How The Youngest Self-Made Billionaires Earned Their Fortunes
A few of them started learning hard skills at age 10
Forbes recently released its 2017 World’s Billionaires list—there are 2,043 in total, 233 more than last year. Many are, as you would expect, old money oil heirs. There is also a cheese heiress in France and the newest Wal-Mart billionaire. But many are self-made and very young. For most of us, billionairehood is an incomprehensible achievement, one we weren’t born into and thus, one we will never know. But the rapid rise of technology has opened the space for self-made youngsters (defined here as under 35). Here is how the 12 youngest self-made billionaires earned their wealth:
Evan Spiegel, 26, $4 billion net worth
Evan Spiegel is the co-founder of Snapchat, which he helped create from his dorm room. He studied product design at Stanford, where he met and networked with the likes of Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt. He ended up dropping out just a few credits short of graduating. Of his success he has said,
“I am a young, white, educated male. I got really, really lucky. And life isn’t fair.”
His advice to others? “It’s not about working harder; it’s about working the system.”
John and Patrick Collison co-founded Stripe in 2010, which allows individuals and businesses to easily accept payments over the internet. Patrick attended MIT and John attended Harvard, but both dropped out to found their start-up. Before reaching billionairehood with Stripe, they were teenage millionaires after founding and selling Auctomatic, which manages transactions on sites such as Amazon and eBay. The two grew up in Ireland and learned to code before the age of 10. Of their success, Patrick has said:
“Heartening as the success to date has been, we are so early in accomplishing the goals that we set out for ourselves. If anyone here believes that Stripe has already made it, that would be hugely problematic for us.”
Bobby Murphy, 28, $4 billion net worth
Bobby Murphy co-founded Snapchat with Evan Spiegel, but Murphy’s role is behind the scenes, whereas Spiegel is the face. Murphy was born and grew up in Berkeley, CA. He met co-founder Spiegel at Stanford where he studied mathematical and computational science. Murphy wrote much of the code that is still used by Snapchat today. When commenting on building the company, Murphy has said:
“We’re not just chasing growth. It’s engagement that leads to growth.”
Mark Zuckerberg, 32, $56 billion net worth
Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, is a tech icon. He dropped out of Harvard at 19 to run the multibillion dollar company. His father introduced him to computer programming as a kid and he built computer games as well as a software program, Synapse, that was sort of like an early version of Pandora. AOL and Microsoft both tried to buy Synapse and recruit Zuckerberg before he even left for college.
“If you want to build something great, you should focus on what the change is that you want to make in the world,” Zuckerberg has said.
Dustin Moskovitz, 32, $10.7 billion net worth
Moskovitz helped Zuckerberg launch Facebook from their Harvard dorm room. Most of his wealth still comes from his approximate 3% stake in the company, but after leaving the company in 2008 he founded Asana, a workflow software program. Of his own success with Facebook, Moskovitz said:
“Every day, I recognize how it was just the dumbest luck in the world to have been in the right place at the right time.”
Nathan Blecharczyk, 33, $3.8 billion net worth
Nathan Blecharczyk is the co-founder and chief technology officer of Airbnb. He found a computer manual one day when he was bored at the age of 12, read that, moved on to a book on programming and in that manner, learned to code. He started an online business that made him $1 million by the time he was 14. He went on to pay for his own degree in computer science at Harvard. On whether he ever sits quietly and does nothing:
“No, I don’t think I’ve ever done that, to be honest. I hate … it’s not fair to call it ‘wasting time’, but I always feel a sense of urgency with my time. There’s so much I could be doing. That might be a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t know.”
Ryan Graves, 33, $1.6 billion net worth
Ryan Graves was the first employee hired at Uber, had a brief tenure as CEO, and is now “resident entrepreneur and builder.” Graves graduated from Miami University in Ohio with a degree in economics. He is famous for the tweet that landed him his position with Uber: the CEO of Uber tweeted “Looking 4 entrepreneurial product mgr/biz-dev killer 4 a location based service.. pre-launch, BIG equity, big peeps involved--ANY TIPS??" and Graves wrote back: "heres a tip. email me :)” along with his email address.
Kevin Systrom, 33, $1.2 billion net worth
Kevin Systrom launched Instagram in 2010 and sold it to Facebook for $1 billion in stock and cash in 2012. He is still the CEO. As a teenager, Systrom would create programs to hack into his friends’ Instant Messenger accounts. He went on to Stanford where he built web programs in his free time. After working in tech for a few years, he released Instagram as one of the most sensational app debuts in history—it had 25,000 users within 24 hours. Instagram is one of the few apps that has remained popular and managed to keep up with users’ transient desires. Of Instagram’s evolvement, Systrom has said:
“It’s almost riskier not to disrupt yourself.”
Ben Silbermann, 34, $1.6 billion net worth
Ben Silbermann launched the first version of Pinterest in March 2010. Growing up in Iowa, he used to collect dried insects and pin them to cardboard. He studied pre-med at Yale, but moved to the west coast after discovering an interest in tech. He worked briefly at Google, but in customer support, not engineering or coding. Pinterest grew slower than the other apps responsible for billionaires on this list and Silbermann’s advice aligns accordingly:
“My general advice is keep going, because usually the inertia of your own insecurities and people around you is something that should be pushed back against.”
Evan Sharp, 34, $1 billion net worth
Evan Sharp is co-founder and chief creative officer of Pinterest. He met Silbermann (the CEO) while studying at Columbia. Sharp studied architecture—his training aligns with Pinterest’s architectural interface and he leads the front-end engineering and design divisions. He is one of the few billionaires on this list without a strict tech background, but he has spoken about the importance of wedding tech and creativity:
“Our core company value is actually the word ‘knit,’ which is kind of a funny word. That’s the word we use to describe different types of people learning to see each other’s point of view and work on a problem together. And that’s just how creative things get built right?”
Drew Houston, 34, $1 billion net worth
Drew Houston (“pronounced like the NYC street not the Texas city”) is the CEO of Dropbox, the file sharing service. He co-founded Dropbox in 2007, at the age of 24. He learned to write code at an early age and went on to study computer science at MIT. He originally created Dropbox for his own personal use—when he wanted to access files he’d left on a USB somewhere else. Since, it has become one of the fastest-growing cloud services available.
“The most successful people and successful entrepreneurs I know are all obsessed with solving a problem that really matters to them,” Houston has said.