Maybe no one has said this explicitly, but I realized that I’ve almost come to believe that to start the next mega-company you need to be a twenty-something Harvard computer science dropout.
I’ve been researching the early beginnings of a growing list of companies and have found that it’s simply not true. Though all have created products now worth millions or billions, here are a few things the founders of Airbnb, Facebook, GoPro, Spanx, Qualtrics, Dropbox, Apple, Ford, and Freshly Picked don’t have in common:
- Age – Though most started their companies in their twenties, Scott Smith was pretty old when he started Qualtrics ($1+ billion). In 1981, Scott had finished a bachelors degree, an MBA, and a PhD, and began working as a professor at BYU. It wasn’t until 2001 that he started Qualtrics. He was in his fifties at the time.
- Education – Scott (Qualtrics) has a bachelors, an MBA, and a PhD. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) dropped out of Harvard. Nick Woodman (GoPro) studied visual arts at UC San Diego. Susan Petersen (Freshly Picked) dropped out of a community college.
- High test scores – Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx ($1.1 billion), did “miserably” on the LSAT, twice. So badly she completely abandoned her life-long dream of becoming a lawyer and sold fax machines door-to-door for seven years instead.
- Humble beginnings – Nick Woodman (GoPro) is the son of a “prominent Silicon Valley investment banker for Robertson, Colman, Stephens & Woodman [who] brokered Pepsi’s purchase of Taco Bell in the 1970s.” Notice the “Woodman” in the name of the investment banking firm. Dude was loaded.
- Technical expertise – Sara Blakely (Spanx), Nick Woodman (GoPro), and Susan Petersen have no technical expertise whatsoever. Their companies are worth a combined total of over $10 billion and they own a much higher percentage of them than the tech founders do.
Now here are a few things they do have in common:
- They wanted something
- They made it
- They offered it to other people
- They didn’t raise money early on
- They made the first prototypes, with their own hands, very quickly
- Millions or billions of dollars