Here’s how old the founders of 13 tech giants were when they started their first companies

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For tech founders like Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey, it took a couple attempts to start the company that would turn them into industry visionaries and make them worth billions of dollars.

The founders of Tesla and Twitter, respectively, experienced only minor successes with their first tech ventures at a young age. It took them, and others, a couple of tries before landing on ideas that caught fire and became big names in the tech industry.

Although it’s often the stories of young college dropouts like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that get the most attention, not all heads of tech companies found success at such a young age. While many big names in tech have already gained their first million in their 20s, others like Oracle founder Larry Ellison didn’t come into their wealth until their 30s or later.

These are the ages that 13 of the most successful tech founders launched their first companies at:

  1. Tesla founder Elon Musk — Age 24, year: 1995

Musk and his brother, Kimbal, founded Zip2 (originally Global Link Information Network), a company that provided online city guides to newspapers like the New York Times and Chicago Tribune. The company was bought four years later by the computer company Compaq.

Musk later went on to help found a number of companies, including X.com (that merged with PayPal), and the companies where he now serves as CEO: Tesla, SpaceX, and The Boring Company.

2. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — Age 19, year: 2004

Zuckerberg launched Facebook, as “Thefacebook,” from his dorm room in 2004 as a sophomore at Harvard University. He dropped out later that year in order to devote his time fully to developing the social network.

3. eBay founder Pierre Omidyar — Age 23, year: 1991

A few years after graduating from Tufts University, Omidyar cofounded a pen-based computing company called Ink Development with friends. The company was later rebranded as an internet shopping software company called eShop, which Microsoft bought it in 1996 for $50 million. Before that sale was even finalized, Omidyar launched eBay in 1995.

4. Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates — Age 16, year 1972

In high school, Gates and a friend named Paul Allen launched a business called Traf-o-Data. The company automated the process of analyzing traffic flow data for roads in Washington.

The company continued to operate even after the two finished high school, went to — and quit — college, and on through when the pair launched Microsoft in 1975. Traf-O-Data eventually failed because of what Allen called a “flawed business model,” and the two focused their efforts on Microsoft.

5. Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey — Age 23, year: 1999

Dorsey is a two-time college dropout. While at his first school, the University of Missouri-Rolla, he hacked into the website for a company called Dispatch Management Services and found a security flaw. The company’s founder, Gregg Kidd, hired Dorsey immediately and convinced him to move to New York, where the offices were located.

Dorsey enrolled in NYU while there, but dropped out shortly after to move with Kidd to San Francisco. The two then launched a software company called dNet that provided same-day delivery for online purchases. They secured early funding from the investment group Band of Angels, but the company soon flopped. Dorsey wouldn’t help create Twitter for another six years.

6. SoftBank cofounder Masayoshi Son — Age 24, year: 1981

Even before launching SoftBank at age 24, Son was already a millionaire. He made money as an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley through two separate ventures: leasing video game consoles to local bars and restaurants, and developing a pocket-sized electronic translator sold to Sharp Electronics in 1979.

Upon returning to Japan, Son launched SoftBank as a computer parts and software distributor. The company has since invested billions of dollars in massive tech startups like Uber, the We Company (aka WeWork), and DoorDash.

7. Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel — Age 22, year: 2011

Spiegel first floated the idea for Snapchat to his product design class at Stanford in April 2011. His class saw Spiegel’s final project proposal, to share pictures with friends that would disappear forever, as a “terrible idea.”

A few months later during the summer, Spiegel and cofounders Bobby Murphy and Reggie Brown launched Snapchat. The app was originally named “Picaboo,” and the three built it from the home of Spiegel’s dad in Los Angeles. The Snapchat CEO dropped out of Stanford a few credits shy of graduation to work on Snapchat, although he returned to school to finish his degree in 2018.

8. Alibaba cofounder Jack Ma — Age 29, year: 1994

Ma quit a job teaching English at local university to launch a translation company called the Haibo Translation Agency (“haibo” translates to “vast like the sea”). While helping a Chinese firm recover a payment through his translation business, Ma visited the US in 1995 and encountered his first internet-connected computer.

Ma’s first online search was “beer,” but he was surprised to find that no Chinese beers turned up in the results. It was then that he decided to found an internet company for China, which later became Alibaba.com.

9. Google cofounders Larry Page & Sergey Brin — Age 25, year: 1998

The Google cofounders met in 1995, when Brin toured Page around Stanford University. Brin was a graduate student in Stanford’s computer science department, and Page was considering attending the school. They reportedly both found each other “obnoxious” at first, but they became classmates when Page enrolled as a PhD student.

The two started working together on a research project about cataloging every link on the internet, called “BackRub” at the beginning. The two soon dropped out of Stanford, and founded Google in 1998 out of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki’s garage in Menlo Park, California.

10. Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison — Age 32, year: 1997

After Ellison dropped out of college twice, he worked a series of jobs in California where he picked up computer and programming skills. He landed at a tech company called Ampex, where one of his responsibilities was to build a database for the CIA. He and two Ampex coworkers, Ed Oates and Bruce Scott, left the company to start a database consulting company called Software Development Laboratories. Their new company secured a contract with the CIA to build a database, using the programming language SQL. The database management system they built was code-named Oracle, which then became the name of the company.

11. Apple cofounder Steve Jobs — Age 21, year: 1976

Jobs and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak first met through a mutual friend in 1971, before either started college, and became friends. They often worked together on small technology projects, and together attended meetings held by the Homebrew Computer Club in 1975. Jobs and Wozniak became interested in computers at these meetings, and turned their hobby into the company Apple soon after.

The two Steves worked out of the garage in the house owned by Jobs’ parents. Neighbors often saw Jobs hold meetings out of this garage clad in cutoff jeans and barefoot.

12. Tumblr founder David Karp — Age 19, year: 2006

Karp never finished high school (he dropped out at 14), or attended college. That didn’t stop him from entering the tech scene, and becoming the chief technology officer for a now-defunct online messaging board called UrbanBaby, that was bought by CNET in 2006.

He made “several thousand dollars” off the sale, which he used to start his own company called Davidville. Karp used Davidville to develop various Internet companies, including Tumblr.

13. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — Age 30, year: 1994

Bezos left his job at hedge fund D.E. Shaw to launch Amazon.com, which started as an online bookseller. He drove across the country with his wife at the time, MacKenzie, to found Amazon in Seattle. The Amazon CEO spent to entire car ride “tapping out a business plan on his computer along the way” and “calling prospective investors on a cell phone.”

Source: BusinessInsider

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