Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell…. I am sure those names ring a bell. Aside being among the richest, and successful entrepreneurs of our times, they all dropout of school at some level. I am sure you probably know other entrepreneurs who did same.
Why do these (and most other) successful entrepreneurs drop-out of school? I think a few reasons come to mind and they may not be what you think:
- School Is A Poor Educator of Entrepreneurship: I often say the educational system was not built to raise entrepreneurs. It was built to raise specialists and employees. Before you roll your eyes at me or get angry and leave this page (or block me from your social network), please hear me out. There is nothing wrong with being an employee (teacher, clerk, secretary, etc.) or a specialist (doctor, pharmacist, lawyer, nurse, etc.). Your services, skills and knowledge are very important to the world. However, how we are trained in schools are very different from the real world. In school, we are punished for making mistakes or taking risks. So we are made to live a “solemn”, conforming life – void of any “mistakes” or risks. We are made to “obey the rules”. This makes perfect sense because, as a specialist like a doctor, I need you to obey the “rules” concerning surgery so you don’t operate on me “anyhow”. Sadly, none of these apply in the real world of entrepreneurship. You learn best only from your mistakes, and there are no rules or standards set by anyone unless those set by you, the entrepreneur. If you decide to not sell anything, you have nothing in profits. So, why should an entrepreneur be trained in an environment originally meant for specialists and employees?
2. You Don’t “Need” A Degree To Be An Entrepreneur: Maybe getting an MBA or will “set you apart” from your peers, or being called “Dr. XYZ may make you feel proud of yourself”. If that is why you need the degree, that is fine! But if you think it’s going to make you a great entrepreneur, you better think again. In the information world, “Google” and “Business Books” should be your university. You can learn anything and gain any skill you want to learn from the internet. The only thing you may probably need to be successful in business is to have “common sense”, perseverance and maybe a direct mentoring from a successful entrepreneur. Besides, of what use is knowledge from professors who will only teach you theories they’ve never probably applied in their lives, or business concepts when they’ve never actually run even a real startup before?
3. School Is Just “Boring” To Entrepreneurs: Entrepreneurship is like a tattoo: the more you feel the pain from the piercing of the tattoo needle, the more you enjoy it and anticipate for more. The twists, thrills and turns of realizing that you are officially on your own, and can choose to “grind” and hustle to survive or die broke losing everything makes you see the world differently. For the next long time in our life, you will be faced by a lot of obstacles in different shapes and forms trying to stop you from achieving your goals. You take a lot of calculated risks in an anticipation for a bigger reward. That is what real life is about. Unfortunately, in school, the term or semester starts with a time-table and a course outline of topics to be treated. You go to the same class, meet the same professors and colleagues in class, almost every-single-day. The format for doing research and topics do not really change that much even after hundreds of years. Things look a bit slow and boring for the entrepreneur student because the boredom of getting to do the same thing the same way for the next years ahead of them literally makes them sick and pissed-off to the point where they decide to leave this rat-race to face the race in pursuit of their passion.
4. [Most] School Kills Entrepreneurial Passion and Drive: I once went to farm with my grandma when I was a kid. Upon observing how hard this woman had to work under the scorching sun, I told her that I will buy her a “weeding machine” that she could operate with a remote and it would literally “fly around” (like a drone) to weed all her farm in few minutes. She suddenly burst into loud laughter. She knew it was not obviously going to happen, yet she smiled at me. I was only 5 years old. Just like me, most entrepreneurs think this way. Imagine Steve Jobs approaching his computer professor that, computers could be used in a home in the 70’s, when computers were so large that only large companies could “use” or afford them. Remember when you had an idea for that app or company that could do XYZ and you couldn’t wait to share with your friends only to be reminded of your Physics class assignment the next day? We all have been there. The school system is built to help you think “logically” and lineally – read, memorize and write back almost everything you read, almost in the exact form as you read them. However, entrepreneurship teaches you to think “creatively” – almost as if creating something out of nothing, and not memorizing and repeating theories.
5. Schooling Takes Too Much Time (life): Assuming it will take you 2 years to test your business ideas and 10 years to grow a business from scratch. You’re 19 years old now and in your final year at High School. Your tertiary education will take 3 – 4 years (plus 1 year of service depending on where you are from). That means you’ll be at least 23 when you finish school. After school, you may want to work for some 2 years to gain enough “skills” and “capital” for your intended business by taking a job. You finally start at 25. Adding the initial 12 years needed for your business means you’ll be 37 years old before the world gets to hear of you and your business. On the other hand, let’s say you start immediately after High School, without any capital or experience but only the drive to be successful, you will be barely 31 when the world hears about you. By quitting school, you still have your job plus 6 years saved for you. If starting a business is all you wanted to do, why waste 6 previous years of your life at school?
