Management experts agree that being a risk taker is one of the key traits every entrepreneur needs to have in order to be successful. As Michael Bloomberg put it, “Life is too short to spend your time avoiding failure.” And one of the biggest risks one can take is quitting school to pursue other projects. But for some entrepreneurs, it paid off big time – billions of dollars big time.

Here are six famous dropouts.



 Bill Gates


Described by the Harvard Crimson as “Harvard’s most successful dropout,” Bill Gates left the Ivy League school after two-and-a-half years to found Microsoft. Today, he is the richest man in America, worth $67 billion.  

Despite dropping out, Gates remains a vocal advocate of education, putting into place many education betterment initiatives through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since leaving school, he’s completed a number of degrees through online courses and frequently speaks to students across the country, encouraging them to stay in school.  "I don't think dropping out is a good idea,” says Gates. “Education is fundamental."




Walt Disney


The world’s most famous animator, Walt Disney, dropped out of high school at the age of 16. He went on to create Mickey Mouse in 1928, and win a record 22 Academy Awards. Today, the Walt Disney Company generates annual revenues over $300 billion. It’s ranked by Forbes as the thirteenth most powerful brand in the world.




Mark Zuckerberg


Controversially portrayed in The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg’s time at Harvard was punctuated by the founding of Facebook and its ensuing dispute over intellectual property. Zuckerberg attended Harvard for two years, dropping out in 2004. Several lawsuits and a high-profile IPO later, Facebook has grown to make Zuckerberg the 20th richest American citizen.




Oprah Winfrey


Talk show mogul Oprah Winfrey left Tennessee State University in 1976 to pursue a career in media. Today she’s worth $2.9 billion and topped Forbes’ list, The World’s Most Powerful Celebrities, for the fifth straight year this past September.




Richard Branson


Suffering from dyslexia, Richard Branson struggled in school as a child and eventually dropped out at age 15. The dyslexia has been the cause of some “bizarre situations,” says the Virgin billionaire. “I’ve had to be running a large group of private companies in Europe but haven’t been able to know the difference between net and gross.” As of March 2013, Sir Richard Branson has a net worth of $4.6 billion.




Steve Jobs


The Apple co-founder dropped out of Reed College after only one semester in 1972, but continued to attend classes, including one in calligraphy. In his 2005 Stanford Commencement speech, Jobs discussed the influence the class had on the Apple legacy. “When we were designing the first Macintosh computer … we designed it (calligraphy standards) all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography.”


Of course, we’re not advocating dropping out of high school or college, but we are big fans of learning and creating, no matter where it takes place – be it inside the classroom or inside your garage.  We want to hear from some entrepreneurs. Did you start working on your project or business while still in school? Share your story with us, @NapkinBetaBeyond.