Entrepreneurs

It's Warren Buffett's 87th birthday: Here's what he and 5 other billionaires were like as kids

Warren Buffett turned 87 years old Wednesday. He's haled as one of the best investors of all time and has earned the affectionate nickname, the "Oracle of Omaha," in a nod to his prescience in business and his hometown. He wasn't born the "Oracle of Omaha," though. He was just a kiddo once, too.

Similarly, Steve Jobs wasn't born on a stage in a black turtleneck and jeans presenting the next innovation from Apple. And little Jeff Bezos didn't hope to run an e-commerce company one day.

So where did they start? Here's what Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were doing and dreaming of being when they were kids.

Warren Buffett
CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
Net worth: $77.3 billion, according to Forbes

Buffett has been finding ways to make a nickel since he was very young — literally. In his first money-making venture a six years old, Buffett sold packs of Juicy Fruit, Spearmint and Doublemint for five cents a piece, according to Alice Schroeder's 2008 biography, "The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life."

Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
Photo by Paul Morigi
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

He's also always been an investor. Buffett, who grew up in Omaha, Neb., bought his first stock when he was 11, in the summer of 1942, he tells PBS NewsHour. (That means now, at 86, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway has been in the market for 75 years.)

When he was 13, Buffett took a job delivering copies of the Washington Post and tracked when homes along his routes had magazine subscriptions that were expiring. He would sell them new subscriptions. By the time he was 15, he had made $2,000 with his media distribution business and invested $1,200 of that in a 40-acre farm where he had a profit-sharing agreement with a Nebraskan farmer, writes Schroeder.

In his youth, Buffett also had other entrepreneurial schemes to make money: He bought used golf balls for $3.50 and sold them for $6; he rummaged through discarded horse race betting tickets searching for winners to turn them in for the payout; he sold collectible stamps, buffed cars and bought and installed pin-ball machines in local hairdressers, taking a cut of the profits.

Elon Musk
CEO of SpaceX, Tesla and Neuralink
Net worth: $20.8 billion, according to Forbes

Musk was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1971. As a kid, Musk was a voracious reader who would read 10 hours a day, according to Ashlee Vance's 2015 biography, "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future."

When he ran out of books, he read Encyclopedia Britannica. "You realize there are all these things out there," Musk said to Vance.

On my cousin's farm in Canada at age 17, wearing a hat on a hat. Check out my sweet hammer...

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

Musk has also always been a tech nerd at heart. He was immediately captivated by the first computer he encountered at age 10 and was relentless in pushing his father to buy him one. When he got the computer, Musk learned how to use the computer in three days without sleeping. "It seemed like the most super-compelling thing I had ever seen," says Musk.

At 16, Musk and his younger brother Kimbal wanted to become entrepreneurs: They tried to open a video arcade near their school. "We had a lease, we had suppliers, but we were actually stopped," Kimbal says in a 2012 profile of Elon Musk in Esquire. "We got stopped by the city. We couldn't get a variance (a real estate permit). Our parents had no idea. They flipped out when they found out, especially my father."

Steve Jobs
Late CEO of Apple
Net worth at time of death: $7 billion in Sept. 2011, according to Forbes

Steve Jobs did not set out with a clear objective in life. To the contrary. He did a lot of wondering. But he also always pushed boundaries and was entrepreneurial from early on.

He grew up in Mountain View, Calif., the center of what would become Silicon Valley. In high school, he smoked pot, dropped LSD and experimented with how his brain would feel when deprived of sleep.

At 17, he and pal (and future co-founder Steve Wozniak) had their first entrepreneurial venture — they built and sold "blue boxes," illegal devices that allowed people to make free long distance phone calls, for about $170 a pop, according to Slate.

Steve Jobs wearing a NeXt shirt
Ann E. Yow-Dyson | Getty Images
Steve Jobs wearing a NeXt shirt

He famously dropped out of Reed college. "I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out," says Jobs in a 2005 commencement address at Stanford. "And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made."

