10 Entrepreneurial Lessons from High School Dropouts That Made A Fortune

10 Entrepreneurial Lessons from High School Dropouts That Made A Fortune

“An educated man is not, necessarily, one who has an abundance of general or specialized knowledge.

An educated man is one who has so developed the faculties of his mind that he may acquire anything he wants, or its equivalent, without violating the rights of others.” – Napoleon Hill

Former Congressman Solomon Ortiz once said that “education is the key to success in life.”

However, many great entrepreneurs have proven that education is not a necessary prerequisite to success.

Here are ten lessons from extraordinarily successful entrepreneurs that never even earned a high school diploma.

Collaborate With the Right Partners

It takes many different traits to create a thriving business, so successful entrepreneurs must often capitalize off the genius of others.

Haruhisa Okamura couldn’t have become an Internet multi-millionaire without finding a partner that compensated for his limited technical knowledge.

Okamura is the founder of Adways, one of the fastest growing Internet advertising agencies in the world.

He dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to become a door-to-door salesman and demonstrated a remarkable gift for sales and soon seen as one of the most valuable employees at his company.

Despite his promising future in sales, Okamura chose to pursue a more ambitious calling.

He realized that there was real money to be made in the field of technology, so he decided to launch his own online advertising agency in 2001.

However, he lacked the technical knowledge to accomplish his dream on his own.

He didn’t know anything about computer programming, so he was incapable of developing the infrastructure for his platform alone.

What he lacked in formal education, he made up for with willpower and ingenuity.

He spent five years trying to find a team of engineers to help him realize his vision.

After wasting $5,000 hiring a team of college students to help him design his platform, he shared the profits.

He stayed with the company and eventually became the CTO.

Adways has grown rapidly over the past nine years.

It is currently generating over $200 million in revenue a year, which is a figure that is expected to grow for the foreseeable future.

Lesson from Okamura?

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

You may need to identify your own limitations and partner with others that offer the skill sets and knowledge you need to succeed.

Know What You Want Before Launching a Business

David Karp was a student in the New York school system that chose to drop out to start Tumblr.

He is net worth is estimated to be $200 million and Tumblr is valued at $800 million.

While many other entrepreneurs dropped out of school because they weren’t doing very well or simply had no interest in academics, Karp is a bit of a dissenter from them.

He told Business Insider that he actually enjoyed attending school, but chose to pursue his passion.

The school didn’t offer any computer classes, so Karp needed to self-educate himself before starting the social networking site.

“And that was the real reason I dropped out of school.

It wasn’t ‘screw this.’

It wasn’t that I was bored.

It wasn’t that my friends are so lame.

I was actually really enjoying school.”

Karp has become very successful without a high school education, but he nevertheless strongly advises against others following his lead.

“That is not a path that I would haphazardly recommend to kids out there,” he told the Associated Press.

“I was in a very unique position of knowing exactly what I wanted to do at a time when computer science education certainly wasn’t that good in high school in New York City.”

Lesson from Karp?

Starting a business requires a massive investment of time, money and energy.

You need to clearly define your goals before embarking on your quest for entrepreneurial success.

Challenge Conformity in a Constructive Way

Jim Clark is the founder of Netscape, Silicon Graphics and Healtheon.

He is regarded as one of the most prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneurs of the 20th Century.

What few people know about Clark is that he dropped out of high school at the age of 16.

Clark was a highly rebellious teenager.

He let of a smoke bomb in school, swore at teachers and had a dangerous fascination with drag racing.

He spent a few years in the Navy where he made a little side money as a loan shark.

Clark received training in electronics.

which helped him develop the skills he needed to launch Netscape.

He is now worth an estimated $1.5 billion.

Clark’s history shows that he was clearly a lifelong rebel.

However, he found a way to channel his unwillingness to conform in a positive direction, which helped him become the successful man that he is today.

Lesson from Clark?

Natural born entrepreneurs are often natural dissenters.

They may want to challenge convention, but need to find a constructive way to direct that energy.

Don’t Part With Money When You Don’t Need to

Shawn Corey Carter (the real name of rapper Jay Z) dropped out of high school in Trenton, NJ after struggling with what he referred to as “inner demons”.

He overcame these challenges and went on to become one of the most influential figures in hip hop, as well as a major entrepreneur in the entertainment industry.

Many fabulous artists barely make a cent in the entertainment industry, because the record companies often charge them for all their expenses.

