15 Successful Entrepreneurs Who Didn’t Need College

November 5th, 200738 Comments

richard bransonHow many times were you told to make sure you worked hard in high school so you could go to college and get a good career job? Okay, maybe not all of you got nagged about it, but probably a good portion of today’s generation of adults did.

It’s natural to wonder whether college is really necessary. A college degree, as many have found, is no guarantee of a good career. On the flipside, there are many successful entrepreneurs who didn’t need their college education and become millionaires anyway. Here are fifteen of them, both contemporary and from the past, in alphabetical order.

  • Mary Kay Ash. The founder of Mary Kay Inc. started a cosmetics business. While she didn’t have a college education or any training, she successfully created a brand known throughout the world. To date, nearly half a million women have started Mary Kay businesses, selling cosmetics. Their appreciation for Mary Kay Ash is unwavering.
  • Richard Branson. Richard Branson is best known for his thrill seeking spirit and outrageous business tactics. He dropped out at the age of 16 and started his first successful business venture, Student Magazine. He is the owner of the Virgin brand and its 360 companies. His companies include Virgin Megastore and Virgin Atlantic Airway.
  • Coco Chanel. An orphan for many years, Gabrielle Coco Chanel trained as a seamstress. Determined to invent herself, she threw out the ideas that the fashion world deemed feminine, boldly using fabric and styles normally reserved for men. A perfume bearing her name, Chanel No. 5 kept her name famous.
  • Simon Cowell. Simon Cowell started in a mailroom for a music publishing company. He has since become an Artist and Repertoire (A&R) executive for Sony BMG in the UK, and a television producer and judge for major television talent contests including American Idol.
  • Michael Dell. With $1,000, dedication and desire, Michael Dell dropped out of college at age 19 to start PC’s Limited, later named Dell, Inc. Dell became the most profitable PC manufacturer in the world. In 1996, The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation offered a $50 million grant to The University of Texas at Austin to be used for children’s health and education in the city.
  • Barry Diller. Fox Broadcasting Company was started by a college dropout, Barry Diller. Diller is now chairman of Expedia, and CEO of of IAC/InterActiveCorp which includes Home Shopping Network and Ticketmaster.
  • Walt Disney. Having dropped out of high school at 16, Walt Disney’s career and accomplishments are astounding. The most influential animator, Disney holds the record for the most awards and nominations. Disney’s imagination included cartoons and theme parks. The Walt Disney Company now has annual revenue of $30 billion.
  • Debbi Fields. As a young, 20 year old housewife with no business experience, Debbi Fields started Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chippery. With a recipe for chocolate chip cookies, this young woman became the most successful cookie company owner. She later renamed, franchised, then sold Mrs. Field’s Cookies.
  • Henry Ford. At 16, Henry Ford left home to apprentice as a machinist. He later started Ford Motor Company to manufacture automobiles. Ford’s first major success, the Model T, allowed Ford to open a large factory and later start the assembly line production, revolutionalizing the auto-making industry.
  • Bill Gates. Ranked as the world’s richest person from 1995-2006, Bill Gates was a college drop out. He started the largest computer software company, Microsoft Corporation. Gates and his wife are philanthropists, starting The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with a focus on global health and learning.
  • Milton Hershey. With only a fourth grade education, Milton Hershey started his own chocolate company. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate became the first nationally marketed chocolate. Hershey also focused on building a wonderful community for his workers, known as Hershey, Pennsylvania.
  • Steve Jobs. After attending one semester of college, Steve Jobs worked for Atari before co-founding Apple Computers. Now without the “Computers” in their name, Apple includes innovative products such as the iPod, iTunes, and most recently the iPhone. Steve Jobs was also the CEO and co-founder of Pixar before it merged with Walt Disney.
  • Rachael Ray. Despite having no formal training in culinary arts, Rachel Ray has made a name for herself in the food industry. With numerous shows on the Food Network, a talk show and cookbooks, high-energy Rachael doesn’t slow down. She has also appeared in magazines as well has having her own magazine debut in 2006. She knew she was a success when a website dedicated to bashing her was created.
  • Ty Warner. Sole owner, CEO, and Chairman of Ty, Inc., Ty Warner is a savvy, yet private business man. Ty, Inc., made $700 million in a single year with the Beanie Babies craze without spending money on advertising! He has since expanded to include Ty Girlz dolls, directly competing with Bratz dolls.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright. Having never attended high school, Frank Lloyd Wright surpassed all odds when he became the most influential architect of the twentieth century. Wright designed more than 1,100 projects with about half actually being built. His designs have inspired numerous architects to look at the beauty around them and add to it.

