Last year, an article was published in Business Insider titled What This Guy Learned From Dropping Out of College to Start a Multi-Million Dollar Hedge Fund. It was a story about me and the lessons I learned when I dropped out of college at age 20 to start my investment fund.
The catchy title sounded cool, but it missed a key part of my story. While I did drop out and go on to run a multi-million dollar business, I deeply regret not finishing college.
The media has sensationalized the "successful college dropout" narrative and when the article came out in Business Insider, I was shocked and saddened to see the emails I was getting from college students telling me I was an inspiration and that they planned to follow suit.
It has become a reoccurring theme in the media: drop out of college, move to Silicon Valley, launch your startup, and change the world. While this does happen sometimes, the majority of the time, it does not work out so well.
The goal of this article is to highlight four things you should know before dropping out of school and how the media has over-glamorized this idea:
1. They Make it Look Easy
The media has made a habit of missing the true struggles and challenges that entrepreneurs go through when taking a company from point A to point Z. Point A is the startup story, sleeping on couches and eating ramen while point Z is the successful ending: billion dollar valuations, acquisitions, and IPOs.
The media glosses over what happens between A and Z. What happens there is the pain, struggle, and hurdles that entrepreneurs must overcome to build a successful company.
The sad reality is, most entrepreneurs never make it past this stage because it is so hard. This is the stage where the real work happens, and that work does not include delivering keynote speeches and winning awards.
It is the tedious, defeating work that swallows so many startups.
2. Numbers Tell a Different Story
There are lots of articles with titles like "Top Ten Successful College Dropouts." I often see these being shared around social media as a tacit justification for why students should skip college and launch a venture.
The issue is, the lists are comprised of people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, and while every entrepreneur may like to believe they are the next Zuckerberg or Jobs, statistically speaking the numbers are against them.
While in history there are hundreds of successful college dropouts, how many thousands or millions are there who dropped out of college, launched their venture, and failed?
3. The Myth of Going "All In"
Going all in is another aspect of this story that gets repeated over and over again. The media has made the idea of burning the ships and going all in on a venture seem like the only option.
But there is another way to look at it which is more pragmatic. Unless the business is truly experiencing hockey stick-type growth, it is often possible for entrepreneurs to stay in school while running their venture before transitioning full time.
Splitting time between a startup and college can offer the valuable benefits and security of a college education while giving entrepreneurs the upside of having a venture launched and ready when graduation comes.
4. Missed Opportunities and Resources
Two of the top reasons I regret dropping out of college is the missed opportunity of being part of an alumni community and the access to resources that many colleges and universities provide to entrepreneurial-focused students.
Schools can provide entrepreneurs with free resources, access to mentors and peer groups to discuss challenges and opportunities. A thoughtful entrepreneur will leverage those resources to grow a smarter business and avoid the early pitfalls that many young founders make.
The idea of going it alone is a trope invented by the media to glamorize a few isolated stories. More commonly, businesses succeed when numerous experts and collaborators are included in the process, and college is a place loaded with experts that students have unlimited access to.
There will continue to be successful college dropouts. This article is not meant to deter people from chasing their dreams. It is meant to highlight the reality of being a college dropout and the misconceptions that the media and entertainment industry are perpetrating about that decision.
Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to chase a vision that each man individually believed was going to change the world. Don't use them as an excuse to drop out of community college.