You don’t have to get a college degree to become highly successful.
That’s according to Austin Russell, the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, who dropped out of Stanford University in 2012 to start his company, Luminar Technologies, after receiving a $100,000 grant from the Peter Thiel Fellowship.
CNBC Make It asked Russell, 28, if he’d recommend other student entrepreneurs to drop out. His response: “Absolutely.”
“College is not for everyone,” he says. “It’s just sort of the traditional approach around what you do and what you’re supposed to do.”
Russell’s decision proved to be the right one — his company, a tech startup that develops hardware and software meant to power self-driving cars, is currently worth $2.6 billion. What’s more, he says he would have still left Stanford even if he hadn’t received funding.
“If you’re wondering if I would have dropped out [without the grant], yeah. Absolutely. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind,” Russell says. “It was going to happen anyway.”
‘There are so many ways to get knowledge’
Over half (56%) of Americans agree that a four-year college degree isn’t worth it, a recent Wall Street Journal poll found. Skepticism about the practicality of a college degree has steadily increased over the years, though experts say higher education is still proven to yield favorable results, like better pay and higher-skill job opportunities.
For Russell, the same resources you can get from a university are easily accessible, via smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices.
“All this information is available at our fingertips now online. This is not something that was true 50 years ago, [but] it totally is true now,” he says. “In my early teens, I was able to watch entire lecture sets for Stanford and MIT applied physics online at 2X speed or 3X speed.”
“You can do all these kinds of things that were never possible. You can get through entire curriculums and annual courses in weeks if you watch it back to back. There are so many ways to get knowledge imparted upon oneself,” he continues.
That isn’t to say you’ll become an expert in a particular field from a quick YouTube search. The key to facilitating your own learning? “You have to have the initiative,” says Russell.
“You have to have the drive to do it. And particularly as an entrepreneur, there is no one that will be holding your hand along the way,” he says. “You are directly accountable for at least all the things that are in your control, [like] what you do, what milestones you meet and what kind of product you ultimately deliver to the world.”
Russell joins tech billionaires Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as business moguls who dropped out of college. The Apple founder left Reed College at age 19, reportedly because of the financial burden on his family. And Gates attended Harvard for two years before leaving to build Microsoft.
Russell says he doesn’t regret his choice at all — in fact, it played a major role in why “I’ve been very fortunate and thankful to see great success at still a very early age,” he says.
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