A year and a half later, Jobs moved back to his parents house in Los Altos, Calif. He was looking for a job and was reading the classified sections of the San Jose Mercury when he saw an advertisement for a job at the video-game maker, Atari, advertised: "Have fun, make money."

Jobs went to the lobby of Atari and refused to leave until they gave him a job, according to the seminal biography by Walter Isaacson, "Steve Jobs." Jobs was one of the first 50 employees at Atari and earned $5 an hour.

Jeff Bezos
CEO of Amazon
Net worth: $82.1 billion, according to Forbes

Bezos was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1964. The first aspirations Bezos remembers having are when he was six. He wanted to be an archeologist because he learned how to spell the word, he says.

Then, after a man landed on the moon in 1969, he wanted to be an astronaut, a harbinger, perhaps to his aerospace venture Blue Origin.

Jeff Bezos, founder and Ceo of Amazon
Paul Souders | Getty Images
Jeff Bezos, founder and Ceo of Amazon

Bezos was his high school's valedictorian and went to Princeton where he then thought he would become a theoretical physicist.

"I was doing well, but it was so much work for me, it was hard and there were half a dozen people in my class who were so gifted, and their brains were just wired in a different way, and the things that I worked so hard to do came so effortlessly to them," says Bezos to Andrew Smith in a Guardian article.

When he decided to let go of his theoretical physicist dreams, Bezos switched his major to computer science, according to a 1999 feature from Wired. After college, Bezos worked for several years in finance, including at hedge fund D. E. Shaw, where he had the idea to sell books over the Internet, according to the Wired feature.

Bill Gates
Co-founder of Microsoft
Net worth: $84.9 billion, according to Forbes

Bill Gates is the richest man in the world, according to Forbes. As the co-founder of software juggernaut Microsoft, Gates is worth almost $89 billion.

The titan of capitalism was a gangly, awkward kid. He wore his pants hiked up high and had a high pitched voice and was skinny, according to the 1993 biography "Gates: How Microsoft's Mogul Reinvented an Industry and Made Himself the Richest Man in America" by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews.

Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates
Photo by Doug Wilson
Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates

Like Musk, Gates read the encyclopedia. He read the World Book by the time he was 9 years old. He was always late and when his mother asked where he was, he would exclaim, "I am thinking. I am thinking," write Manes and Andrews.

When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Gates checked "scientist" in both fourth and fifth grade. Gates was almost instantly obsessed with a computer when he first encountered one in eighth grade in 1968 at Lakeside School in Seattle, where he met Paul Allen, who would eventually become his business partner.

He went to Harvard, though, like Gates, Jobs and Zuckerberg, the tech icon dropped out of college to build Microsoft.

Mark Zuckerberg
Now: Founder of Facebook
Net worth: $70.2 billion, according to Forbes

Zuckerberg has been a hacker since he was a teen.

Growing up in White Plains, N.Y., his dad's dentist office was attached to the house and Zuckerberg built an internal communication tool for the family. He called it "ZuckNet," according to an interview the 33-year old founder of Facebook had with LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman on his podcast, "Masters of Scale."

Zuckerberg went to Harvard, where he put together a crowdsourced digital study guide for an art history course he was taking. He also built a simple, text-based program called "Course Match" that allowed students to see who was taking which course and who was thinking about taking which course.

Then, quite famously, he built "The Facebook" in his dorm room. At first, he didn't have huge aspirations for it.

"I did think that someone was going to build a global social platform, I just thought there was no chance it was going to be us," says Zuckerberg on podcast "Masters of Scale."

"Of course it wasn't going to be us," he says. "There [were] all these companies out there that know how to build this stuff and we weren't a company and I figured that somewhere in the world people were doing the real thing and I was just kind of messing around in my computer science classes."

Eventually Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to build his company. Facebook recently crossed 2 billion active monthly users.