Is the "many CEOs are dropouts" a myth?

It’s not a myth, but I think the reasons for it are confusing.

Yes, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, etc. dropped out of college. But as Marc Andreessen points out … they’d been “coding” at an elite level for years, since their teens. By the time they got to college, they were ready. They had 6–7 years of experience and could ship consumer (Zuck) or commercial (Gates) software.

So … if we go back to Aileen Lee’s original Unicorn report … the average age of a founder at founding of start-ups worth $1b or more is 34.

Sometimes, in software, you can get those 5,6,7 years of experience starting at 13.

Often, in enterprise software, you probably don’t get on-point experience until your twenties or later. It’s hard to learn how, say, the procurement industry works until you’ve had a job in it. You can’t learn this in your parents’ basement.

So … it would make sense 34 is a decent average starting point, especially in B2B. And these folks don’t really drop out of college at 34. Yes, Aaron Levie of Box dropped out. But they started as a consumer/SMB play, it wasn’t enterprise yet, and they’d been building and working on software for years.

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Published on May 22, 2016

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