Why do the most popular and successful startups generally have founders from the top 10 universities?


Pretty much, you see ["Harvard", "Stanford", "MIT", "Yale", "Princeton",...] ubiquitously in the bios of startup founders. Sure, in some cases they may have dropped out, but none the less they got accepted and show a benchmark of intelligence.

I'm not denying that these people are probably highly intelligent, but I'm wondering if the connections and contacts they have from these schools are giving them an edge in finding investors, great employees who will help them, etc.

Also, I read so many blogs and resources (both technical and non-technical) and I get this feeling that anyone riding on the A-train in NYC (so to speak) can create a startup. Then when I can't get creative ideas or see an app to fruition, I feel like there is something I lack. Do you need some sort of magical, creative gift to make a successful startup take off? I do have degrees in EE and CS, but it is unlikely that I had the test scores and grades to be accepted to a very competitive college, and I put much effort into school.

Not to say that I wasn't programming from 13 and can crank out thousands of lines of code...

In other words, what I'm trying to say, is that I interviewed for a few startups, even got a job or two but I hate throwing in the towel and not trying it on my own. One of the founders of a pretty popular startup called me three times on my phone and was amazed at the way I solved one of his challenges in 3 languages. However though, bringing a massive idea to fruition does intimidate me a bit. All the startups I interviewed for(and many more with some cursory research) seem to have geniuses at the helm.

Also, does working for startup give you a good pre-req to start your own?


asked Dec 9 '11 at 03:28
376 points
  • "Also, does working for startup give you a good pre-req to start your own?" -- post that as a new question. – Mike Nereson 12 years ago
  • Not going to comprehensively answer so I will leave it as a comment. The Ivy league connection helps when it comes to getting you connections. Networking. The rest is a combination of luck and sheer determination to complete the project and market it. Believe in it. You also might want to be competent or have the money to hire competent people... – Rig 12 years ago

1 Answer


In my opinion, having "expert" knowledge about your problem domain is obviously helpful, but not a necessity.

To quote Will Smith "I have a dream... And I am willing to die for it; It's as simple as that". That may sound extreme, but the underlying message is very strong.

If you are confident in yourself and motivated to make this idea a success, then you will. In then end, the underlying factor is pure motivation. I do not have enough information to give a specific answer, but if you truly want this to happen and work hard enough, it will come to fruition.

From my own experience, motivation is the key role. Don't base the sucess of a project on your own relative skills; if you don't have the skills enforce maximum effort into finding and managing someone who does have the skills. Pure passion is what success is all about; work your hardest and one of the following will occur:

Scenario 1: The project is a success - self explanatory.

Scenario 2: The project is unsuccessful - As long as you have tried your hardest, you will have gained extremely valuable information and knowledge, which you can exploit (one way or another) in the future.

"There is no such thing as failure; simply learning curves"

This is a philosophical answer, but has an extremely important underlying message.

answered Dec 10 '11 at 12:49
Tom Fitton
149 points

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