The myth of entrepreneur

People like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and other high-tech billionaires have created a “Myth” that “College dropout students can started company and became billionaires”. Unfortunately, it is something that many students want to follow. When I taught in China, Japan, S. Korea, and India, students often told me that they dreamed of becoming another “Bill Gates” or “Steve Jobs”. Some even told me that they wanted to quit school and started their own company. Students who failed college also used it as an excuse that they did not need college education because their heroes, Mr. Gates and Mr. Jobs, also failed college. So let me share with you a new study about some misconceptions of being an entrepreneur.

There is a government study of successful high technology entrepreneurs. They reviewed 600 successful high technology company owners for their education, family connection, and factors for success. What they found have changed this popular “Myth”. The study found that the average age of these billionaires when they started their companies was 40. Only few was younger than 30. Most of them (92%) graduated from college, many had advanced degrees (Master and Ph.D). Most were married (72%) when they started their companies. Several had children (60%), and 13% were women. Almost all of them have worked before they started their own companies. The common reason: they did not want to work for somebody. They all had ideas for new businesses based on their experience they gained when working. The study concluded that the “Myth” of a single college students drop out of school, start companies, become billionaires is very rare if not impossible.

Of course, there were few “special people” who succeed without a college education. But the study found that almost all high technology millionaires were very well educated. During the interview, one person said: “If you think you can be successful in technology without any technology knowledge, either you are a fool or you must be as smart as Albert Einstein.” Another millionaire explained: “You can be rich by investing in stock market, or buy lottery. No one can succeed in technology without a strong technology knowledge. If you look at all successful people in high technology, almost all of them not only were college educated but also experts in a technology field.”

The only common among these successful entrepreneurs is all of them started with almost nothing. Their families was not rich or well connected. If you look at Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerberg, their parents were lawyers, teachers, post office workers, factory workers, and bus drivers. None of them come from rich family. None of them receive any help from government. They all succeed because they had passion for what they do and they had vision about the business that they pursued.

There was an interesting fact that women started late in the high technology area. They only occupied around 13% of the technology workforce. However they were the fastest rising stars among millionaires and billionaires. Within ten years, they have occupied more management positions than men. High tech companies managed by women have more profits and better performance than companies managed by men. The study found that women managers were more conservative with spending, they were more careful in their decision makings and often seek advices from friends. Managers who were men had tendency to make decision quickly, sometime without thinking through. They were willing to take risks and often made decision alone without consultation. The study concluded: “Men often act like gamblers than managers. They all have big egos and do not think they need help. They seek power and often make mistake but rarely learn from them. Women on the contrary are more careful, they manage by consensus and care for their people. They do not spend money carelessly and very loyal to their company.” The study found almost no difference in the factors driving success for men or women. They had the same motivations, were of the same age, had similar levels of experience and about equally in education. However, women had an disadvantage when they had children. Many expressed that they feel guilty for not spending enough time with their children. Several quit or sold their companies when having children even their companies were doing well.

So if you are still dreaming of becoming Mr. Gates or Mr. Jobs, finish your college education. Learn as much as you can and specialize in a technical area before starting your own company – You will have better chance of success.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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