The Mirage of Lagos Dropouts – Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates

The Mirage of Lagos Dropouts – Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates

Continuing on the illusion that someone can dropout from a university, in Nigeria, and then become a legend, under the lame excuses that it worked for Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. I want to make it clear that both Mark and Bill continued their “educations” but outside the university system.

In this discussion, the most important thing to note is that Life is about accumulating capabilities.  Accumulating those capabilities does not necessarily have to be in universities. The Igbo traders of Arochukwu, Nnewi and Ohafia have shown that people can create massive wealth even without going to school. Yet, in that process, one thing is clear: there is the generation and accumulation of knowledge which the apprentice-students acquire over more than a decade from their masters. That they did that in a shop in Aba or Lagos does not diminish the fact that they were “educated” or trained.

In America, they have an institutionalized apprenticeship system. A small segment of that system is the Executive Coach. These are highly experienced and capable men and women who are paid to become like private professors and mentors to busy people.

When I became a TED Fellow, TED gave me a coach. The man spoke with me many times in a week and helped in shaping my ability to get things done. He kept me on track, challenging me to speak better, and pushing me to fix many issues he felt I needed to deal with in order to be a better person in my projects. He did not spare my presentation styles: he worked hard on many nexus of my skills. He might have been paid $250 – $300 per hour by the billionaire who funded it through TED for the Fellows.

It was a transformation – I became a better communicator and quickly found it easier to just talk. The next few months, TED assigned another person who focused on fixing things related to planning and thinking big. He wanted me to become a big thinker and focusing on the big picture at early phases of projects.

People, these people are retired professors, company executives and extremely capable people who typically take you, look at your weaknesses and find ways to fix them in weeks. They are super-mentors because if you follow their directions, you will get results.

Mark Zuckerberg had many private coaches in Facebook. He had left Harvard as a “dropout” but he had Harvard-type professors as “private professors”. The same applied to most of those young men you read about that left school and built empires. In short, even those with degrees, do hire these coaches.

If a kid drops out from the University of Lagos, will he get his own private professor? The Igbo apprenticeship program makes a case that you do not need university education to thrive. But in that system, there is deep knowledge passed from one person to another.  Yes, in all cases, knowledge must be passed, one way or the other.


The key thing is to examine the reason for dropping out: Bill and Mark left to go and scale big ideas, and they had with them business and executive coaches working with them at those early stages. It was not because they were finding school hard or they did not like Calculus. They went to acquire, scale, and build massive knowledge. They went to “schools” but those schools were enterprises, and worked with some of the best in the world. The VCs who funded them are just like mentors and professors.

In a way, they replaced mass-training professors in Harvard with private Harvard-quality professors. If you check very well, they got better deals because they could afford them. You cannot have a private Harvard professor and still claim you dropped out!

Now, you can see why a kid in Nigeria must stay in school and stop touting how Mark and Bill dropped out to build Facebook and Microsoft respectively.


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15 thoughts on “The Mirage of Lagos Dropouts – Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates

  1. Thank you Sir for such enlightenment. This advice goes to the whole of Africa.

    A part from being coached by highly quality Harvard Professors, Bill & Mark do read a lot- reading books which strengthens their mental factory in the field they want to develop. Most of the drop outs in Africa think they have enough Knowledge to push them bulid big empires and neglect sharpening their minds.


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