Of course, just because these people made it does not of course mean that most people can do without a college degree. If you’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit, the degree is just a backup.

Related Articles:

15 Successful Entrepreneurs Who Didn’t Need College

El Chauvinisto | November 6, 2007

Didn’t “need” college. I would say it’s more like got lucky/found a niche.

Coach Kip | November 6, 2007

I love these lists. I myself have two degrees none of which I use. It just goes to show you that it takes more motivation and just getting things done than brains to make it in this world.

Ben | November 6, 2007

I think it’s important to remember that Bill Gates had a rich family, and that Steve Jobs was in Silicon Valley during the grand days.

Connections and Charisma are important to launching successful companies, college can’t provide charisma, but it can help out with the connection side. Especially, if the college has a good MBA program.. It’s possible to build these connections on your own i.e. Chamber of Commerce, good lawyers or bankers, but sometimes it helps to have access to a large group of passionate young people..


The Baldchemist | November 7, 2007

Coach Kip. It does take brains. The people who go to college have no ideas or creative in them. Thats why they go- to find out how others do it.
The ‘connection side’? Creative vision you don’t get from college.
Good lawyers or bankers? What is it you want? The 10 people mentioned above are innovators, original, creative thinkers who see what the need is amongst the people.
Its all about creating needs and wants and then supplying solutions that the punter desires.
It’s about discovery, enigma, giving the punter something they feel they chose and the more expensive-the better. No-one enjoys a cheap image. Ensure that what ever it is you want to sell is perceived as hard to get. That only ‘the chosen few’ can have.The Baldchemist.www.thebaldchemist.com

Steven Aitchison | November 7, 2007

I think this is an important point. We drum it into our kids that they have to go to school,study hard, go to university, study hard, get a great job, work long hours. We fail to tell them to do what they love even if it involves leaving school at 16.

John | November 7, 2007

You could add Alan Sugar (and others to the list).

While a top tier MBA will not make you a successful entrepreneur it will provide an excellent opportunity to network…

Derrick Kwa | November 8, 2007

I’m 17 this year and quit school at the start of the year. Not sure whether I’ll be going to college, but I just love lists like this.

People here seem to write off those who drop out of school, but lists like this show that it’s not always the case.

Oh, and it’s always nice to know that I’m not in too bad company. ;)

Barry Welford | November 9, 2007

I believe they all exhibit three other attributes of successful people: passion, persistence and energy.

Jimmy Dean | November 9, 2007

Eat my sausage biatches!

Dominic Son | November 9, 2007

I was going to college, spent all my money on expensive textbooks to the point where I didn’t have enough to buy lunch. I won a scholarship for $1,000 and bought a PHP script, hacked it and made it an on campus book exchange. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, started getting Fs and Ds in my class, and I had to drop out. I then used my visa to print over 200K flyers and made customized book exchanges for colleges all over CA. My parents were worried, but I kept on telling them there was something here. I then developed Pazap.com, a site where users can buy and sell their books using their cell phones, synced with the net. I say if there’s an idea that consumes your every being, it’s your calling, you go for it, or else you’re not being true to yourself.

simon | November 10, 2007

it is very good to go to college but i must say if are going you must be sure of your tallent and what you can do best ,a lots of poeple ve gradueted from shcool as an engineer , but they ended up bein musician , some came out as doctors but today they are infoprenuer, so gonig to college is very important but be sure of your tallent ,


Jakob | November 10, 2007

Many of those were very eager in achieving things and thus had no time for higher education. Most people I see today who drop out of school/college aren’t too eager, they’re just lazy.

Fouzie | November 10, 2007

I agree with Jakob. It’s no use to drop out if there is no eagerness. Laziness will only lead to poverty

Roy Summers | November 10, 2007

I quit school at age 17 to help my mom pay bills and took a full time Job but found out very soon that I could’nt make the money I deserved so I went in to Network Marketing and Made A Lot of Money Without College..I’m in Online Software Now Making Great Money..Check It Out..www.roysummers.easydailycash.com..727-641-1890..

