Startup founders & their education

When we look around at the world and study those who have created their own businesses, generally these individuals fall into two brackets in terms of their education:

1.     They either didn’t go to university / college, or they dropped out (or, perhaps, “opted out”) – think Steve Jobs and Richard Branson

2.     They did go to university / college, and followed the conventional path of formal education and then on to a high-status corporate job of some sort. In this second instance, they most likely went on to create something special alongside their job, or having quit their job (or both)

Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos (credit:
Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos (credit:

“The focus for most seniors, including myself, was trying to get a job lined up before graduation…Many of our other roommates applied for banking or management consulting jobs, both of which were considered the “hot” jobs to get.” – Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO (extract from “Delivering Happiness”)

Examples of individuals who fall into category 2, include:

Peter ThielPayPal Co-founder (quit his law firm after 7 months)

Jeff BezosAmazon Founder & CEO (quit his NYC hedge fund job)

Tony HsiehZappos CEO, Link Exchange Co-Founder (quit his “unfulfilling and boring” day job at Oracle soon after joining straight from Harvard)

Mikkel Svane – ZenDesk Co-Founder (wanted more than his dreary consultant job)

“On day 1 of my real job at Oracle, I was shown my desk and told what my ongoing tasks and responsibilities would be. All I had to do was run a couple of tests every day. It took about five minutes to set up a test, and then about three hours for the automated test to run, during which time I would just be sitting around and waiting for the test to finish. So I could only run two or three tests a day at the most. I also realized that nobody was tracking what time I came in or left the office. In fact, I don’t think anyone really even knew who I was.” – Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO (extract from “Delivering Happiness”)

The above 4 individuals have all gone on to create huge, high-profile companies. In the world of startup, they are celebrities. However, there is a problem here. Whilst “celebrity” in any form has it’s glamour, these people can be difficult for the average person to relate to.

OK, so let’s look at some other impressive individuals, a bit less celebrity and a bit more relatable:

Rob Symington & Dom Jackman – Escape The City Founders (quit their unfulfilling Big 4 Management Consultancy job)

Gretchen Rubin – Author, Blogger & Speaker, Founder at (Yale graduate, quit her successful law career)

Leo Babauta – Blogger, Journalist & Author, Founder at (quit his day job to become a full-time blogger; impressively, this income supports himself, his wife and his 6 children – all living in San Francisco)

Pippa Murray – Pip & Nut Founder (having taken a change in direction from her career)
These are all real people who all had conventional day jobs, and went on to create extraordinary things – and a more exciting and fulfilling life for themselves in the process.

All of these individuals had an impressive education and got “good grades” – but went on to create a fulfilling life in spite of, rather than due to, their academic education. We are neither defined by our grades nor the university that we went to.

If anything, these people took a step away from the path their formal education had led them onto, in order to step onto a new and more exciting path.

This post originally appeared here.

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