Fred Wilson and I, on the way back from an Etsy board meeting, were talking about how many entrepreneurs had dropped out of college.
Rob Kalin, Etsy’s founder, never finished college. Evan Williams, Biz Stone, Jack Dorsey — the founders of Twitter — are not college graduates. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, is another dropout. And of course Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
As an angel investor, I’ve invested in two college dropout founders this month. What gives?
College works on the factory model, and is in many ways not suited to training entrepreneurs. You put in a student and out comes a scholar.
Entrepreneurship works on the apprenticeship model. The best way to learn how to be an entrepreneur is to start a company, and seek the advice of a successful entrepreneur in the area in which you are interested. Or work at a startup for a few years to learn the ropes. A small number of people — maybe in the high hundreds or low thousands — have the knowledge of how to start and run a tech company, and things change so fast, only people in the thick of things have a sense of what is going on. Take a few years off and you’re behind the times. Some publishers have asked Chris to collate his blog posts on entrepreneurship into a book, but he said, What’s the point, it’d be out of date by the time it hit the bookstores.
As Fred pointed out, the basic skills necessary to start a tech company — design or coding — are skills that can be learned outside of the academy, and are often self-taught. Industry knowledge can only be picked up by observing other startups and using their products, talking to other entrepreneurs, watching their presentations, attending conferences where they are speaking, and most importantly, building stuff yourself, and learning from peers who are doing it better than you are.
Now that there are so many blogs, and so many entrepreneurs willing to share their experience and knowledge, it’s a lot more accessible. You can even ask direct questions to people like Kevin Rose or me on formspring!
I spent many years in college studying English literature. I was on the verge of attending grad school to get a Ph.D. in Renaissance poetry – my lost careers were being a writer, artist or academic. Do I regret spending all that time poring over Shakespeare when I could have been getting a jump start on the competition? Not at all. There’s no money in poetry, but then again, there’s no poetry in money either.
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