Garrett Mann | November 12, 2007

I started my computer business when I was 14 in high school, and made more than enough for myself. Now I run a successful business and am in the process of starting a few more. I will say though that while in high school I read a TON of books outside of school, on all kinds of subjects.

David Dunn | November 12, 2007

Love seeing some of these names around the web and seeing that they didn’t do awfully well on the education side of things.

They’re always good names to drop when teachers etc. start to rant on about how everyone needs school and how school provides higher income etc. :D


JGar | November 12, 2007

If you were to count how many people didn’t go to college, then determine how many were successful and come up with a percentage, it might paint a more sobering picture of reality.

While motivation is a big part of success, education is a very important tool that can expand your limits of success. Remember also that college teaches us more than just the subject we’re studying. College also (sometimes indirectly) teaches about responsibility, social interactions, work ethic, etc.

I don’t mean to take anything away from the successes these people have had, just offering my opinion on the “you don’t need college” message I keep hearing in the media these days.

David Lake | November 13, 2007

This is a great article for those who can’t go to college and know that you still can achieve
your dreams.

Megan | November 14, 2007

Article came at such a perfect time as I am learning about the increasing pocket crunching cost of college. Am I bring my kids up to think college is a necessity yes. The reason is. No matter where we are in life we should never want to stop learning and enhancing our skills. The names above deserve applause and respect for their accomplishments, but even though they didn’t go to “college” they ended up learning more as they grew. College is not the only solution to learning, I agree but to stop learning would have meant failure I am sure to most of the names. They just learned a different way then college. I am sure everyone has a story on how the acheived their status. And it came from learning whether in life experience, through a mentor, or self taught methods. Either way WAY TO GO


Janice | November 14, 2007

As a fellow entrepreneur I have noticed that so many of the newbies joining the world of internet marketing seem to struggle all the more with a formal education. Marketing is a prime example of how backward the teachings are in college. They just can’t keep up with the times. It is ashame that so much education does not necessarily equal top income. To unlearn, so to speak what is taught in the classroom seems a bigger challenge than actually learning the new industry itself.

Entrepreneurs on the other hand jump in with both feet are more successful than overanalyzing.

Entrepreneurs are a rare breed but really keep this country rolling.

Comis | November 14, 2007

Interesting. It’s good to know college is not the only criteria to define success! Thanks for the list, it’s inspiring.

j in indianapolis | November 15, 2007

tehre are a lot of misleading tihng about this list, as someone else already mentioned gates was already rich, in addition to that he dropped out of harvard where he subsequently hired a lot of pepole he met there (ala steve balmer current M$ CEO)

they also tend to be amoral and totally driven, walt disney has cartoons you can look for on youtube which show his racist and anti-semetic beliefs, henry ford supported facism and nazis and was also racist.

michael dells computers were mail order for a long time, and a lot of these people if you notice were pre-technology, try to compete with Honda or BMW today, there were no established industry behemoths controlling every aspect of production and entry into their respective fields

much of this is feel-good bullshit, the only ones pulling shit like this now are the ones winning online popularity contests like the dumb bitch making millions on facebook for self-absorbed assholes (the majority of teh ME AND ONLY ME culture which your greed has created)

have a nice day.

Andy Boutte | November 16, 2007

I really like this list. I myself am trying to figure out if college is/was the right choice for me.

Life In…

Don | November 16, 2007

to The Baldchemist,

Agree with the first part, but on your “the more expensive-the better”, let’s take a look at
the case of facebook.

to John,

So, are you an MBA of the league mentioned?

to JGar,

I also see the wisdom of your words but let me borrow Garrett Mann’s words as well,
” I read a TON of books outside of school, on all kinds of subjects.”
So, it seems to bog down to the bare bone, that is, KNOWLEDGE, school is a desirable venue
for that for the structure and organization… and Megan also echoes on that…

