Want to be a Tech Entrepreneur? – Start young, go where the action is, and stick at it

I love football, and one thing I have noticed is this – All the football super-stars have this in common – they started playing football from a very young age, joined the right teams, and they kept going in spite of all the challenges thrown at them.

I also love tennis, and I have also noticed the same pattern – All the tennis mega-stars have one thing in common – they started playing  from a very young age, entered into the right competitions, and they kept playing tennis, day in and day out, despite any challenges thrown in their way.

I love engineering, and anything to do with technology, and I often wonder – how can a determined, ambitious person rise to become a mega-star in the world of engineering and technology? Wikipedia provided the answer for me – Virtually all the big names in tech today all have one thing in common – they started tinkering around with technology from a very young age, went to the universities and places where the action was, and kept going until they made the technological and commercial breakthroughs they aspired to.

I think I now have a theory for success in engineering and technology, and it is this:

  1. Start young, keep at it, and keep going and don’t give up. (Parents and teachers, take note.)
  2. Get connected with those at the cutting edge of technology in your area of interest. (In practice this generally means going to a university and joining a department where all the action is taking place.)

To test out this theory, I listed five of the top tech companies in the world, and then looked at the early lives of their founders.  In the process, I also came across Aaron Levie – founder of cloud computing company, Box.  The idea for his company started out of a class project, and led directly to the formation of Box.  This leads me to wonder how many student projects are gathering dust somewhere in an academic’s office when they could have turned out to be giant technology companies. I also wonder how many brilliant engineers are toiling away in the bottom rungs of the engineering career ladder, when they could have been leading successful tech start-ups? Anyway, here is a summary of what I found out, courtesy of Wikipedia.

1.      Google Self-Driving Car Builder: Anthony Levandowski (Twitter address: @ottodrives)

Anthony Levandowski was born on March 15, 1980. He built the Google self-driving car while working as a co-founder and technical lead on the project.

In 1998 Levandowski entered The University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley, California, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. At university he developed and launched an intranet service, and with fellow students, he built an autonomous motorcycle, nicknamed Ghostrider, for the DARPA Grand Challenge.

2.       SpaceX and Tesla Co-Founder: Elon Musk (Twitter address: @elonmusk)

Elon Musk was born on June 28, 1971. He is the founder, CEO, and CTO of SpaceX; co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla Inc.; co-founder and chairman of SolarCity; co-chairman of OpenAI; co-founder of Zip2; and founder of PayPal.

At age 10, he developed an interest in computing and began to teach himself computer programming. At age 12 he developed and sold the code for a BASIC-based video game he created called Blastar, to a magazine called PC and Office Technology, for approximately $500.

At age 19, he went to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, for undergraduate study. In 1992, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where, at the age of 24, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from its College of Arts and Sciences, and a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from its Wharton School of Business. Musk extended his studies for one year to finish a second bachelor’s degree. While at the University of Pennsylvania, Musk and fellow Penn student Adeo Ressi rented a 10-bedroom fraternity house which they used as an unofficial nightclub.

In 1995, at age 24, Musk started on a PhD in applied physics and materials science at Stanford University, but left the program after two days to pursue his entrepreneurial aspirations in the areas of the Internet, renewable energy and outer space.

3.      Facebook Co-Founder: Mark Zuckerberg (Twitter address: @MarkZuckerbergF)

Mark Zuckerberg was born on 14 May, 1984. He is the chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook.

Zuckerberg began using computers and writing software in junior high school. His father taught him Atari BASIC Programming in the 1990s, and later hired software developer David Newman to tutor him privately.

In 2004, whilst studying at Harvard University, Zuckerberg and a group of friends launched Facebook. They introduced Facebook to other college campuses, and the rest is now history.

4.      Spotify Co-Founder: Daniel Ek (Twitter address: @eldsjal)

Daniel Ek is the co-founder and CEO of the music streaming service Spotify.

In 1999, by age 16, Daniel Ek was already a successful entrepreneur building websites. Along the way, he started asking himself: How do you get people to pay for music that can be downloaded free—and without charging them for each song, the way Apple’s iTunes service does now?  The search for a solution to this question led him directly to form Spotify, a jukebox in the cloud that provides legal, on-demand access to millions of songs.

5.      Box Founder: Aaron Levie (Twitter address: @levie)

Aaron Levie  is the co-founder and CEO of the enterprise cloud company Box.

The idea for Box originated as a college business project that Levie was working on in 2004. The project examined cloud storage options for businesses. After contacting several organisations to ask how they are storing their content and data, Levie decided to develop and launch an online file storage business that enabled individuals to access and store documents and files.

In December 2005, during his junior year at USC, Levie took a leave of absence to launch Box (originally called box.net) with his friend and Box CFO, Dylan Smith who was attending Duke University.

6.      Twitter Founder: Jack Dorsey  (Twitter address: @jack)

Jack Dorsey was born on 19 November, 1976. He is a co-founder and CEO of Twitter, and founder and CEO of Square, a mobile payments company.

By age 14, Dorsey had become interested in dispatch routing, a method for assigning employees or vehicles based on the routing system’s pre-planning. Some of the open source software he created in the area of dispatch logistics is still used by many taxi cab companies. Dorsey attended the Missouri University of Science and Technology before subsequently transferring to the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, where he came up with the idea of Twitter and decided to drop out of university.

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