Carter was smarter than most and decided to create his own label to avoid being swindled by industry executives.

At 26, Carter founded  Roc-A-Fella Records with two of his buddies.

They sold their remaining equity in the company for $10 million last year.

While that may sound like a large chunk of change to most people, it barely affected his net worth, which is estimated to be $560 million.

Not bad for a guy that never even made it through high school.

Lesson from Carter?

Entrepreneurs find that everyone wants to skim some of their money as they are growing their business.

A new supplier or service provider is always going to be calling with some solution to help them out – for the right price.

Like Carter, you need to recognize the real value they provide and avoid parting with your money when you don’t need to.

This is the reason that Carter is worth $560 million while most other artists are flat broke.

With Ingenuity, You Can Persevere During Any Economy

More millionaires were created per capita during the Great Depression than any other time in American history.

Carl Lindner , founder of United Dairy Farmers, was one of them.

Lindner’s family owned a dairy farm that wasn’t doing very well after the economic downturn. He dropped out of school at the age of 14 to help them.

He eventually took over the family business and reorganized it as United Dairy farmers, a convenience store chain.

Today, the company is generating nearly a billion dollars a year in revenue.

Lindner’s  story illustrates a couple of very important lessons.

He proves that it is not only possible to become a successful entrepreneur with a limited education, but also in the face of one of a major economic collapse.

Lesson from Lindner?

Many people avoid starting businesses during economic downturns, because they doubt they can be successful.

Lindner and many other successful entrepreneurs show that it’s indeed possible to grow a business in even the worst economy.

You just need to have the courage to pursue it.

Capitalize Off of Your Brand

George Foreman is a former heavyweight boxing champion that lost the historic Rumble in the Jungle match against Muhammad Ali in 1974.

The defeat was a lesson in humility for Foreman, but he nevertheless went on to become a very successful entrepreneur.

Foreman capitalized off of his celebrity status and launched a line of grills.

He has reportedly sold nearly 100 million since 1995.

Foreman’s parents were probably both very surprised and pleased with how successful their son turned out.

His mother probably never thought he would become a multimillionaire after his bad behavior drove her to a hospital and he eventually dropped out of high school.

Lesson from Foreman?

Foreman would probably never have sold a single George Foreman grill if he hadn’t built such a prominent name for himself.

Every entrepreneur should learn from him.

Your brand is your most powerful asset, so you should leverage it to its fullest potential.

Be Willing to Make Sacrifices in Your Early Years

You have probably heard many times that entrepreneurs need to be willing to make massive sacrifices and persevere through difficult challenges to achieve their dreams.

However, you can’t appreciate that until you have either lived through such challenges or learned from someone who has.

Walt Disney is probably the last person that comes to mind when you think of pain and suffering, but he illustrates the challenges that entrepreneurs must be prepared to endure before they reach their dreams.

Disney is unquestionably one of the greatest businessmen that ever lived.

He also never made it to his senior year in high school. 

Disney tried to enlist in the army when he was 16, shortly before the end of World War I.

He was turned away for being too young, so he ended up working as an ambulance driver for Red Cross.

Disney soon tired of his driving ambulences for a living and founded the Walt Disney Company two months before his 23rd birthday.

He produced several story lines that he tried to sell to local theaters, but no one showed much interest.

Disney struggled for several years just to make ends meet.

He lived off of cold beans and slept in his office, since he had difficulty paying for rent at home as well.

Disney was used to struggling, because he suffered extensive physical abuse at the hands of his father while growing up.

He learned early on that he needed to perservere to live a better life, so he remained resilient during the difficult, early years of his company.

As a young man with a limited education and an unimpressive resume, he struggled to convince investors to back his idea.

However, he was eventually able to secure the funding he needed and released their first production, Alice’s Wonderland, before the end of the year.

People remember Disney for bringing smiles to the faces of millions over the past century. However, he could also be an icon to represent the trials and tribulations entrepreneurs invariably face on their path to greatness.

Lesson from Disney?

You have the potential to become radically successful as an entrepreneur.

However, it won’t happen overnight and you may need to face periods of serious challenges before you can get there.

The most successful business leaders are the ones that are willing to ride through those difficult challenges.

Relentlessly Improve Your Business Model

Ingvar Kamprad dropped out of high school at 17 to start IKEA.

Over the past 70 years, Kamprad has grown his net worth to $3.5 billion.

