Education is important but with the ongoing pressure for higher studies, students are often stressed. We asked millennial entrepreneurs who failed the exams how they ended up leading successful companies
After revision and fear of not getting into university, the summer has been an emotional rollercoaster for UK students, with the past fortnight serving as a terrifying vertical drop on their wild ride. Indeed, with the A-level results released on Thursday, August 16 and the GCSE results declared on Thursday, August 23, students are pressured to rely on grades to decide their next move. Although education has a primary role to play in everyone’s career, it begs the question: do exam results truly decide the future success of a person?
We all know Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of university to be billionaires. And there are some who didn’t even reach that far. For instance, billionaire Virgin boss Richard Branson dropped out of school at 16 to start his business. His headmaster even thought he could end up in prison and now he’s worth £5bn. Elsewhere, The Apprentice magnate Alan Sugar didn’t attend university and is worth £1.4bn. Looking at these head honchos making it big despite not being model students proves that an entrepreneurial spirit can be the route to a heavy bank balance. Not just scoring a 9.
“The belief that academic performance is the only route to professional success is misguided,” Jordan Daykin, founder of Gripit Fixings, the plasterboard fixings business, said. “88% of my employees never attended university, nor did I, yet together we’ve built a global £20m business and we’re not an anomaly.” The youngest applicant to get investment on Dragons’ Den at the age of 13, Daykin believes that schools should focus more on developing skills rather than memorising textbooks.
Of course achieving the desired grades will open opportunities for students to embark on an academic future. However, achieving high GCSE grades doesn’t always correlate with success and more importantly, shouldn’t mean those who didn’t get the grades should feel stunted. “From a young age I knew I could run a business – and that confidence went a long way – as well as genuinely enjoying what I was doing as opposed to dreading something like lessons and revision,” Daykin added.
Contrary to conventional beliefs, exam results don’t matter in the long run, declares Vikki Thomas, the entrepreneur and business coach. “One of the nuns at my school told me I’d would achieve nothing but have lots of babies at a young age,” she told Elite Business and added that she indeed left school with one GCSE. But that didn’t stop her. “Through the growth I had as a person, I was soon speaking on stages across the world to audiences of up to 70,000.”
Indeed some chose to ditch the classroom to make an impact in the business world early on. Research by Informi, an SME advisory firm, threw light on five success stories who are UK-based millennial millionaires without a degree. The youngest of them, 19-year-old Akshay Ruparelia who spearheads Doorsteps, the property firm, was worth £12m in just over a year’s operation. “If you deliver what you say you will, you hook people in and your business will work,” Ruparelia said he was inspired by Ryanair founder Michael O’Leary.
Crucial components for success are attitude and work ethic. “It’s your mindset that’s most crucial for realising your ambitions and not a piece of paper proscribing what you can or can’t do,” Samuel Leach, director at Samuel & co, a trading company, told Elite Business. Leach failed his GCSEs but got inspired by watching Ted Talks and realised that his expertise lied in training algorithmic traders. “I founded the company so that I can give young people in particular, regardless of their background, the skills and strategies to find the kind of success I have,” Leach continued.
For students with the entrepreneurial instinct, good self-esteem is a prerequisite when setting up a business. “There were many times when I thought, ‘is this going to work?’ and ‘what have I done?’,” said Daykin. “But I’ve learnt there is always a solution to every problem and you can always overcome the obstacles life throws at you.” Failing the results might not seem ideal but can be taken as an opportunity. Daykin was shocked when he got his results. “I assumed I would pass them due to the things I had learnt when creating my own websites and mini business but that experience didn’t translate into academic performance,” he explained.
In fact, research reported from The Guardian showed how the escalating pressure had a detrimental effect on students which resulted in reduced numbers of them doing well. Students who scored at least a C in the GCSEs in 2017 fell from 66.5% to 66.1%. Childline, a children’s helpline, delivered over 3,000 counselling sessions for students, mostly complaining of an overwhelming workload and the fear of failing their GCSEs, which effectively resulted in adverse effects on their mental health.
At this time, confiding in a mentor can only be beneficial. “Having someone to guide you and learn from is absolutely invaluable and will help accelerate your career whilst also giving you the confidence to pursue your career aspirations, rather than focusing on results,” said Andy Scott, CEO and founder of REL Capital, a consultancy firm for SMEs. He was sceptical when it came to academic education being helpful in reality. “I made my first million by 26 [and] I relied on my practical skills rather than my education,” Scott added.
Looking at these cases, it seems fair to say that what matters is the grade you get when marked on drive and determination. And these entrepreneurs definitely prove they passed it with flying colours. “No one truly knows what you’re capable of doing other than yourself,” Leach concluded.