What Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos’ teenage years have in common

Have you ever wondered what Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have in common? It isn’t just that they are all billionaires. They were all ambitious and curious at an early age. And, all of them started their first business before they turned 18.

The impact that adolescence has on a person’s life is immeasurable—especially if that person wants to have an impact on the world.

Unconventional success requires taking unconventional paths

Navid Nathoo, Founder, The Knowledge Society

The experiences that a young person has, whether they’re social, educational, or otherwise, shape how they see the world.

And although none of those companies exist today, their curiosity, ingenuity and drive have helped create some transformative companies, technologies, and innovations that affect all of us today.

Bill Gates was hired by his school, then started his first company at 17.

Bill Gates had a particularly colourful youth. He started toying with early computers. He even got kicked out of the Computer Center Corporation. Most people know he to dropped out of Harvard to start his own software company, but Gates multiple unconventional steps on his unconventional path to success. 

Bill Gates starts programming at 13

Gates’ career began in his early teens when he learned to code computer programs. 

His first venture into the world of coding involved writing a version of tic-tac-toe. His interest and expertise were recognized at an early age, sometimes for the wrong reason. Himself and other computer club members were caught creating bugs in the school’s computer software that allowed them to spend more time using the computers.

He was thirsty for knowledge

As a teen, Gates had an insatiable appetite for knowledge—he even read the World Book Encyclopedia series in its entirety.

Gates was not only curious and well-read; he was also determined, motivated, and capable of completing a significant undertaking from a young age.

According to Business Insider, he “knew he wanted to be a pioneer of the personal computing revolution” and was adamant about achieving his dreams. Despite his rejection of the traditional means of higher education, Gates is a life-long learner and continues to be an avid reader.

Getting to work

While he was still in High School Gates was hired by several companies to develop software projects. The same company whose operating system gates and his friends hacked to get more computer time hired them to help find bugs in their software. He took this opportunity to further his knowledge, going into their offices to absorb as much as possible.

When they went out of business he was contracted by several other companies to create software for them.

Despite the fact that he hacked their computers, in his junior year, he was asked by his school administration to create software that filtered students into the various classes. 

Despite being a coding savant, he was still a teenaged boy at heart. So he wrote the program in such a way that it filtered a disproportionate number of girls into the classes he was in!

Bill Gates’ first company

What most people don’t realize is that Microsoft wasn’t Bill Gates’ first company. It wasn’t even his first company with co-founder Paul Allen. 

One summer, when they were working for a company that measured traffic flow patterns, the two started their first company. Gates started Traf-o-Data when he was 17 alongside co-founder Paul Allen who was 19 at the time. 

The process he wanted to fix involved replacing a manual traffic counting process that All called “monotonous, inefficient, and murder on the eyes. The two teens, knowing this could be improved upon, got started. 

First, they hired other students at Lakeside to work just as the software would eventually. Students would copy the traffic data onto the computer. They then took that data and created “easy to read” data charts with hourly traffic flows. 

Their next step? They purchased an 8008 microprocessor chip and built what would eventually be the Traf-o-Data machine. This machine, once operating, would capture the data and analyze traffic. Eventually, they were charging municipalities $2/day to collect data for them. 

This business continued while they were attending Harvard and was even active when they initially launched Microsoft. 

Bill Gates, Harvard Drop Out

After Gates left the Lakeside School, he went to Harvard. However, like many other successful entrepreneurs, Gates did not graduate from university. Instead, he left behind his math and computer science classes to start Microsoft.

It may seem as though Gates’ career skyrocketed immediately after he left school. But, he actually began working on the first personal computer while still attending Harvard. Along with his close high school friend Paul Allen, Gates started developing software for the MITS Altair. Over the next decade, the pair would found Microsoft and Gates would become a billionaire by age 31.

By leaving school, Gates knew he was taking a chance—and of course, the risk paid off. However, it’s always easier to consider things of this nature in retrospect.

As a student or budding entrepreneur, it’s crucial to measure the risks and benefits of your choices in a considered and calculated way. Nevertheless, Gates’ success proves that taking risks, following unconventional paths, and pursuing your passions are all critical to achieving success.

Perhaps, because he knew that he could always return to school if something didn’t work, the decision to drop out and start Microsoft didn’t weigh so heavily on him. While he never earned his undergraduate degree, he was given an honorary doctorate in 2007.

Elon Musk sold his first video game when he was 12

It’s also critical to keep in mind that how success is defined and achieved is not the same for everyone.

As a kid, Musk was so introspective and constantly lost in thought, that his parents thought he had hearing problems. His perpetual daydreaming caused him to be bullied by his peers. But he didn’t seem to mind; he was always busy planning, designing, and creating new projects—which were undoubtedly fundamental to his success later in life.

Musk made rockets, coded computer games, and read regularly. Elon even attributes much of his childhood to the books he consumed, telling CNBC: “I was raised by books. Books, and then my parents.” 

When he was 10 he ended up creating a video game called Blaster that he sold to a Magazine called Office and Technology.

Similarly to Gates, he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica at nine-years-old. He would pore over pages for hours on end. Unsurprisingly, he also had a passion for fantasy games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons.

Unlike Gates, he ended up taking advantage of College and University to expand his mind and build his network. He did, however, drop out of his PhD program when he could no longer hold back his entrepreneurial instincts. He launched Zip2 a platform that would help newspapers develop online city guides in 1995 which he subsequently sold.

He then started X.com which later merged with PayPal and was sold to eBay. He would then re-invested everything he had in Tesla, Solar City, and SpaceX.

His penchant for dreaming up the futuristic and unusual certainly shaped the impact he continues to have on the world around him.

Jeff Bezos Started a Progam for Teens, as a teen, that sounds a lot like The Knowledge Society

Jeff Bezos took adolescent dreaming one step further. Disgruntled by his summer job at McDonald’s, teenaged Bezos decided to start a camp called the DREAM Institute with his then-girlfriend. 

Their goal was to help foster the creativity and ingenuity of kids younger than themselves. It was his first serious step into the world of entrepreneurship, and he designed a curriculum focused on literature, science, and new ways of thinking. 

Although the Institute was a small and early experience in a life-long career of exceptional pursuits. Bezos’s drive for helping others become more open-minded influenced the rest of his working life.

The decisions a young person makes, whether seemingly insignificant or more substantial, help to mould their futures. From taking up hobbies to selecting summer camps or after-school programs, decisions of all sizes inform the progression of one’s life.

Especially for young adults with a spark of creativity, an insatiable curiosity, and a drive to change the world, the decisions made in the early stages of one’s entrepreneurial trajectory can have a considerable impact on the opportunities available to them later in life. By taking control of their own futures and taking action at a young age, innovative and passionate kids grow up to be the next generation of world leaders.


Author: TKS