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Other of Interest 6/7/12

Business Tips From College Dropouts: Zuckerberg, Jobs, Gates, Dell, Ellison, Branson and Disney

According to a January 2012 Forbes article, nearly 16% of the 400 most affluent Americans do not have a college degree. When one considers the 400 richest people on the entire planet, the percentage of non-college graduates doubles. Shocking? Hardly.

PayPal Co-founder Peter Thiel has granted 24 people under 21 years old $100,000 each, with plans to allocate additional scholarships in coming years. The primary stipulation is that each Thiel Fellow must drop out of college, for at least two years, and pursue their “entrepreneurial ventures, research and self-education.”

For many entrepreneurs, college has little appeal. Academia’s arbitrary, bureaucratic structure, combined with its predominant focus on theoretical issues, causes many entrepreneurs to depart college early. Others, such as Walt Disney and Richard Branson never even enroll.

Given the advent of “drop out of college” scholarships and the success of high-profile entrepreneurs who only earned a high-school diploma, it is prudent to consider their business advice.

1.      Mark Zuckerberg – “The dynamic of managing people and being CEO in a company is a lot different than being college roommates with someone.”

Although it may be comfortable to start a company with your friends, it is a mistake, unless your friend(s) happens to be ideally suited to their role in your venture. Hang out with your friends when you are relaxing and work with the most talented people you can recruit.

Facebook had to resolve expensive and time-consuming litigation related to promising early hires senior positions and substantial equity stakes. This could have been avoided if, from the company’s outset, Mr. Zuckerberg had focused on hiring all-star employees and not simply friends and friends-of-friends.

2.      Steve Jobs – “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.’” 

Even if an established leader in your industry does not see the wisdom in your ideas, do not waiver. As Clay Christensen aptly points out in The Innovator’s Dilemma, a large company’s defense of its legacy clouds its ability to appropriately assess the potential impact of disruptive technologies.