J Bone | November 17, 2007

i think u are rite j..funny its the nterpreneurs who employ the university grads…be smarter than college grads without going to college…or just better be more greedy.Of course not all of them were driven by greed, maybe they just wanted to change whats around them, for greed or not. My values are not completely for personal gain, but even if its for the community, still u need solid iron balls to compete against the existing giants. Thats just bring me to another thing, People are so greedy they just piss me off…..are we all about money, them entrepreneurs wouldnt(with just their ideas) survive without the work force…u need them smart people…question are u going to be a packleader or be led.I love all i do, but sure it just doesnt leverage me to be successful if u call it that in this pissed world….so yea we need to balance the power..get myself dirty with these money hungry mongers (some i guess) not every all of these people imagined they would be this rich someday…. but had a need, an idea..passion…and the balls to be themselves at most, i admire that and sure they succeeded at what they conceived.So u are in short using the wrong people in some cases,dont be lazy and drop out of school when when ur mind is completely empty. it will come back to haunt u. and dont tell me u are still working it out, work it out while u are still busy……J

LEB | November 18, 2007

This list is very inspiring, thank you! I’m pleased that you included Rachael Ray. I’m not just a huge fan of hers (although I like her travel shows), but I have been astounded at her ability to “brand” herself and build quite an impressive little empire in only a few years. It shows that behind that bubbly, quirky personality she’s so famous for, she’s got some real brains for business. You’ve got to admire that.

simon | November 21, 2007

you guys are still on this topic, yes i agree with leb , branding is one of the most important thing.

Josepht Blac | November 28, 2007

Dropping out of school is just a faster way of getting started, IF your determined enough. Don’t start thinking dropping out is the EASY route, but if you really want to do something, college might just be getting in your way. The most I have to say for the education anywhere is that it makes you average – you get the same start as almost all the other people your age. I’ve always hated it when parents, teachers, people, say these lines about a good education, blah, blah, blah… and in the back of my head I go: “Yeah, but thats not what makes people great, so whats more important; your dreams and the guts to make them, or school?”

AlR | November 29, 2007


David Mackey | December 2, 2007

Great list. While not an entrepreneur in the traditional sense you could add Dwight L. Moody, the evangelist to the list.

Tenzin | December 5, 2007

Also add to this list:

Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google)
Peter Jennings (News Anchor)
Larry Ellison (Oracle)
Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder)
Steven Spielsberg (Movie Director/Producer)


Altaf | January 16, 2008

Education is absolutely not necessary to be successful in life but it is definitely a fail safe – We only hear about successful businessman but what about the millions or probably billions who don’t have a college education & find it difficult to make a successful living. And i am sure that these successful businessmen send their children to the best schools in the world.

7leads | January 26, 2008

An education gives you some insight that many that do not go to college would never have. Although, if you have great common sense and a nack for learning and reading on your own, you can make a very good living online or offline. It takes a ton of research and mentoring to make it on your own. Good article.

John | March 9, 2008

Walt Disney never knew he was a dropout. Amazing!!!

Jeff Beeler | March 30, 2008

I a true entrepreneur and have enjoyed reading all of these comments. Most if not all entrepreneurs will achieve great success with or with out college. I myself dropped out and spent till I was about 35 traveling and playing tennis,golf,and going to parties. During this time read over a thousand books that had to do with Mkt, Bio’s etc.During that time I also had many small business that allowed me to have a lot of free time and money.I then at 35 made up my mind to build up my first business and did doing millions a year.I had just recently went bankrupt only due to over expansion during this real estate bust which I was in the construction related business. My next business is going to be in IT marketing. And will be bigger and better. I say go for your passion and dont worry about the degree I have met a lot of broke college educated people. And you can be worth millions in a few years these days with the internet, I am just finding this out and cant wait.

Jane | May 6, 2008

It is not simply a college degree that makes or breaks a potential entrepreneur. It takes much more than that, such as determination, resolve, ideas and a bit of luck. Many of these examples have these in varying degrees and other attributes as well which all come together to make who they are now.

Zahir | July 26, 2008

I agree with Simon. Most successful entrepreneurs aren’t really on the field. Scott McNealy (Sun Microsystems) has Bachelor in Arts and Economics but he runs a multi-billion dollar high-tech empire with no background in computer programming. Some people just don’t know what they want and trying to achieve something is about following what others have successfully achieved.

[...] most popular College Startup article of all time is called 15 Successful Entrepreneurs Who Didn’t Need College. I think that article really served as inspiration to the entrepreneurial spirit in all of us. If [...]

Share your thoughts!!!

15 Successful Entrepreneurs Who Didn’t Need College was written by Ryan on November 5th, 2007 at 3:41 pm and posted in College

  • Our Sponsors


fun links
Fun Links Daily