Famous Companies That Were Started By Students

While some students prefer to study or hang out with their friends during their downtime, others like to make themselves a little more useful. Some of the biggest and most successful companies in the world were founded by students. It was a challenging feat, but many of today’s most famous founders and CEOs had to either drop out of school or put their lives on hold to get their businesses off the ground. These students never gave up on their dreams and turned their business ventures into multi-million and even multi-billion dollar companies.

Microsoft Was A Passion Project Between Childhood Friends

microsoft co-founders paul allen and bill gates posing for a portrait in 1984
Doug Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images
Doug Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

After four and a half decades Microsoft has grown to be one of the top Fortune 500 companies in the world. The multinational technology company was founded on April 4, 1975 in Albuquerque, New Mexico by childhood friends Paul Allen and Bill Gates. Gates was studying at Harvard University, while Allen had just dropped out of Washington State University.

As of today, their company has grown to have a revenue of $125.8 billion with 144,106 employees worldwide. They came up with the name by shortening ‘microcomputer software’ and are now headquartered in Redmond, Washington.

Facebook Began In A Dorm Room

mark zuckerberg smiling for a photo
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

During Mark Zuckerberg’s second year at Harvard Unviersity he developed software for a website called FaceMash for the students at his college to play a version of a “hot or not” game in 2003. The following year Zuckerberg created a student directory with photos and basic information, which eventually led to the start of Facebook.

His fellow Harvard roommates Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes all pitched in to turn Facebook into what it is today. Facebook is currently worth more than $558 billion and is one of the top social networks in the world.

The Weird Way The Yahoo! Founders Came Up With Their Company Name

david filo and jerry yang in front of a yahoo! sign
Eric Sander/Getty Images
Eric Sander/Getty Images

When David Filo and Jerry Yang were electrical engineering graduate students at Stanford University they started a new website called “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.” This was during 1994 when the internet was a brand new concept. They soon changed the name to Yahoo! and the site quickly became one of the most visited online search engines.

Filo and Yang chose the name Yahoo! because it was a common slang term from Filo’s hometown of Louisiana that referred to a rural and unsophisticated Southerner. According to web traffic analysis company, Alexa Internet, Yahoo! is currently the 10th most visited site in the world.

Time Was The First Weekly News Magazine

briton hadden and henry luce standing with william r. hopkins holding an issue of time magazine
Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

The creation of Time magazine dates back to 1923 when Yale University students Briton Hadden and Henry Luce met working at the Yale Daily News. They decided that the United States needed a weekly news magazine where “a busy man could read it in an hour.”

This was able to stand out over typical news sources during that time because it covered celebrities, the entertainment industry, pop culture, and more. Their readership has grown to many millions both in their print and online editions. They also have special editions that people expect to see each year such as the “Person of the Year” and “Time 100” list.

How Google Developed Into The World’s Top Search Engine

larry page and sergey brin sitting at a table with the google logo
Martin Magunia/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Martin Magunia/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Google started as a research project between two Ph.D. students named Larry Page and Sergey Brin while they were attending Stanford University. In 1996 the two of them developed a search algorithm called “BackRub” when Page was working on his dissertation. It also initially had an unofficial third founder named Scott Hassan, but he left before Google was founded.

After some small investments Page and Brin were able to grow their business to be the top search engine in the world. Google currently has a market capitalization of $903 billion with both of its founders being in the top 10 list of wealthiest people in the world.

The Reddit Creators Had An Eventful Spring Break

steve huffman and alexis ohanian posing for a photo
Chickoteria/Pinterest
Chickoteria/Pinterest

After the creation of social media sites such as Facebook and Myspace other young people decided they needed to create their own versions. Reddit is a top social networking site where users can submit content such as text posts, photos, and videos. It was started by college roommates Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian during their spring break from the University of Virginia.

They formed the idea during a startup brainstorming session where it was simplified as “the front page of the Internet.” Soon after they received funding and began to code the site. Currently, Reddit ranks as the fifth most visited site in the United States and the 13th in the world.

