If you get strangers to name some of the most successful tech entrepreneurs that they’re aware of, chances are they’ll name people like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. And all three of them have one thing in common and i.e., they are all college dropouts.
While enthusiasts within the startup circuit and the mass media often romanticize and idolize the idea of college dropouts who end up becoming founders of million dollar enterprises, the fact of the matter is that they happen to be the exception to the rule and not the norm.
In fact, a majority of startup founders and leaders in business tend to have some form of tertiary education rather than none.
However, while this idea of dropping out of college or school to pursue your dreams and vision is becoming increasingly common in the west, here are a few Malaysians that actually dropped out of their respective fields of education to establish something that they believe in.
1. Bobby Ong
Bobby was pursuing Software Engineering when he realized that he could make money even without a degree, as he was doing final year projects for other Degree students when he was still doing his diploma. It was the then that he decided to quit studying and he started his first company.
Speaking about his run-ins with business and startups he said, “I did many things. I’ve tried building software and bundled them with custom-built computer hardware, ventured into graphic design and printing business, web and mobile app design and development. I even built and a ran a daily deal website from scratch even before Groupon Malaysia was founded.”
Currently, he’s involved in running a tech startup in Kuala Lumpur, and he created an app called beely, a marketing platform that directs crowd traffic to retail stores and rewards consumers with points that may be exchanged for special deals. He’s also actively trying to prove his business model and raise funds for the next stage of his startup.
Speaking about how he handles his naysayers, he said, “Case studies, case studies and case studies of whoever made it. Just prove to them that I can do it too! Well, I’m still surviving and my life is getting better day by day.”
2. Wong Wei Loon
Wong Wei Loon used to study at one of the most prestigious high schools in Malaysia called Chong Hwa Independent High School before dropping out as he didn’t fit in there.
“I am a rebel,” he exclaimed. It was then that he began his journey to find himself despite being 15 and not having a particular skill or a certificate.
“But I love to invest, and continue to do so. When I was 18, I opened my first investment account on my birthday,” he said. “After that, my parents nagged me to join college or university. I preferred to take an Investment course but Malaysia didn’t have a non-bumiputra course for it, only Finance and Investment.”
He tried pursuing Business Administration but he dropped out as couldn’t bear with what was being taught. He felt he wasn’t intellectually challenged and thus didn’t feel that the experience was rewarding, and on the other hand, he said that the temptation to run his own business proved too much, especially when someone encouraged him to do so.
Even though there were people that advised him not to do so, he realized that people tend to make comments not because they know, but because they don’t.
“I realized my own destiny is in my hand. They don’t know who you’ll become, and neither will you. But with a good heart, good determination, and some good luck, things will turn up well eventually.”
Currently, he’s running Investalks, an online forum for the investment community specifically based on the Chinese dialect. He’s also developing a financial social network called Sharefolio that connects stock investors and listed companies. He’s also a full-time investor.
3. Syakirin Rosik
Syakirin dropped out of her Masters program, where she was studying Physics, specifically Photonics, to start her mobile thrift store called Thrift-On-Wheels. When it grew big enough, she soon realized that she had to pursue it full-time.
Speaking on how she deals with her naysayers, she said, “I don’t. I do what I have to for what I love.”
Currently she’s working to reorganize Thrift On Wheels into a new brand called Vows.
4. David Yap
David was pursuing a double Degree in Marketing and International trade from the University of Victoria at Sunway University. He dropped out to start Vernax that’s working towards producing artificial intelligence that simulates human behavior and improves human-computer interaction. This is supposed to help us communicate with our technology seamlessly.
“I decided to stop when I was working on my idea from my school’s library. I skipped lectures and classes to study whatever material related to the industry that I’m trying to break in,” he said. “There were plenty of naysayers. I lost a lot of friends because they said that I was weird. I neglected my assignments to work on my project and was heavily bad mouthed among my peers. I always wanted to quit but deep down inside, I wanted to press on. Eventually, I decided to drop out.”
After spending 11 months outside of university, his team has grown to 12 people from all over the world, and he feels that he has a sense of purpose in his life. Currently, the startup is in their research and development phase, and they will release the product by the first quarter next year.