6. School System May “Box” You Into An Opposite Career Path: How are you selected for courses in the university? You write a “standardized” exam (it’s called WASSCE in West Africa), you apply and choose your preferred schools and courses and wait for the school’s reply. What happens when the school thinks you are good, but you couldn’t make it to the “cut-off point” of minimum required for the course? The school finds an alternative either from your other choices or make an offer for you from their course catalogue. In order not to wait for another year or re-sit for another exam, you accept the school’s offer. You come to only discover you are going to be taking a “required” Physics class though you were offered Philosophy. A lot of people can relate to this and may have “survived” this process, but left the school without any inner satisfaction or branched into a career almost totally opposite to their intended path or passion, because they always lived a “lie” of faking their interest in a course they’ll never take given the chance. As humans, we think our interest in a subject will grow over time if we continue to delve in it. This is great if you’re lucky, but will only make you leave with the pain of “regret” if not lucky. As non-conforming as entrepreneurs, they seem to choose to avoid the latter by dropping out before it’s too late.
7. School Will Not Make You Rich: If I were to ask you, a simple question: “who is the richest person in you know (globally or locally)… who will you choose? Chances are, that person is an entrepreneur. Don’t get it twisted, most entrepreneurs are not motivated by money; they are not doing it because they want to be rich. They are passionate about solving a problem, and that is just enough for that, money comes along as a reward. A few others are motivated by the fame and luxury portrayed in movies about businessmen. For these people, going through the school system will on only train them to become employees and receive a “capped” or “fixed” salary that will hardly make them become rich any sooner. For these people, they prefer to go out there, sell something and become rich. Instead of being taught in school, they teach themselves the skills they need, use the skill to solve a problem and interestingly, people pay for this solution.
8. Most Of Your Entrepreneurial (and Employable) Skills Are Taught Outside The Classroom: Why do companies ask for an interview before offering you a job. It’s because they simply don’t “value” your degree and IQ that much as compared to your “emotional intelligence”. When you’re employed, you will be dealing with “people” (customers and co-workers) and not theories. So the employer will employ you because you are passionate and problem-solver and not because you can recite the “twelve times” multiplication table or Newton’s laws (unless you’re a specialist or the field requires that). The university won’t tell you about how to get a job (though they expect you to get one someday), taxes, investments, insurances, etc. (unless you are in a related field). Yet, all these are essentially applied when you become employed. To be a successful entrepreneur, you must be empathetic, passionate, determined and disciplined. And if school won’t offer you those, why waste your time and money?
9. College Is Very Expensive: When a commodity is priced at a fee that is beyond its expected value (or satisfaction), we say it is expensive. School is a very great example of that. You are made to pay so much for knowledge you can get for free on YouTube or Google. As if that is not all, only a few get scholarships and majority are made to take student loans to finance their education. You end up starting a career with loads of debts even before you get your first paycheck. In Ghana, the average tertiary student pays around $5000 – $10,000 every year on their education – fees, books, and accommodation ($20,000 – $40,000 for the 4 year education). If you could start a business with just $500, can you imagine the number of businesses you can start with $20,000? Well, if that is the case, why will the entrepreneur spend such huge funds on a piece of paper that he may probably never use?
10. School Will Not Make You Fully Happy & Fulfilled: How will you feel when you realize that that car you designed or invented is being used every day by people who are very grateful for solving their transportation problem? Imagine being the creator of WhatsApp app that helps over a billion people to communicate every day, how will that feel? That is the imaginative feeling that propels entrepreneurs to do what they do. Of course, being in the right school at the right moment, in the right class, pursuing the right course gives you satisfaction. But the real satisfaction and joy comes when you are solving a real problem not from sitting in a classroom. If you think getting the degree will make you happy, that happiness is for a very short time (probably during your graduation). However, if you seek a lifelong satisfaction, why not start working on that your dream today? Why do you want to delay and put the millions of people to benefit from your idea on a 4-year degree-seeking “stand-by”?
Don’t get me wrong; I am not “against” schools, formal education, professors and educationalists. Far from that! Instead, I am making a “case” that if you really want to be an entrepreneur, school may be the “wrong” place to be looking. I also don’t mean quit school if you’re already in it (though I could tell you if I could J). But if you’re thinking of getting a degree before you become an entrepreneur, it may be about time to rethink, reassess and reconsider your decisions.
This is because entrepreneurship is tough! And, unlike a regular job, it will take over most part or even your entire life. It’s not a part-time thing but a lifelong thing: you’re either in it fully or not at all. And since you’re not going to live forever nor know when you’re going to leave the earth, maybe quitting school to live your dream may be the answer. Good luck!