is always a balancing act for every entrepreneur. Today, it is even harder to separate ourselves as we carry our mobile phones and devices with us everywhere we go, whether it’s the office, the car, or our homes. We have access to everyone in our personal and professional lives, making it even more difficult to balance. There are times when my personal life and my family Are certainly my priority, and there are times when my professional life is my priority. That doesn’t mean that you have can’t do both. When I am on vacation, which is not often, I will always take time every day to view my emails, make a few calls and take care of business. Conversely, if I am in the office for long periods of time, I will always check in on my personal life and take care of anything I may need to do. I think the secret Have a good balance has been for me to prioritize and manage my time as best I can.

What motivates you?

I am a servant leader, and I am very philanthropic. What motivates me is when I can help others become more successful and help those that may be less fortunate than others.

How do you generate new ideas?

New ideas are easy for me. I have an amazing vision and see beyond what may be visible. That allows me to expand on whatever I am thinking of or working on. It is hard to describe, but it is so clear in my mind. My theory is that every good business today was just a crazy idea yesterday. If you believe in that and are willing to take some risk, great things can happen.

What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?

Truthfully, my greatest fear is my health and the health of my family. That is something none of us can control. We take good care of our bodies and hope that we are healthy for as long as we can be. None of us have any idea how much time we have left, and none of us can make enough money to buy one more minute when our time is up. We must always consider that as we live our lives To the fullest. When my time is up, I know that there is nothing I can do, and I do not fear death. If I fear death, I will for your life, and I do not want to do that. I want to live my life to the fullest.

How do you define success?

Jimmy, success is the ability to achieve your goals. They will always continue to change and evolve. I also believe that no one can have success unless they also have a failure. There are two words that some up success for me… Health and happiness for me, my family, and the many people in my life.

Do you believe there is a pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

As I share with many of my friends and colleagues, I believe that I became successful the day I lost my ego. I guess everyone has an ego at some point in their life; I certainly did. It seemed to get in my way a lot and prevent me from really being successful in terms of what was really important to me instead of when I perceived what is important to me through my ego’s lens. Having an ego was fun, but I hope I never get one again 🙂

What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

Being an entrepreneur is very rewarding on a personal level and professional level. My favorite aspects of entrepreneurism are that I can be creative, be independent, help others be successful, and build an organization that all of us could be proud of. Being a successful entrepreneur, he’s not easy for anyone. Every morning when I get up, I know there will be obstacles in my way; however, I just don’t know at what time they will surface or what types of obstacles they will be. I do know, with certainty, but I will overcome those obstacles and get where I need to go at that moment.

That being said, the way you address obstacles defined you as a person and an entrepreneur. At all times, I try to consider what is best, not just for me but also for the organization and the people involved in the decision. All decisions are multi-dimensional, and without multi-dimensional thought, you may make decisions that may be shortsighted in the long run.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

What is most satisfying to me is to see a dream become a reality. That has happened several times in my career and knowing you are capable of building something that is in your mind and making it really is most rewarding.

What are some of the mistakes you wished you could’ve avoided?

The very costly ones!

Truthfully, I have probably made mistakes with people, and I have probably hurt feelings along the way, not knowing that I have done so. Those of the mistakes I wish I would’ve avoided the most. People are the most important thing to me now in my life, and I am very conscious Of treating everyone with dignity and respect regardless of their status.

How did you handle adversity and doubt?

To be honest, I never struggled with doubt. Probably to a fault, I was always able to make decisions and live with the decisions I’ve made. I’ve never procrastinated and doubted myself at times where decisions needed to be made.

Adversity has never been an issue for me. I have a 25-year-old son who was born blind, and his twin brother died at birth. I’ve never considered that a difficulty or a hardship, and instead, I have embraced it. My son is very independent and lives alone in Nashville with his guide dog, and is a very successful music producer. Together, we started a foundation to help blind and visually impaired children adapt and Live a very normal life. I never felt victimized and always looked at an opportunity to see if we can make it better or who we can help with our knowledge.

Are there any books you suggest other entrepreneurs add to their “must-read” list?

My latest read that I enjoyed is a book titled “Thank You For Being Late” by Thomas L Friedman, who is also the author of “The World is Flat” It is an optimist guide to thriving in the age of accelerations.

What is a favorite quote from an entrepreneur that has inspired you?

“ try to be interested… Not interesting“

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?

Welcome to the wonderful world of entrepreneurism. Try to get rid of your ego as quickly as possible and treat everyone around you with dignity and respect.

Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?

I am currently working on a few new projects that are very exciting, and I am very excited about technology and where it is taking us. Stay tuned…

Jon Gosier

Jon Gosier: Investor and Innovator

Jon Gosier, serial tech entrepreneur, and early-stage startup investor named one of the 12 New Faces of Black Leadership.