Kamprad always recognized the need to improve his business model to grow his company.

According to his company website, he started selling matches to his neighbors when he was only five years old.

He decided to improve on his model when he was seven by using his bicycle to reach customers in other parts of town.

He was also good at expanding into new markets and recognizing opportunities for new products.

Kamprad’s ambition to expand his company is clearly outlined in the company’s credo.

“It was our duty to expand.

Those who cannot or will not join us are to be pitied.

What we want to do, we can do and will do, together.

A glorious future!”

Kamprad’s commitment to perfection is another factor that has played a role in his company’s success.

He said that he gets irked by people that call IKEA the greatest company in the world, because he feels that there is still so much that the firm can do to improve.

IKEA probably wouldn’t have turned into the company it is today if it wasn’t for his relentless pursuit to improve the company.

His business was originally launched in his native country of Sweden, but gradually expanded to the United States, Italy, France and the United Kingdom.

They have a very diversified range of products that they sell, which have become highly popular around the world.

Lesson from Kmprad?

Entrepreneurs should never accept being good enough.

They need to work tirelessly to improve their business model if they want to earn a greater share of the market.

Don’t Overlook the Importance of the Numbers

Richard Branson is one of the most highly respected entrepreneurs in the world.

He is also the seventh wealthiest man in the United Kingdom.

However, he almost went bankrupt in his early years since he wasn’t very knowledgeable about finance.

He had to learn the importance of keeping track of money and staying on top of taxes to grow a sustainable business.

Many people don’t realize that Branson dropped out of high school at the age of 16, because he wasn’t doing very well.

His career as an entrepreneur was much more promising than that as a student.

He founded Virgin Records in 1970.

Branson’s entry into the world of entrepreneurship was turbulent at first.

He had difficulty keeping track of taxes, which led to him being fined £60,000 and spending a night in jail when he was 21.

Maybe Branson would have avoided these challenges if he had a formal education in finance, but he quickly proved that a formal education wasn’t a necessary prerequisite for success.

However, he did have to learn as much about finance as possible to ensure his business would keep growing.

Many people now consider Branson to be a financial genius.

His company, Virgin Money, is growing rapidly and went through an IPO last year.

This is a major turn of events for a guy that once spent a night in jail for not understanding taxes.

Lesson from Branson?

Most entrepreneurs probably aren’t too thrilled about studying balance sheets or paying taxes.

However, understanding finance is crucial if you want to operate a successful business (and stay out of jail). Learn from Branson’s mistakes and make finance a priority.

Introverts Can Thrive as Entrepreneurs

Most entrepreneurs are extroverts, but that is by no means necessary to succeed.

Many great entrepreneurs are introverts and Amancio Ortega is one of them.

Ortega was the son of a railroad worker in Spain, Ortega is the perfect example of a “rags to riches ” story.

He dropped out of high school before founding the Inditex clothing line, which is the holding company of the Zara brand.

Inditex currently generates nearly $20 billion in revenue a year and Forbes estimates Ortega’s net worth to be $70.5 billion.

Little is known about the retail conglomerate, because he makes a lot of effort to avoid having to talk to the press.

He once said:

You must appear three times in the newspapers: when you are born, when you get married, and when you die.”

However, Ortega has shared some words of wisdom from time to time.

One of the most telling things he said is that the customers have always driven the Inditex business model.

He also said that the company has always been open to changing course and never wanted to limit itself to the current path it was on.

Lesson from Ortega?

You don’t need to be a burning ball of fire to make it as an entrepreneur.

Ortega has a reputation as a recluse, as do many other entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates.

Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t the life of the party, because you can still run a profitable business.


Self Education Can Make You a Fortune

All of these entrepreneurs prove that you don’t need to receive a formal education to succeed as an entrepreneur.

However, that doesn’t mean that you should necessarily drop out of school.

David Karp gave great advice to aspiring entrepreneurs when he said that most people should finish school unless they know exactly what they want like he does.

Haruhisa Okamura also shows that having a degree can be helpful.

While he was still able to succeed as an entrepreneur, he needed to find a talented engineer with the technical skills that he lacked.

Entrepreneurs with a formal education can usually have an edge, although that won’t necessarily guarantee them success.

I recommend that young people finish high school and even college.

This post shows us how formal education can make you a living, but self education can make you a fortune.

What are your thoughts on formal education and self education?

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