Skip the College and Get Rich – Lessons from Mark Zuckerberg

He found a rope and pulled. He kept pulling but the rope wouldn’t budge so he decided to follow where the rope led. He left in the middle of the night to avoid authority figures who would ask questions about where and what and why. In the cover of night, the moon gleaming, he pulled on the rope and followed where it led. The rope extended out of town and so he went into the forest. Wandering between trees, over rivers, next to mountains, he followed the rope wherever it came from. Sometimes the rope plunged underground or high in the air, to places he couldn’t go so he left the rope and searched for where it re-emerged. He always found it, and though he never knew if it was the same rope, it didn’t matter. It led and he followed, mile by mile. The rope was just like any other rope, and as he journeyed he stopped looking at the rope and paid attention to the world around him. As he walked and walked, following this rope, or many ropes, he came to realize that the rope wasn’t leading him to a specific place or goal. Rather, the journey itself was the goal and he was being rewarded by new lands, new places, new cultures. This rope connected him to the world far beyond his town and region. This rope was a gateway to the world. He began leaving the rope and interacting with the people he saw. Making friends and discovering so many things the world had to offer filled him with happiness and he came to realize that people were the same almost everywhere. His small town was not a distinct place unknowable to outsider, but simply one iteration of the human social condition. After making friends and connections, he always returned to the rope and continued to follow it, which led him to ever more connections and possibilities. This isn’t a new path, he thought to himself, This is the path wandered by all humanity. I’m not changing the world; I’m just connecting with it.

Mark Zuckerberg is the founder of Facebook, the world’s second most popular website, with over a billion users worldwide. Before we get too far, let’s take a minute to look at some Facebook statistics:

1 in every 13 people on Earth is on Facebook.

71.2% of US internet users are on Facebook.

In 20 minutes 1,000,000 links are shared on Facebook, 1,484,00 event invites are posted, 1,323,000 photos are tagged, 1,851,000 statuses are entered, 1.972 million friend requests are entered, and 10.2 million comments are posted.

People spend over 700 billion combined minutes on Facebook per month.

Translated into over 70 languages.

70% of users live outside the US.

The staggering statistics go on for quite a while, but you get the idea: Facebook is huge, and it comes from the mind of Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard during his sophomore year.

The question, as always, is why? Why didn’t Zuckerberg just stick it out to get his degree before pursuing Facebook full time?

Let’s take a look back at where he came from first.

He began using computers and writing software way back in middle school when his father taught him Atari BASIC Programming. Later, he even hired a software developer named David Newman to tutor him. Newman described the young Zuckerberg as a prodigy, and he struggled to stay ahead of the child, even though he was the tutor. Throughout high school, Zuckerberg enjoyed working with computers and developing programs, especially games and new communication tools. While still in high school, he even took a graduate level course in programming, and developed “ZuckNet,” a primitive communication tool connecting the computers in his house to the computers at his father’s dental office, preceding AOL Instant Messenger by a few months. Zuckerberg’s computer expertise became known to his schoolmates with Jose Antonio Vargas saying, “Some kids played computer games. Mark created them.” He even created Synapse Media Player, a music player that learned from the user’s listening habits.

Zuckerberg went to college with the reputation of being a programming prodigy, and he studied psychology and computer science. In his sophomore year, which would be his final year of college, he built a program called CourseMatch, which allowed users to make class decisions based on the choices of other students. Later, he made Facemash, which was a program for ranking people based on physical appearance in photos. Facesmash was so popular that it overwhelmed the Harvard network, causing it to crash, preventing students from accessing the internet.

The following semester, he launched Facebook, which was originally called The Facebook. After starting it in his dormroom, it became incredibly popular, partially due to its exclusivity. Beginning as only available to Harvard students, it gradually spread to other universities, and, eventually, to everyone. After dropping out of Harvard, he moved to Palo Alto, California where he and a group of friends dove into developing Facebook and making it a company. Since then, Facebook has exploded and grown exponentially, covering the globe, and it all comes from his simple message:

“The thing I really care about is the mission, making the world open.”

It’s undeniable that Zuckerberg’s achieved that goal as more and more people tap into Facebook, which further opens and connects the world. But we’re still left with the question: did Zuckerberg need to drop out?

It’s hard to argue that dropping out made him more successful, but it’s entirely possible. Had he waited to dive into Facebook full time when he graduated, the ship may have already sailed. Someone could have taken his idea, improved upon it, and jumped into the world as the newest and best social media site. We know Facebook wasn’t the first social media site, but it’s demonstrably better than Myspace, which has largely fallen by the wayside as Facebook’s taken over. Even Google+, which many argue is a better platform, has never picked up the way Facebook has. The reason for that is because Facebook was first, and so many users were so thoroughly entwined to Facebook that they didn’t see a reason to create a new platform.

In addition, it’s clear that Zuckerberg was, from a young age, well past his instructors. He’s an incredibly gifted man, who also encourages his employees to do their best, and runs “hackathons,” which are held every 6 to 8 weeks. Participants must create and complete a project within a night for the Facebook platform. The central idea behind it goes back to Zuckerberg’s creation of Facemash, which was done in a single night.

Zuckerberg rewards great ideas and is very much an idea man. He currently takes a salary of $1, as his wealth has already amassed to a very comfortable level. Since money is no longer an issue, Zuckerberg is working for ideas and continually competing. Competition is a core element of his personality and it’s reflected in his hackathons, which are also meant to be enjoyable. Zuckerberg wants to connect the world, and it’s such a beautiful and simple idea, that it’s turned him into one of the wealthiest people alive and his company into one of the most important in the world.

The things that make Mark Zuckerberg an enormous success aren’t just that he’s a genius with a good idea. He’s always ready to take criticism, his skin growing thicker with each new year. Over legal battles and country bans, he’s remained determined to succeed, which is possible because he truly believes in what he’s doing. Facebook isn’t just a good idea: it’s his dream. A connected world, and he’s the architect. His dreams are big and he’s willing to take big risks on himself and the people he trusts. He gained his initial financial backing by being seriously risky with the way he dealt with potential funders. He forced them to wait on him, rather than clamoring to get whatever sum they’d give him. He trusted his idea, and it worked brilliantly. He thrives on competition, always adapting and growing with each new challenge and innovation. Facebook wasn’t the first or most powerful social media site, but he fought his way to the top, leaving all other similar sites to history.

Though Zuckerberg didn’t succeed by going to college, he still views education as an absolutely critical component to a healthy economy and country. He’s funded education reform and supports it most notably in New Jersey.