Correlation between IQ, degrees and Entrepreneurship

I was sitting in a restaurant, waiting for my dinner to arrive – the meat tortellini in a cheese cream sauce, in case you’re wondering – when I saw a tweet by a Boston journalist I follow, Walter Frick.

My immediate reaction was something in the lines of “Perseverance and IQ not related? News at 11.“. We started this debate that had so much potential, and having been spurred by a nicely full stomach, and still in a writing state of mind, after having finished a blog post for Zeppelin about how building a data-driven culture can help you improve your company, I decided to wrap up my thoughts in a blog post.

In my life so far, I’ve had the fortune of working with some amazing people. I started my career because of a very dedicated mentor who I still hold in the highest regard. We met in a summer school, almost 13 years ago. At the time, he was employed at a local IT company that was doing e-banking and studied physics. I must have done something right at that summer school, because he soon invited me to join the team for a summer project (I was still in primary school). And I would like to believe, that was the start of a good friendship. There are lots of stories connected with that time, but I will leave that to a different post. Next year, I went to high school. During the first year, Klemen (the awesome mentor), suggested that I write a research paper for school and in doing so, take part in a project at the Jozef Stefan Institute. Because of this, I met some amazing people at Cosylab and was given the opportunity to co-author a scientific paper and a chance to stand in front of a full hall of physics doctors at age 15, and talk about program generators. It was a humbling experience. At that moment, I started believing that age has nothing to do with what we are capable of achieving in life. It’s all a matter of perseverance, motivation  and having the right people around you to help guide you on your way.

I’ve stayed with Cosylab for about 5 years after that, gave several talks around Europe, and was a part of articles published around the world. I interned at DESY, a very respectable institute in Germany in my first year of college. I decided to study Computer Science (shocking, no?) but dropped out early on. I felt there was too much discrepancy between the real world and what I was being thought. And to much dismay of my parents and grandparents, I have still not graduated (nor do I have immediate plans to) – but in the real world, I have job offers, I am able to fulfil my dream and work with an amazing team in a startup in Boston. And this brings me to my next point – while in Boston, Davorin (one of Zeppelin’s co-founders) and I took a walk through MIT. And we came across this plaque, that said something around the lines of “This common space was built by the class of XX in thanks for the amazing experience”. And we both just stood there. When I meet people from MIT, or Harvard, they are proud to be a part of their school. So they are more likely to graduate, and because it’s not free (like in Slovenia), I think they are additionally motivated. However, this does not, in my opinion, make them any more qualified to be successful in a startup.

Let me explain: after leaving Cosylab to explore the world, I worked with, and met, a lot of interesting people, both with and without a college degree. But the successful ones were not the ones with a degree, but rather with perseverance again. They were the ones who worked late nights, took out mortgages on their homes to pay for the company bills, etc. And on the opposite end, I’ve worked with some (for a lack of a better word) idiots who were simply lucky. Some had no proper education, no motivation, yet were at the right place at the right time. Others had the education, but lacked real wold judgement. They made very questionable business decisions that were based solely on theory. Most of them failed completely – those still struggling, might learn, improve and become true entrepreneurs. After all, failure is often associated with true entrepreneurial success, right?

You used to have to be rich to make something out of your life. Being rich gave you the option to pay for school, to buy books, read, get educated… But today, as information is much more readily available (and almost free), it is much easier for people who want to learn, to find the way. It is my opinion, that successful people are not necessarily highly educated, high-IQ people. Granted, some are… But what you can say about all the successful entrepreneurs, with no exception, is that they have perseverance. They will continue and push on even when the going gets tough.

On a final note, I wrote in one of the reply tweets that this can spark the debate about entrepreneurship not being able to be taught – I generally agree with this. Accelerators like TechStars, in my opinion, do not simply teach you entrepreneurship  they guide you on your way to understanding what that means, in much the same way as Klemen guided me on my journey to find out what I can do. Of course, knowing the theory and the regulations and all the boring stuff is nice to have, but you can always hire someone to do that for you. Being able to communicate a story, talking with mentors, knowing how to behave in meetings is something that you have to experience to learn – and something TechStars teaches you incredibly well. But coming up with a revolutionary idea, that’s something that nobody can teach you. But it doesn’t mean you can’t.

Anže Vodovnik is a proud father, enthusiastic guitarist and passionate software developer. He enjoys presenting at conferences sharing his experience of over 15 years of creating software. He was briefly a Microsoft MVP for Azure before forfeiting the title when he joined Microsoft UK, where he’s now working hand-in-hand with customers to help them develop and use solutions based on the Microsoft Azure platform.

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