5. Ahmad Zakwan
“I’m always passionate about two things, entrepreneurship and arts. So, after SPM I told my parents that I wanted to go out, hustle and study fine arts on the side, and they went ape shit on me,” said Ahmad. “So I took a foundation course in Architecture and did a Bachelors Degree in Quantity Survey for a while but even at that time, I had my own fair share of ups and downs of being an entrepreneur.”
He then decided to move onto a Bachelors Degree in International Tourism Management but he dropped out to start his own startup after taking time off from college for 2 semesters, even though the university only approved his leave for 1 semester. He used that time to help an acquaintance and mentor to build his investment outfit.
Eventually he dropped out to start Bantu.my, an online marketplace for business related skills. Micro to small business owners are able to browse and buy skills, known as “kerja” from the sellers on Bantu.my, in a structured, secured, transparent and affordable environment. Currently, they’re working to upgrade the platform to Beta level that would revamp their homepage along with their blog.
Speaking on whether he regrets his decision, he said, “It was my own decision and I own up to it because I know what I’m jumping into, so no. Besides if I hadn’t taken that route, I wouldn’t have found my fellow co-founders who have excellent degrees and experiences. Why complete a degree when you can leverage off your co-founders?”
6. Daryll Tan
Daryll Tan was in his first year, first semester of Business Management Degree at HELP University College. And he dropped out to pursue his vision after putting much time and effort to do due diligence, planning, forecasting, reading, praying and consulting successful entrepreneurs, ones that he considers as his mentors till this day.
“There was never really a crystal clear time for me to step out of college/university,” he said. “After gaining more knowledge, calculating the risks involved and working out a potentially solid plan, I took the bold step to respect my family and approach my parents and eldest sister for their blessings.”
“I had the support of my immediate family (after ‘pitching’ to them my plans and allowing them to speak into my life). I know they were concerned for me, but they never once discouraged me but rather offered me their utmost support,” he added.
After doing so, he decided to take the leap and decided it was time to step out in 2009. He started ChaseMotions, a startup that sourced, managed and introduced specialized talents like martial arts, fire performers, dancers, etc., to be featured in advertising mediums.
However, after 6 months he decided to pivot the business into a video management company where they matched brands with talented videographers/boutique production houses to create quality videos at an affordable rate while maintaining the quality of things.
After a few months, he finally decided to merge his company with his current partners, and together, they’re growing the social media consultation and tech development company, OpenMinds. As the co-founder of OpenMinds, he’s involved in management, finance, HR, social media consultation and other aspects of the company.
7. Zlwin Chew
Zlwin was majoring in Psychology at HELP University for a period of 3 years. However, during his first year in Psychology, he was already working as a resident magician at Zouk Club KL, and he was performing at shows around the country. “I got busier in my work life and I could not spend enough time with studies. Therefore, I decided to drop out of university to pursue this magical path,” he said. “I guess I started something out of nothing. I read books and bought magic props and started learning how to perform prestidigitation.”
He describes himself as a go-getter, a person that musters all their strength and will towards achieving the goals that they set for themselves. He’s currently transitioning into performing larger and larger magic in the field of grand illusions.
“Illusions involve huge props that are used to teleport someone; make someone appear out of thin air, vanish a person, levitate a girl, and yes, even cutting a girl in half, or into more pieces,” he said. “I’m currently performing such large illusion shows on board the Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship, the world’s largest cruise line.”
It’s Not About Being Cool…
At the end of the day, “The formula of ‘startup + dropping out = success’ is gravely inaccurate. Education is still the backbone of civilization and social advancement,” said Daryll Tan. And I personally agree with that statement. While looking up to individuals who are brave enough to take a major risk in sacrificing their traditional education to pursue their dreams, the fact of the matter is there’s so much effort, time, persistence and sacrifice that goes into making it a success.
However, if you’re planning on dropping out you should take Daryll’s advice, “If you plan to step out of college/university, do it with grace and a whole lot of planning, convince yourself, allow time for your brain to digest, your emotions to feel the level of passion and ultimately, your conscience to take action and execute great things.”