droputs-turned-business-leaders-fyle
Business management,  Entrepreneur,  Leadership,  Thought Leadership

The Fantastic Four: Four Dropouts. Four entrepreneurs.

28 years!

It takes 28 years to complete your education, starting from your elementary school to getting a Ph.D., (if you’re that sort of person.)

Yet, traditional schooling never had the right answers to our questions that ranged beyond the textbook (both literally and figuratively.)

Here’s another fun fact.

The average age of a CEO in the US is 53.

We’ll break this down for you,

28 years of education (with that stunning PH.D. degree!) + a decent 20 years of work experience with the Fortune 500s = You’ll be on your way to becoming an efficient but not-so-young CEO.

Sounds harsh, right?

This brings us to answer the following questions:

  • Does the traditional system lack a crucial component?
  • Is the education system responsible for the increasing number of dropouts?

To call them dropouts, wouldn’t do justice to the people they are and the empires they have built. Hence, to negative that factor, throughout the remainder of the article, they will be simply referred to as entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who fought against odds and got things done.

Here’s featuring entrepreneurs who revolutionized the digital space:

David Karp:


His early years

Coming from Manhattan, Karp was interested in tech from an early age. Karp’s programming intuition started when he was just 11 years old. He is known to have taught himself HTML at the age of 11.

At the age of 15, he dropped out of  school and continued his education through homeschooling. This allowed him enough time to create and sell websites. The twist in the tale came when he wanted to go to MIT but lacked a high school diploma (a prerequisite.)

He instead got an internship opportunity with Frederator Studios, an animation company, and his plans changed entirely.

The start of his entrepreneurial journey

Before his entrepreneurial journey he is known to have had a short stay in Japan where he further delved deep into tech. He also had a fruitful stint with UrbanBaby.
Karp always had a keen interest in the concept of tumblelogs (microblogging). After CNET bought UrbanBaby, he invested the money he secured from the CNET deal into his consultancy firm called DavidVille. After waiting for over a year for the tumblelogs platform, Karp and Arment decided to launch Tumblr in 2007.

He was 20 at the time.

That’s how old David was when he started Tumblr. In 2013, when Tumblr reached more than 13 billion page views, it got acquired by Yahoo for $1.1 billion. Karp’s net worth when this deal came through was $190 million. The numbers are enough to give you a sense of what Karp had established. To add to his list, the MIT technology review, TR35 had honored him as high ranking innovator under the age of 35 in 2010.

How’s he otherwise?

Karp is known to be a nonconformist, who is still very anti-schedule. He apparently, still finds his ways around doing things.

“For every new feature we add, we take an old one out. A lot of big sites don’t do that, and it’s a problem. Twitter started as a beautifully simple product, but it’s now going the same route as Facebook. The drive to innovate can over encumber and destroy a product. My goal is to keep Tumblr very focused.”

Karp, 2011

What we can learn from him?

Unlike schools, Karp acquired education through the experience of others and himself. He is well-versed with survival skills. As a result, he has a more casual yet wholesome outlook towards work. That’s what being young (body and soul) does to you, it makes you smarter and more adaptable to real-world problems.

How did his creation impact the world?

Tumblr redefined the microblogging world, and it all started with David Karp and Marco Arment. In mid-2017, Verizon acquired Yahoo and Tumblr. This was followed by Karp signing off in November of 2017. Karp’s also one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs under the age of 30.

Jack Dorsey:

His early days

Born in Missouri, Dorsey dabbled in technology early on. At the age of 15, he coded a dispatch software for cabs and logistics so that they can provide real-time information about their location.

Soon after, Jack joined Missouri University, only to transfer to NYU later. That’s when he came up with the idea of Twitter. He is also a certified masseur and fashion design enthusiast.

The start of Twitter

Dorsey approached Odeo, a podcast company which were looking to invest in text messaging. Evan WIlliams and Biz Stone (who were then working with Odeo) invested in Dorsey’s Twitter idea and went on to become its co-founders.

Dorsey dropped out of  NYU in 1999. Soon after, he started selling his dispatch software in 2000. In 2006, Twitter’s (formerly known as twttr) first tweet came from Jack Dorsey.

Fun Fact:

When Square went public in 2015, it listed one of the risk factors in their IPO filing as Jack Dorsey being the CEO of two companies at the time, Square and Twitter. Wow, right?

On being named the CEO of Twitter, his first move was to remove his nose ring in an attempt to look like a mature official from the Silicon Valley.  In 2008 Dorsey became the chairman of Twitter with Williams taking his place. Like any Silicon Valley entrepreneur, he started investing in other ventures, one of which was Foursquare.

Everything about Square

Dorsey created Square along with Jim McKelvey in 2009. It is a simple device that allows people to receive credit card payments. Dorsey wishes to redefine what tech means to people. Here’s what he had to say on joining the billionaires club in the year 2013:

“In terms of technology; we’re going to see a better and more immediate experience around the everyday things we do in life.”  

What we can learn from him?

He shows us the importance of a paradigm shift in life. He makes us believe that with empathy and innovation-driven thinking, anything is possible, even without traditional schooling.

How did his creation impact the world?

Twitter went public in 2013, and Dorsey became a billionaire within a few hours as the stock price went from $26 when markets opened to $45 when markets closed on that day. Square went public in 2015. In 2016, Dorsey sold 7% of his shares for financial and tax planning purposes with some amount also going to his nonprofit foundation.

Jan Koum:

His early years

He is a resident of Ukraine who immigrated to California with his mother. Jan Koum’s story is not like an ordinary rag to riches story. In his early days, Koum stayed in a small two bedroom apartment owing to a social support program. His mother was a babysitter, and he used to be a cleaner at a grocery store, both living off food stamps. Adding on to this, Koum’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, and soon he was living off his mother’s disability allowance. Koum later went on to barely graduate high school.

