If you’re not rich by the time you reach twenty years-old, don’t despair. There are plenty of stories of those who get rich much later in life. But it’s worth looking at a few of those who do strike gold at an early age, to try to decipher what it is that makes them tick, and what we can take away from their routes to success.
And to see the pitfalls that perhaps the rest of us may be able to avoid.
Today, the UAE has its share of millionaires – both young and old. And while their names may not be as present in the media as the ones below, these general lessons from around the globe can be applied to entrepreneurs in any region.
So let’s look at four entrepreneurs who got rich young.
- Ashley Qualls
- Mark Zuckerberg
- Nick D’Aloisio
- Patrick Collison
It all started in 2004 when Qualls was 14 years-old. She created her website, whateverlife.com, as a way of learning to code and show off her design skills. Originally from Detroit, Qualls provided HTML tutorials and gave away MySpace layouts for free. To start it was simply a hobby.
What’s notable is that Qualls didn’t come from money, nor did she have the kind of contacts usually needed to fast-track an idea.
But shortly after her website was launched, she was earning money from it. She would upload tutorials – all on web design and coding – and her audience of teenage students grew. Users were able to create accounts on her website, upload their own projects, and benefit from a rewards system.
Three years later, it was getting around four million page views. Qualls turned down offers from buyers – including from the co-founder of MySpace. But she was able to use the money she was earning to buy a house – and by the time she was 17 years-old, she was a millionaire.
But her story isn’t without its challenges. Qualls was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and had a series of health problems. Ultimately, she lost the business. This has prompted a pivot in her career, and she is now a strong advocate for autoimmune disease support, as well as becoming a freelance writer and marketer.
- Do something you love – and something you want to learn about
- Don’t feel the need to entertain every offer of purchase
- Be ready to pivot – your most important work may be in the future
One of the most famous names and faces when it comes to talking about young millionaires, Mark
Zuckerberg is currently worth around USD 90bn.
He was born in New York state and attended Harvard University where Facebook’s roots really start. In 2004, the nascent social networking service started from his dorm room with his college roommates. While it began as an idea for college campuses, it soon spread far wider into the general public. Its ability to scale was built right in from the start. At the age of 22, he was a millionaire. When the company went public in 2012, he quickly became a billionaire.
In 2019, he was the only person under 50 years-old in the Forbes ten richest people list, and he is regularly named as one of the most influential people in the world. His story has been told many times, but there are a few simple, key points which can apply to any entrepreneur.
- Stay focused
- Continually refine your idea
- Think ‘how can I scale?’ right from the start
Starting coding at the age of 12, D’Aloisio grew up interested in philosophy and computer science. By 17, he had designed an app worth USD 30m.
In 2011, D’Aloisio initially launched an app called Trimit which condensed text into summaries. Articles were automatically and manually curated, and summarised into key units of information. This process attracted the interest of venture capitalists, and with new funding he was able to re-design the app and rename it Summly.
Summly aimed to solve the problem of the way articles looked on phones – and its early version was downloaded by hundreds of thousands of users. It was later acquired by Yahoo, and after the sale, D’Aloisio joined Yahoo briefly as a product manager. In 2014, he announced the launch of Yahoo News Digest which was itself an evolution of Summly, providing digestible content twice a day.
It’s claimed that D’Aloisio was the youngest person to receive a round of venture capital in the technology sector, and he’s currently the founder of Sphere Knowledge.
- Always keep moving – what’s your next project?
- With each idea, ask whether it solves a common problem
- Why shouldn’t you be the first to do something?
Collison founded Auctomatic while at college, with the company later purchased by Live Current Media for USD 5m when he was 19 years-old, with Collison becoming the Director of Product Engineering.
Later, Collison began working on Stripe (collaborating with his brother), to address the problem of why making payments on the web was so difficult. Stripe originally partnered with a payments company but he realised that the only way to really control the entire user experience was to control every aspect of the process. With this in mind, he and his brother brought all aspects of the product in-house so they had greater control and visibility.
When it comes to financing, bootstrapping was their choice for much of the company’s earlier life. This only changed in 2012 when Stripe raised USD 18m round with Sequoia at a USD 100m valuation and would later announce a strategic partnership with Visa.
- To solve a problem, you need first to identify it
- Choose your collaborators carefully
- Don’t be afraid to bootstrap your business early on