Despite what most might think, a university degree doesn’t always equate to success – and not having one doesn’t mean you’re a failure either. As these businessmen show, their lack of a degree didn’t hinder them from becoming some of the most successful entrepreneurs in history.
Matt Mullenweg started WordPress, which now powers around 35% of the web, despite having dropped out of the University of Houston in favour of working at CNET Networks. Two year later he founded Automattic, the business behind WordPress.com, Akismet, Gravatar, Tumblr and more household internet brands. He currently manages the WordPress Foundation.
Mark Zuckerberg, one of the most recognised names in tech, built Facebook into the world’s largest social network. 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.
David Karp created Tumblr (which at its peak gained more than 500 million monthly users) despite never even graduating high school. He dropped out of Bronx Science high school in 2001 to be home schooled, and never received a high school diploma, instead working his way up through various tech firms until launching Tumblr in 2007. The platform was sold to Yahoo! in 2013 for a reported $800 million,
At just 19, Pete Cashmore founded the hugely popular blog Mashable, but never attended college. Not having a college degree didn’t seem to affect this Scottish businessman though – Mashable was sold to Ziff Davis in 2017 for $50 million and, having left the company in 2018, Cashmore is estimated to be worth around £90 million.
At just 21, Daniel Ek co-founded Spotify after abandoning his degree in engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden after just eight weeks. The company now has more than 217 million users worldwide and Ek, often referred to as the most powerful person in the music industry, is worth £4.5 billion.
Co-founder and former CEO of Twitter, Evan Williams went to the University of Nebraska for only a year and a half before leaving to pursue a career in information systems. In 2006 he co-founded Twitter and later went on to start publishing platforms Blogger and Medium – he is now worth $2.2 billion.
The billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, dropped out of Harvard to focus on building his company. Proving that degrees aren’t always necessary, Bill Gates was consistently named the world’s richest man between 1995 and 2017, when he was overtaken by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Another example of a billionaire ‘drop-out’, Sir Richard Branson is one of the world’s most famous businessmen. The owner of Virgin dropped out of school at just 16 to start Student magazine, his first successful business venture. He bought his own Caribbean island when he was 24, was knighted in 1999 and is now said to be worth $4.1 billion.
Steve Jobs is another household name that will always wave the flag for college drop-outs. The late billionaire co-founder of Apple Inc. and Pixar dropped out of Reed College to start Apple after just 6 months – and we don’t need to tell you how well that worked out for him.
Like his Apple co-founder (above), Steve Wozniak isn’t the proud owner of university degree. In fact he was expelled from his first college, the University of Colorado Boulder, for hacking the college’s computer system and later dropped out of Berkeley to work at Hewlett-Packard. He now sits on an estimated net worth of $100 million.
The automobile innovator Henry Ford was born into abject poverty. He never went to school at all but learned his trade through apprenticeships, going on to build the Ford Motor Company, revolutionise manufacturing processes and become one of the richest men in history.
The billionaire founder of Dell Computers, Michael Dell, started his company from the comfort of his college dorm room at the University of Texas. After earning nearly $200,000 in his first year he dropped out aged 19 to work on the business full-time.
Founder of the Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney (centre) himself dropped out of high school at 16 to join the war effort, eventually gaining his first job as a commercial illustrator at 18. He remains the record holder for most Academy Awards won by an individual – holding 22 from 59 nominations.