Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reply to "One Thing You Don't Need To Be An Entrepreneur: A College Degree - Fred Wilson"

This was originally a reply/comment to the blog posting.

In retrospect, I should have made this a proper blog posting.  But regardless... I think I can sum this up in just one sentence actually:
Wanna drop out?  

Do you feel (ridiculously) lucky (and naturally gifted in your craft/focus, absurdly driven to the point of borderline insanity, deeply passionate about what you do, already very much self taught far beyond your peers, ready for complete and utter failure), punk?

Me?  I dropped out.  Got just ridiculously lucky.  A lot.  

And strangely enough, I now work with a team that have graduate degrees, law degrees and/or PhDs.  I don't know why.

omg fred, we don't need any more people telling kids to drop out (like i did). =)

in all seriousness, I keep running into great entrepreneurs that have dropped out for one reason or another.

i've been pinged by a ton of different young entrepreneurs that ask me what they should do about their post secondary education choices while in university... lured by the glamor and freedom of doing your own thing and dropping out.

while I loved learning, i hated school. I started a number of ventures while in high school, and then got involved in my first internet venture while in my late teens during the first months of my university carreer. I decided to drop out, got lucky, and made some FU money. I'm now a few ventures later, and made a bit more FU money along the way while having a blast and learning tons.

did I learn tons more than i would have in school? hell yes. did i ever regret my decision to leave school. no. if i had kids, would i recommend dropping out to start something? hell no. 

i think the whole school vs. dropout/startup thing is highly dependent on how driven an individual is -- more so than ever before.. 

kids growing up today have far more access to a wealth of information over the internet than I ever did (i got access to dialup internet only in my 2nd year of highschool). they have the opportunity to be a lot more savvy just by the nature of having access to the internet of today the day enter school. anyone that is under 20 today (and started going to jr. high school/middle school with net access) has a huge advantage over those that are over 20. the explosion of information that happened in the late 90s between blogs, wikipedia, vast amounts of industry journals, educational resources/videos (ex. MIT's open course ware content), underground resources for virtually any major technical or even business reference, ebay for cheap text books, message boards like these to interact with though leaders. if someone had the desire to learn a new skill or industry, there's a ton you could learn on your own. some of the best coders and entrepreneurs that I've met were a combination of being just gifted, and extremely passionate about their craft -- that also happened to be drop outs.

for young people making the decision -- the question I think they have to honestly assess for themselves is: do you really have the talent, the will to win, the maturity, the ability to thrive on adversity, and most importantly the passion for your craft that drives to learn on your own, on the go, working twice as hard as everyone else that you'll need be successful to overcome the odds that are going to be stacked against you by those that have who are better prepared with because they have the tools and the doors that open along with great schooling?

I'm sure 99.9% of the folks considering the option are better off staying in school given their odds. the challenge is figuring out if they are in the 0.1%

its late, and its been a long 20 hour day for me, so the above might not be entirely coherent... so i'll better quit while i'm ahead. =)
(this is a repost from his comment box)


  1. What you said.

    Seriously, though – this is exactly what I tell people. Everything that happened to us is not simple or repeatable. You have to have talent and work your ass off.

    In hind-site, I realize that teenage Pete was a difficult little shithead! (Little has changed...)

    That said, I don't believe in luck. Funny digression: I was in Mexico last week and a girl mentioned the "Law of Attraction". I said, I've never heard of that law... where is it defined? And apparently it's something from The Secret. I basically blew an artery out of my neck and tersely explained that what she was referring to was, at best, the "Theory of Attraction" and that would be a sad day for theories.

    One thing that occurs to me after reading your post is that with this burst of information access, it suddenly became more difficult to decide if you're that 0.1. When we were 10 and programming, you could say it was pretty obvious. Now there's 9 year-olds with apps on iTMS, making early detection a bit ambiguous.

    It really comes down to personality and environment, I think. It always did, yet it was just easier to stand out as a geek, before 4chan.

  2. I love it.

    You know what. That's a great test.

    If you find yourself reading and subscribing to pop psychology books, like The Secret. You are most certainly not in that 0.1%.

    That's my theory, virtually a "law."

    I think "early detection" can be reasonably easy -- if you find yourself waaaay different than your peer group, and not just because you're on 4chan and your friends are reading US weekly. I've been thinking about this more. By the time someone graduates from high school, if they find themselves already competing on equal grounds with working "professionals" on the global stage -- you have a 50/50 chance of being in that 0.1%.

    I think back to the dropouts friends that I know that have been successful -- that did the drop out thing and better off having done it in hindsight, they all could have competed on the world stage creating value that would be competitive (but not dominating) to those that were 5-10 years their elder.

    With the internet, its not only easy to get ramped up more quickly ... but I think it also becomes easier to be more self aware about where you sit on the skill/talent spectrum.