ModCloth Brought Vintage Clothing To The Online Shopping World

Susan Gregg Koger and Eric Koger, with dogs Winston and Blue
Apartment Therapy/Pinterest
Apartment Therapy/Pinterest

It has now become more common to buy almost anything online. When Susan Gregg Koger and her husband Eric Koger were students at Carnegie Mellon University in 2002 they decided to launch an online website to specifically sell vintage dresses called ModCloth. The idea crossed Susan’s mind when she was sitting in a dorm room with retro clothing and accessories.

Almost two decades later the online clothing store has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and they recently brought in the former chief strategy officer from Urban Outfitters to be the new President and Chief Executive Officer.

Snapchat Wasn’t Evan Spiegel’s Idea

van Spiegel speaks onstage during TechCrunch
Steve Jennings/Getty Images
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Even though Evan Spiegel is best known for founding Snapchat it really wasn’t his idea. According to official documents Reggie Brown came up with an app where people could send photos to each other that would disappear after a time limit. Then, he brought the idea to Spiegel during their senior year at Stanford University because he knew of Spiegel’s prior business experience.

When Spiegel told Brown that he thought it was a good idea they brought in their fellow classmate Bobby Murphy to code. It was initially launched in September of 2011 and is now one of the top social networking apps in the world.

WordPress Greatly Improved Blogging Software

matt mullenweg speaking at a web summit
Sportsfile/Corbis/Getty Images
Sportsfile/Corbis/Getty Images

WordPress began because the blogging software called b2/cafelog was discontinued by the main developers. Houston University undergraduate students Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little decided to build their own platform on top of the old software and by May 27, 2003, they were ready to release WordPress to the world.

It is now estimated that around 34 percent of the top 10 million websites use WordPress to host their sites. Their revenue is well beyond $1 billion and over 60 million websites worldwide use WordPress to post content.

Insomnia Cookies Will Instantly Bring You Warm Cookies

seth berkowitz sitting in a chair with a shaved head
insomniacookies/Pinterest
insomniacookies/Pinterest

Similar to other companies started by students, Seth Berkowitz first had the idea to start Insomnia Cookies in his dorm room at the University of Pennsylvania. This sweet business is a chain of bakeries across the United States that are made to deliver warm cookies daily until 3 A.M.

There are now a total of 155 locations with most at university campuses to cater to students who want to order cookies late at night. Insomnia Cookies isn’t just cookies, but they also deliver cakes, brownies, ice cream, and milk. They were acquired by Krispy Kreme in 2018.

A Little Loan Went A Long Way For Kinko’s

paul orfalea posing for a photo
ADHD/Pinterest
ADHD/Pinterest

After Paul Orfalea received a $5,000 loan co-signed by his parents when he was a student at the University of Southern California he knew he could finally start his own business. In 1970 Orfalea had the idea to start selling notebooks, pens, pencils, and the services of copying machines.

Kinko’s continued to grow throughout the years because they were opened 24 hours and usually close to many universities. By 2004 Kinko’s was acquired by FedEx and Fortune Magazine named it one of the best places to work in America for three years in a row.

The Funny Meaning Behind The Onion

members of the onion during the early 1990s
Kyle Shaw/Twitter
Kyle Shaw/Twitter

Former University of Wisconsin students Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson revealed that Keck’s uncle told them to name their satirical print newspaper The Onion when he spotted them eating an onion sandwich. This was in 1988 when they both were living on just bread and onions, but that soon changed when their newspaper became one of the most popular reads across universities in the United States.

The next year Keck and Johnson sold The Onion and became publishers of similar alternative weekly papers. Now, The Onion’s daily readership is all online and they get around a few million readers each week.

Def Jam Recordings Launched Hundreds Of Music Careers

rick rubin sitting cross-legged
Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images
Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images

Musicians such as Justin Bieber, Kanye West, 2 Chainz, and Logic are just a few of the notable current artists at Def Jam Recordings. The recording company was originated by Rick Rubin in his dorm room at New York University in 1983. Shortly after Rubin was joined by famous record executive Russel Simmons.

Def Jam is now owned by Universal Music Group and focuses predominantly on hip hop, pop, and urban music. After over three decades Def Jam has grown to have 200 signed artists that have gone on to win Grammy Awards, sell-out concert tours, and top the Billboard charts.