The start of his journey towards entrepreneurial success

After a couple of years, he taught himself computer networking by borrowing manuals from the bookstores. Koum then joined San Jose University while simultaneously working with Ernst and Young. He later dropped out because he hated school.

In 1997, Yahoo! hired him and he became friends with Acton, both of whom went on to co-found Whatsapp. After completing nine years in Yahoo!, Koum and Acton went on a small vacation.  After getting rejected from Facebook once they came back, Koum decided to experiment with an idea he had perceived.

How WhatsApp came into being?

After discussing his idea with some of his Russian friends and Acton, in 2009 WhatsApp came into existence. Koum’s Russian and Cali friends were coding the app with some of his Yahoo friends funding it.

He was running through his savings quickly. Koum wanted a simple app for people to communicate. Additionally, he wanted to keep the charges as low as possible. WhatsApp instantly became popular and rose ranks rapidly. Although the app was riddled with bugs, users kept using it as it was easy and cheap.

To counter effect the exponential rise in their user base, they tried making Whatsapp a paid software. Yes, that’s how great the app is. WhatsApp turned a lot of heads and was valued at $1.5 billion and had 400 million active users in 2013.

What can we learn from him?

Koum and Acton were working for free the initial two years. Koum’s primary motivation was always customer satisfaction. He was ready to undergo a pay-cut, provided his customers benefited from it. Staying down-to-earth and empathetic towards the needs of your customers are important takeaways from Koum.

Zuckerberg on WhatsApp

After a series of meetings, Zuckerberg made a formal offer to WhatsApp. In 2014, the two greats of Silicon Valley quite symbolically struck a deal in front of the door where Koum first use to collect food stamps. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in a record breaking deal for $19 billion.

A service which was priced at 99 cents for people to communicate around the world went on to get acquired by Facebook for a 19 billion dollar deal- WhatsApp is a path breaking innovation.

“Mobile and messaging is the only thing we do,” Koum said. “It’s in our heart and our blood and DNA.”

How did his creation impact the world?

Is it iMessage? Is it  MSN? No, it’s WhatsApp. WhatsApp revamped, improved and transformed the way people text. The genius behind WhatsApp is Koum.

Evan Williams:

His formative years

Born in Nebraska, he dropped out of the University of Nebraska within a year and a half to pursue his career. Dwindling in various tech jobs, Williams started in a marketing position in O’Reilly Media. Soon after he learned to code.

Following this, he started his website called evhead.com, where he used to blog his thoughts. After this stint with O’Reilly Media, he began to work for some tech giants like HP, Intel and Pyra Labs.

His entrepreneurial start with Pyra Labs and Blogger

Evan and Meg Hourihan co-created Pyra Labs. One of the products of Pyra Labs is Blogger (initially an in-house tool). Blogger went public in 1999 but ran out of funds soon after. Due to the money drying up, Williams saw a mass walkout by everyone including Meg. He ran the company virtually alone until it secured some funds from Trellix. He and Bricklin, the founder of Trellix made Blogger a freemium website.

After some serious competition, Google acquired Blogger in 2003 and restored it to the free version. Williams could not stay with Google for more than a year as it caged his entrepreneurial spirit.
He met Biz in Odeo, a podcast company and invested in Dorsey’s idea. A corporation named Obvious was formed as a result of which was Twitter. After Twitter launched in 2006, he was named CEO in 2008.

CEO of Twitter

Credited with being one of the most successful heads of Twitter, his reign saw a massive rise in Twitter’s users and success. Compete.com gave Twitter the honor of being “the most used social media network.”

For Williams, “Twitter isn’t a social network; it’s an information network.” He quit Twitter as the CEO in 2010. Evan wanted more, and in 2012 he founded Medium.

The start of Medium

Initially, a private website, it soon went public in 2013. The main idea for Medium was to allow people to write more than 140 characters (the limit for posting on Twitter back in 2012).  In February of 2019, Evan quit the board of Twitter because he wanted to focus all his attention to Medium.

What can we learn from him?

For Williams, it’s is all about people making themselves available to the world and getting the entrepreneurial spirit right.

How did his creation impact the world?

Blogger. Twitter. Medium. From a guy who used to write about his thoughts on a website, to allow millions of others to write theirs.

Fun fact:

Did you know Evan is credited for coining the term ‘Blogger’?

The Bottom Line

Zuckerberg, Jobs, Gates, Ellen, and Oprah are some of the pioneers who GOT THINGS DONE. Although these people have given a new meaning to the word education, it is a risky venture. Their willingness to learn incessantly got them where they are, along with their perseverance. We cannot entirely attribute their success to the lack of a college degree. But it did help them think out-of-the-box.

The traditional education system needs to be changed to suit the growing needs of today. Teaching creativity, instead of calculus, to people like Ralph Lauren will make a lot more difference in today’s world. The education system should make all students capable of making a decision which allows them to follow what they want by learning the necessary skills. The world is moving rapidly. And, it’s getting difficult to catch up!

We need change makers who can slow it down for us, make us understand, and make us adapt to these changes. Evan Williams used to make tutorials of using the Internet. Dorsey designed a dispatch service, so that transport services could stay in touch. Jan Koum wanted people to be free of expensive communication costs so he created something that brought a radical shift to our lives. It all started with a thought for the people and their businesses.

They gave design to their thoughts and worked towards implementing them.
Being a dropout isn’t a prerequisite. But it is necessary that you Identify what you want to pursue, Evaluate the risks involved, and Consider all the options before you leap.

The occasional intern. The Darryl of the Office. I do have the most common name, but my ideas, well they aren't great either. If I had a dollar for every time, I said sorry, I could open a bank.

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