Just because you don’t finish high school or that degree you signed up for doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
Here are some of Australia’s most high profile entrepreneurs in a wide variety of different fields who dropped out of their studies only to go on to become some of the country’s biggest success stories.
1. Janine Allis
The founder of ‘Boost Juice’ is now a mentor to many other prospective entrepreneurs via her role on Ten’s reality show Shark Tank, as well as via her best-selling book ‘The Secrets of My Success’.
One of the biggest myths she loves to bust about business success is that you need a tertiary education.
Never making it to university, Allis dropped out of school at the age of 16 and took multiple jobs so she could take off and travel the world, which is where she was exposed to the growing juice and smoothie sector of the food industry in the United States and realised it was a gap that she could fill back at home.
“I’ve had no formal business training and never attended a day of uni in my life,” Allis says on her website.
“I didn’t know what the traditional path looked like so I made it up along the way.”
2. Anh Do
Enrolled in a combined Business/Law degree at the University of Technology, Anh was just six months away from completing the five-year course before deciding that the life of a law grad was not for him.
The life of a comedian was calling instead. ''By then I was doing stand-up about four hours a week and that paid a bit more than I'd get as a law graduate working 65 hours a week,'' Anh told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2011.
''I was following the laziness option.''
While it might have been the lazy option, it’s seen him go on to become one of Australia’s most beloved entertainers, with multiple TV series, as well as published author of his autobiography ‘The Happiest Refugee’ which won multiple literary awards and accolades when it was released in 2011.
He's now turned to the creative life, working as an artist and painter.
3. Mia Freedman
Despite loving English in high school, Freedman started a Communications degree “which I just really hated,” she told Reach Out as part of their #thereislifeafter Year 12 Exams campaign.
Mia explained: “I lasted maybe a year, and then I started doing work experience at Cleo magazine” and the rest, as they say is history.
After becoming Cosmopolitan’s youngest ever editor at the age of 24, Mia is now the head of the wildly successful online publishing empire, Mamamia.
4. Thomas Lazar
Wedding-gown designer Thomas Lazar, 28, didn’t make it through high school – dropping out of Bankstown Senior College in Year 11 to work behind the counter at Hungry Jack’s for three years.
“I was going to be a nothing in my life,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“Everything I’ve gone to study I dropped out of ... it was just horrible.”
It was then he pursued his passion for design, starting out by creating gowns in his family garage – even though, coming from an Assyrian migrant family, it was an unusual thing for a young man to do.
“It wasn’t easy back in those days, or culturally accepted, for a guy to do fashion,” Lazar said
Lazar found success though and these days he’s one of Australia’s most sought-after couturiers with a long waiting list of clients.
5. Zhenya Tsvetnenko
IT entrepreneur Zhenya Tsvetnenko arrived in Perth from Russia aged 12 with his parents who had just two suitcases and $6000 to their name.
Now, aged 35, Tsvetnenko is one of the country’s wealthiest tech entrepreneurs and has been featured on the BRW rich list multiple times, with a personal net worth estimated at over $100 million.
This is all in spite of dropping out of university aged 20, before he later launched an SMS company from his bedroom that turned over $4 million a month within just two years.
6. Kirsty Dunphey
In 2002, Kirsty was the youngest ever recipient of the Telstra Young Australian Business Woman of the Year Award.
A university dropout at age 19, that didn’t stop her from establishing her own real-estate agency, M&M Real Estate, at age 21, making her a millionaire by age 23, a multi-millionaire by 25 and retired at 27.
“However I find it strangely fascinating that a small but persistent part of me still wants a degree,” Dunphey wrote for business blog Smart Company in 2007, age 28.
Clearly, becoming a multi-millionaire afforded her the luxury of finally completing her studies, and now in her 30s she has obtained a Master of Business at the University of Tasmania.
7. Shannon Bennett
One of Australia’s biggest foodie success stories, Shannon was a classmate of fellow celebrity chef Curtis Stone at Penleigh Essendon Grammar school before he dropped out age 15.
After a stint flipping burgers at McDonald's, Bennett realised his true calling and became an apprentice chef, travelling Europe to learn from some of the world’s finest chefs before returning home, age 24, to open his own restaurant, Vue de monde in Melbourne.
The business has since flourished into a culinary empire, with multiple 'Vue' cafes around the city, ‘Jardin Tan’ a French/Vietnamese restaurant in Melbourne’s botanic gardens and multiple best selling cookery books, Bennett has become one of Australia’s wealthiest chefs.
8. Marc Fennell
The Feed’s own Marc Fennell dropped out of Media Arts & Production at the University of Technology, Sydney just eight weeks into his first semester to become… an SBS TV Presenter!
Marc joined The Movie Show when he was still a teen and has gone on to become one of Australia’s most recognisable multi-platform presenters and broadcasters.
“It’s just not that bad,” Marc explains.
“Media jobs are about knowing you can do the job, being able to think critically, learn and listen. If you can do that, you’re fine.
“I was lucky that I got a job that was the best possible education in screen culture. Each week on The Movie Show I would explore different genres, different filmmakers all while learning about the process of making a television show. I learned way more than I could have at uni.”
“The main think I learned how to do at uni was drink. Once you can do that, you’re fine.”
The Feed returns of Feb 8, 7.30pm Monday on SBS2.
9. Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes
You probably recognise these two Australian tech entrepreneurs from their recent record-breaking debut on the Nasdaq exchange.
As Australia’s youngest billionaires the self-made men first met aged 22 years old when they were studying Science/IT degrees at the University of New South Wales.
Like other tech-millionaires such as the founders of Facebook or Microsoft they realised that they really just wanted to work for themselves and dropped out to found Atlassian, the company that provides vital workflow-processing software for companies around the globe.
"We built the first version of our product while working in the garage before we even had our first office," Farquhar told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2010.
From those humble beginnings though they’ve gone onto success beyond what they could have ever imagined.
"Our original goal as founders for the company was just to earn as much money as our friends were earning working for soul destroying consulting companies like IBM or PriceWaterhouseCoopers - they all got great jobs earning $50,000 a year," Farquhar told the Herald.
10. Lindsay Fox
One of the richest men in Australia, the billionaire trucking magnate features annually in the BRW and Forbes rich lists.
His success comes in spite of dropping out of Melbourne High, a school for academically gifted boys, at the age of 16, after being asked to leave due to a lack of academic interest.
The son of a trucker, he came from humble beginnings and started by buying the first truck of his own, age 19, from E.V. Trimms in Collingwood.
"I just went in and knocked on the door and convinced them to sell me a truck," he told The Age in 2008.
He has reportedly always maintained old school ties though which has helped contribute to his success.
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