Jamba Juice Was Originally A Senior Project

kirk perron next to the jamba juice logo
Duane Braley/Star Tribune/Getty Images
Duane Braley/Star Tribune via Getty Images

At California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) every student needs to complete a “senior project” before graduation. Kirk Perron, an avid cyclist with a healthy lifestyle, decided he would open a smoothie shop with some of his buddies. On March 31, 1990 they opened the first Jamba Juice in San Luis Obispo, which still exists to this day.

It’s been almost three decades and Jamba Juice now has over 864 locations worldwide and is co-owned with other famous franchises including Auntie Anne’s, Cinnabon, and Carvel. The company is always expanding and trying new things, such as incorporating a Fresh Juice menu with healthy ingredients including kale, beets, and ginger.

A Generous Investment Helped Dell Become A Multi-Billion Dollar Company

michael dell standing in front of a building with the dell logo
Remi Benali/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Remi Benali/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

When students have a gut feeling that their new company will be successful it can lead them to drop out of school to focus on getting their business running smoothly. This is what happened to Texas University undergraduate student, Michael Dell. In 1984 he received a $300,000 investment from his family and realized that he was ready to leave college to pursue his career.

According to The Verge, Dell is estimated to be worth around $70 billion. Even though their revenue continues to dip due to more available options for computers Michael Dell continues to adapt to the growing needs of today’s users.

Apple Was A Business Venture Between College Dropouts

steve jobs and steve wozniak at the first west coast computer faire
Tom Munnecke/Getty Images
Tom Munnecke/Getty Images

It’s been over four decades since Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne founded Apple Computer Company and it currently has an annual revenue of over $150 billion. Jobs and Wozniak first met in 1971 and quickly began a business partnership where they crafted “blue boxes” to allow long-distance phone calls at no extra cost.

When they decided to go ahead and establish Apple, Jobs had withdrawn from Reed College and Wozniak had done the same from UC Berkeley. They started by selling computers and eventually transitioned into other innovative electronics such as laptops, MP3 players, smartphones, an online music store, and tablets.

Dropbox Has Never Been Profitable

arash ferdowsi and drew houston pose for a photo
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

When Drew Houston (right) was a student at MIT he came up with the concept for Dropbox with his classmate Arash Ferdowsi after always forgetting his USB flash drive. There were other services similar to Dropbox at the time, but the software wasn’t anywhere near perfection. Houston’s version brought files together all in one place and gave users the ability to separate everything into folders.

The site launched in 2008 and has reported over 500 million users worldwide. Forbes stated that even though Dropbox has never been profitable they still report positive cash flow.

What Warby Parker Really Means

warby parker co-founders neil blumenthal and dave gilboa at siriusxm
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Warby Parker has become one of the top online retailers of prescription glasses and sunglasses across the country. When Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa, and Jeffrey Raider were part of the Venture Initiation Program at the University of Pennsylvania they had the idea to start a business that would sell glasses in a new way.

Shortly after they were positively reviewed by Vogue.com, which led to huge investments from American Express and Mickey Drexler. The name Warby Parker is derived from two characters who appear in a journal written by famous author Jack Kerouac.

Anthony Casalena Didn’t Create Squarespace Alone

anthony casalena in his dorm room
Marvin Joseph/The The Washington Post via Getty Images
Marvin Joseph/The The Washington Post via Getty Images

Squarespace is another successful company that began in a dorm room. Anthony Casalena came up with the idea for the software for people to build and host websites while attending the University of Maryland in 2003. He didn’t do it all alone. Casalena was given $30,000 from his father, a small grant from his college, and received fees from the Squarespace beta testers.

He still serves as the CEO by leading over 800 employees and constantly developing product strategy throughout the various departments of the company. TechCruch currently estimates their revenue to be around $1.7 billion.

DoorDash Has Earned Many Billions In Less Than A Decade

co-founder and ceo tony xu onstage during techcrunch
Noam Galai/Getty Images
Noam Galai/Getty Images

In recent years food delivery services have taken over both the food and tech industries. DoorDash was founded in 2013 by Stanford University students Tony Xu (pictured), Andy Fang, Stanley Tang, and Evan Moore. After only six years they have expanded to over 4,000 locations with 340,000 restaurants who participate across the United States and Canada.

In this short amount of time DoorDash has earned over $12.6 billion, not including their investments. They recently announced their partnership with Mercato, which will allow them to make same-day grocery deliveries across 22 U.S. states.