The entrepreneurial university dropouts who proved a success

It’s a thought Dominic Nowell-Barnes kept at the forefront of his mind. “My decision to take an alternative path to university stemmed from not wanting to be left in debt for the first years of my adult life,” the Posh Flooring owner said. “I saw many friends go down the university route, only to find themselves struggling to get on the career ladder or pay back their debt. So I decided to take another path and began looking into the starting salaries for job roles I was interested in.

“It became apparent that selling products online would allow me to build up something for myself from the ground up, while offering me more freedom and potential financially. I noticed that many of the other flooring stores weren’t selling online and saw a gap in the market, so I went for it!”

He sunk his teeth into his first set of skills before that though. While attending Queen Elizabeth Grammer School in Wakefield, he built a background in ecommerce by selling products on eBay. Practical experience, he said, was key.

“After all the economics and business I had studied at A-level, I understood what to write down on a piece of paper, but didn’t know how to apply it to a real-life situation,” Nowell-Barnes explained. “It only started to make sense when I took a gap year.”

These are all signs that a new kind of entrepreneur is on the horizon. At least, that’s what co-founder James Cox told us. The internet has decentralised many typically traditional industries and it has led to an age where knowledge is gained – much like Branson suggested – through self-exploration. “For instance, with mattresses we can now be in charge of the whole process from manufacturing to partnering with retailers; it’s entirely possible to be in control of aspects of your business that you might have traditionally relied on others to do,” Cox explained.

“The internet means that you can take care of many parts of the supply chain yourself which totally transforms the old business model. This inevitably creates more opportunities for industrious people who are tech-savvy and means there is less of a need to follow the old protocol of studying, doing an internship, getting a graduate job then working your way up.”

Cox dropped out of Bristol University after three months, claiming he wouldn’t learn about the practical side of business as quickly as he wanted from studying. Instead, he applied for a job at a trading company, before starting up a foreign exchange company with a fellow trader – “it was a fantastic way to learn the ins and out of setting up your own business,” he said. And Simba was the culmination of everything he’d learnt since quitting university.

“I don’t think that I’ve been at a disadvantage not having a degree,” he further added. “Yes, I’ve relied on reputation and hard work and learning on the job, but that isn’t a bad thing and it hasn’t caused me any issues. I suppose that not going to university you do miss out on the social side of things and you’re probably forced to grow up quicker than if you go to university.

“It is great for professional careers – doctors, lawyers, teachers – but I believe, personally, that the best way to learn something vocational is on the job. There’s no degree that will teach you a life trade better than experience. With a degree, you can become institutionalised in your view towards hierarchy and that can be a hindrance to excelling at the same rate as your ability.”

With the dropout rate for UK students increasing for the first time in four years to the six per cent mark, we could soon be seeing some more dormroom to boardroom success stories.

The 21-year-old entrepreneur who turned down university

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