What Investors Can Learn From College Dropouts and Bootstrappers

I’ve been thinking a lot about two people who passed away this week. You’ve probably heard of the first – Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. You haven’t heard of the second – my grandmother. Yet both are responsible for me being where I am today – talking about startup and crypto investments with all of you.

Allen, along with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, was part of a triumvirate that changed the world forever. Only one, Gates, is still with us today. All three will be remembered for bringing computers – and computing power – to the masses and ushering in a new information age.

But, in my book, ushering in the information age ranks second in terms of accomplishments.

What could possibly be bigger than creating the information age?

How about ushering in a new era of entrepreneurship.

Someone, eventually, was going to bring computers to the masses. If it wasn’t Allen, Gates or Jobs, it would have been someone else. The same is true for the internet, smartphones, digital music, graphical operating systems and so many other things they worked on. They were going to happen no matter what.

What’s more important is the way they happened.

Allen, Gates and Jobs all left college early to pursue their dreams. Allen and Gates left Harvard. These three didn’t just create the modern computer industry. They gave entrepreneurship legitimacy. They made it desirable. They created a path that thousands (if not millions) of others have walked down since then.

You didn’t have to work for “Big Blue,” (IBM), General Electric, Xerox or AT&T to be successful. You didn’t have to go to college to be successful. There was a different path if you had the idea, the vision and the skills to pull it off.

Allen is the least famous of the three innovators. But to me, he was the most important. He was the visionary – and the evangelist. He saw before anyone else that computer chips would get smaller while computing power would increase exponentially. And he couldn’t stand the idea of others making money off of something he saw coming first.

This is why I like Allen. I think a lot like him. I wasn’t interested in following the same career paths as everyone else. I wanted to blaze my own trail and work on revolutionary projects. And I hate watching others profit off of my ideas.

I wanted to be an entrepreneur, just like him. (I always wanted to be a reporter too, and I’ve been lucky enough to marry those passions throughout my career.)

Allen passed away on Monday. And when the news hit, I was already thinking about his legacy. Then my grandmother passed away on Tuesday. Much like Allen, she has played an interesting role in my career as well.

My grandmother was born in 1920 – in British-controlled India. She saw India struggle for and then gain independence in 1947. She saw India invaded by foreign powers (Pakistan and China). She saw terrorist attacks. And she lived to see India become a rising economic power.

My grandmother didn’t hold down a full-time job. She didn’t go to college. She didn’t start her own business, In fact, she never created a business. And as far as I know, she had little interest in business.

But she was an entrepreneur at heart. She was a bootstrapper before bootstrapping became a “thing.”

She figured out how to stretch a limited salary in such a way that she ensured her four children – and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren – lived a better life than she did.

Her house and her family was her business. She worked hard. She was tireless. She used every trick in the book to save money and increase productivity. She could execute her strategy. She wasn’t afraid to fight for her vision. And she wasn’t afraid to fail.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? It should. This is what makes entrepreneurs successful. This is what we look for in the founders of startups we recommend you invest in.

And one more thing: My grandmother made sure she didn’t die on the same day as Allen. Competitive to the end. She would have her own day.

The world lost two entrepreneurs this week. As investors – and human beings – we can learn from them both.

Good investing,

Vin Narayanan

Senior Managing Editor, Early Investing

P.S. I’m traveling right now in an effort to make Early Investing a better service for our members. So instead of the usual News Fix, I’ll be writing about topics in the news for the next two weeks. The News Fix will resume when I return to the office.