Dropping out of school to start up isn't just easier than it was in Bill Gates' or Steve Jobs' day, it's significantly less risky.
That's according to an article in the Wall Street Journal this week, which grew from interviewing a group of 12 young entrepreneurs, many of which dropped out of college to start up companies. To them, launching a company today is less risky than it used to be, since the tools to startup are more accessible and the costs have dropped exponentially.
"If you're a young, technical founder, you carry almost zero risk," Dave Fontenot, who founded a company after dropping out of the University of Michigan, told the Journal.
Of course, the Journal only talked to entrepreneurs who dropped out of school. So, it's unclear how entrepreneurs who've graduated would deem their college experience.
It is true, however, that today's young people have grown up in a world of technology and innovation. And many have witnessed the successful promise of startups, and even participated in it themselves. That the phenomenon has altered how some young people view higher education altogether isn't outlandish. Tack on the major debt loads many graduates are burdened with after school ends, and it makes further sense that people would view starting up as less risky today.
For Ari Weinstein, dropping out wasn't so much a deliberate move as it was a logical one. In high school, Weinstein started a software company. After that, he released an iPhone app during his first week at MIT, according to the Wall Street Journal. During his first year at MIT, Weinstein was offered $100,000 from the Thiel Fellowship, which gives two-year grants to young people to dropout of college and pursue other projects like starting businesses.
He teamed up with then-high school students Conrad Kramer and Nick Frey to create an iPhone app called Workflow. After initial setbacks, their app finally sold for $2.99 per download and stayed at No. 1 in the App Store for nearly a week, earning more than 100,000 downloads in that first week.
Weinstein, now 20, is living in a house in San Francisco's Mission District with his business partners and others, experiencing both the success of a startup and the social aspects of college he was afraid to miss. The Wall Street Journal described the house as something akin to a college dorm, complete with sinks full of dirty dishes and empty pizza boxes lying around. This house, called Mission Control, is filled by 12 young people, more than half of which dropped out of college to join the startup trend.
But Weinstein isn't the only young person bailing on school. The number of applications to the Thiel Fellowship have tripled in the last year. Elite startup incubator Y Combinator has seen its applications double in the last two years.
What's more, many technology companies are only too willing to hire young people. Facebook, Google, and Yahoo have seen the potential in young people--choosing to hire interns and employees under the age of 20. Apple even promotes a list of 20 apps created by developers under the age of 20 in the iTunes Store.
Still, opposition to dropping out of school is strong. Some claim there is a safety in going to college and earning a degree, especially when the economy hits low points. Bill Gates, a famous college dropout, wrote an essay claiming that he was lucky to find the work he did and become successful. He also claims that we will experience a shortage of college graduates by 2025, as two-thirds of jobs will require education beyond high school.
That's not changing Fontenot's mind, however. The HackMatch founder told the Journal: "It's almost a bigger risk to stay in school and let people like me drop out and start things before you have a chance."