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Jon Gosier, and I’m a serial instigator. 😉 ….meaning I start lots of technical projects: some for-profit, some not-for-profit, some local, some international, some high-tech, some low-tech.

I started my career working in the music industry but ended up working in areas of data science and software development. Recently I’ve moved into the world of finance, investing in emerging tech startups.

What was your TED talk about?

My 2014 TED talk was about the consequences of uneven innovation.

Sometimes technical innovators like myself and my peers are more focused on how cool the things we can create are and all the sophistication we can cram in. But just because something can be created doesn’t mean it should be, or that there won’t be unintended consequences and outcomes if it is created.

For example, the unintended consequence of the sharing economy (think of companies like Uber and Task Rabbit) is that though they offer great service to consumers, they require cheap labor, which is abundant when there is unemployment. The people who work for those companies are not employees; they aren’t making great money; they’re desperate. That’s uneven innovation at its core.

An example from the talk is how doctors are using wearable tech like the iWatch or FitBit to capture patient data seamlessly. This potentially makes patient intake faster and more accurate, it saves paper, it’s more transparent for the patient.

All of these things are great, right? Yes, but the consequence of doctors relying on such devices is that healthcare for those who can’t afford them may suffer. We risk making the less affluent a burden on the system, which results in their not being served equally.

How did you decide on the topic you presented?

I was actually inspired by another TED Talk, Malcolm Gladwell’s 2011 talk about Carl Norden who unwittingly set about the chain of events that lead to the Atomic Bombs being dropped on Japan.

In other words, we sometimes forget that setting anything into motion has a consequence. Perhaps we can’t always stop these unintended outcomes, but if we’re being responsible, we have to be conscious of trying to mitigate them.

After years of work in the civic tech space, I’ve seen a number of well-meaning projects go wrong. I just wanted to share a message about more thoughtfulness in tech.

Was it a conscious decision for the land ownership records in East Africa to be stored in the cloud so they would not be available to the people who could really benefit from it?

Not at all. Those sites were put up to help people. The goal was to help these communities keep better records so that their land *wouldn’t* be sold or taken from them.

However, the innovators behind that project didn’t anticipate that putting the information online they actually just made it more efficient for opportunists. They (perhaps) forgot to map out all the possible outcomes. If they had, they’d have realized that the one thing they were trying to stop they actually ended up accelerating.

You said we have a responsibility to think about the outcomes of the technologies we build. What can companies building new technologies do to minimize unintended consequences?

It’s all about who’s in the room when things are being created. If you grew up in a nice middle-class home, went to an ivy league school, started a company with kids from similar backgrounds, and only socialize with people who have similar backgrounds, when it comes to creating things you run the risk of making incorrect assumptions about others who aren’t like you live.

While it’s not possible (or reasonable) to try to get opinions from everyone who your product might touch, it’s worth the thought exercise to at least think about their experience.

What’s the use case for a $500 watch for someone who makes $1500 a month? What’s the use case for a great anonymous messaging app for women who are targeted and harassed online?

Again, you may not be able to do anything about consequence, but you run the risk of being irresponsible if you don’t at least stop to think about all the outcomes (positive and negative).

What hardware do you use?

My Macbook Air. I love it. It’s light and compact.
iPhone 5. The swiss army knife of electronic gadgetry.

I guess that’s it.

I don’t use a lot of hardware for my work. It’s mostly software. Things like R Studio for data science, TextMate for writing code, Apple Keynote for making presentations, and Google Sheets for financial stuff.

What apps or software can you not live without and why?

Excel is like water to me, I could go without it for a few days, but after a week or two, I’d definitely die. Gmail, of course. Waze for directions and avoiding speeding tickets. Sunrise for scheduling. Digg Reader for news.

For programming, Python, PHP, and R are the languages I can’t live without. TextMate I use for writing code. Transmit I use for FTP transfers to my servers.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve been reading Hatching Twitter for about a year now! It’s hard to read because every page makes me feel like I’m not accomplishing anything. It’s like a 400-page reminder of an awesome journey I could be on, but I’m not because I’m sitting there reading about someone else. 😉

I also love the Walking Dead Compendium series. Basically, they take all the comics and make one big fat book every few years. I don’t have the patience to read month to month, so I wait until they release those and just buy that instead.

I also recently read Daniel Suarez’s Daemon and Freedom Inc. Both great reads about the unintended consequences of the things we build.

What projects are you currently working on?

Lots of different things. As a technologist, I spend a lot of time helping organizations design thoughtful tech projects that try to avoid the scenarios I point out above. Also, as an investor, I can help the companies I’m advising or investing in do the same. So a lot of consulting in that area.

One project I contributed to this year was EbolaDeeply.org which was created to address the ebola outbreak in West Africa. I big portion of that work was trying to find the ethical and empathetic way of reaching people in West Africa and relating their experiences to others.