An Entrepreneur's Advice to School Leavers: Uni Isn't For Everyone

16/12/2015 3:43 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Aussie entrepreneur Nick Bell has joined a unique kind of millionaires club with the likes of Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Steve Jobs, Ralph Lauren and Mark Zuckerberg. What do they have in common? They all dropped out before they earned their uni or college degrees.

As year 12 students around the country receive their results this week, Bell has a very clear message for them: you can be a success without ever donning a cap and gown.

“I know kids are stressing about the end of school or the HSC score and thinking if they don’t get into university then life’s over, it’s not the case,” he told The Huffington Post Australia.

“There are so many opportunities out there that people don’t realise.”

Bell runs a digital marketing agency called WME. Although he started WME with just $400 in his back pocket in 2008, the firm now has a turnover of $45 million and offices in eight countries. He’s also the co-founder of app development business, Appscore.

Bell concedes he has made plenty of mistakes along the way, and the path to being a successful entrepreneur wasn’t always clear. But what was obvious was that university just wasn’t for him.

“In school it’s ingrained in you to study hard, get a good score, go to university, work hard for three years and then get a corporate job, have two kids and settle down,” he said.

“I got into business marketing at VuT even though my entry score was 57 -- absolutely terrible -- and I knew I wasn’t going to do too well. I was sitting in a microeconomics class and after 6 weeks I thought, this isn’t for me. So I jumped in the car and drive off and never looked back.”

He spent a few years drifting from hospitality jobs to data entry to recruitment and sales before opening his first business, a skincare range to treat acne, which failed. But he got the taste for business and, after teaching himself search engine optimisation for websites, he launched WME.

Bell said it was hard to break free from the heavy expectations of his family -- who didn’t come around until after WME started doing well.

“I gave university a chance because my parents expected it,” he said.

“When I first started WME my mum was like ‘get a real job -- that won’t last’ and my dad didn’t give it the time of day. But after a year and he saw the growth of the company he said ‘actually you’ve got a real business on your hands’.

“That’s when they started realising that you can do well when you don’t have a degree whereas before that they expected a degree and a corporate job.”

Bell says today’s youth have something he didn’t -- encouragement to follow his own path to running a small business.

“I think there is a lot more focus around being an entrepreneur now -- it’s a lot more accepted,” he said. “In terms of opportunities for business owners, there’s plenty around.

“And now with the new innovation package that has come from Malcolm Turnbull, it’s amazing, best thing for the country ever. There are so many smart kids out there who can run a successful business but they are limited by fear or by their mindset when growing up.”

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