Quitting school to operate a startup is all the rage these days. Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel even has a special fellowship that encourages young people to do that.
Most startup-minded students quit college, not high school, following in the footsteps of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.
But teenagers are getting into tech at earlier and earlier ages. Writing apps and participating in hackathons are standard ways of getting internships at hot employers like Google and Facebook.
But sometimes apps written by students take off, and teens who get venture-capital funding are then are faced with a quandary: Should they quit high school to work on the company, and is that what VCs want?
That question was posed on Quora. The question came from an anonymous person described as a 17-year-old working on a startup with three others living in separate countries. The company raised money from investors who apparently didn’t know the founder was a high-school student. It’s not clear how the founder was able to pull this off, though there are many ways to collect money over the internet from investors, including AngelList and Kickstarter.
Now, the Quora user says, the startup’s venture capitalists want the team to be together in the same city, and the student is asking for advice on whether to relocate to a new school or quit high school altogether.
“What should I do?” the founder asked.
Contrary to the idea that Silicon Valley wants smart, talented kids to quit school and run companies, investors told the student to stay in school.
“If you don’t finish high school, you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life,” answered angel investor Tim Berry, founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and cofounder of Borland International.
Berry advised the founder to tell the investors they were backing a 17-year old who intended to finish high school and perhaps college, adding that this would most likely impress them, not annoy them.
“You can do the coding and the schooling,” Berry wrote. “I did. Lots of people do … Don’t narrow future options now, when you’re young.”
Business Insider reached out to Berry about his advice.
“I hate the idea that education is about career only, which leads to the sad logic of, ‘If I’m an entrepreneur, I don’t need an education,'” Berry said. “It’s a damn shame that people pose education versus startups as an either-or question.”
It’s a damn shame people pose education versus startups as an either-or question.
Berry’s children are startup executives as well. His son is Paul Berry, former CTO of The Huffington Post and founder of the social platform RebelMouse.
Berry pointed to research by the Kauffman Foundation from 2009 showing that most successful tech entrepreneurs from 1995 to 2005 had college degrees and started their companies later in life. The exceptions of course are Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who built Microsoft and Apple during that time and dropped out of college. But they made it through high school.