Dropping out of college has worked out pretty well for Palmer Luckey. But he wouldn't recommend it to everyone, unless you have a good reason. And "finding yourself" doesn't count.
Luckey, 26, is the co-founder of Oculus and he made hundreds of millions of dollars overnight by selling the virtual reality startup to Facebook for over $2 billion in 2014. Luckey, who was only 21 at the time of the sale, left college two years earlier after raising $2.4 million on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to launch his virtual reality startup.
But as a 19-year-old entrepreneur, Luckey wasn't planning to give up on college forever — he just wanted to see his startup idea through.
"What I did when I started Oculus was really take a break from college. I didn't think that I was dropping out," Luckey tells CNBC Make It.
Luckey had taken community college classes while in high school and he majored in journalism at California State University, Long Beach for roughly two years before taking "a break" from school to launch Oculus. He had already built his first prototype of the Oculus "Rift" VR headset in his parents' California garage at the age of 17. And with the millions of dollars in fundraising he collected from the Kickstarter campaign, he was able to leave college while hiring a handful of employees and renting office space to get Oculus off the ground.
"My thinking was, 'Look, I can always go back to college....They're always going to want to take my money for the foreseeable future,'" Luckey tells CNBC Make It about his thinking in 2012. "'But, I have this opportunity right now to start a company where I feel like I'm in the right place at the right time with the right tech, and if I don't start this now I'm going to wonder for the rest of my life if I should have tried to make something happen.'"
At the same time, he thought, "'If it does succeed, I probably won't need to go back to school,'" he tells CNBC Make It. "And, we know what happened. It ended up becoming extremely successful, and I don't think that I'm going back to college any time soon."
After selling his company, Luckey stayed on to work for Facebook-owned Oculus until leaving the company in March 2017 to found the defense technology startup Anduril Industries. Luckey has not fully divulged the reasons for his departure from Facebook, though he did say earlier this year that leaving "wasn't my choice." Regardless, Luckey came out of the sale to Facebook with a bundle of cash, with Forbes' most recent estimate of his net worth putting it at over $700 million.
Given his own success as a college dropout, you might think Luckey would be willing to fully endorse that path. But, it's not that simple.
"My advice to people is always to [not] be afraid to take a break from college if you have a good reason to take a break from college," he tells CNBC Make It.
"If you have an idea and you feel like you have to work on it, you should absolutely take a break," Luckey says. "And, really, you shouldn't start a business in general unless you feel like you do have that type of drive where you feel like you have to do it, where you have to make something happen, because you're not going to be successful if you don't have that type of motivation."
But "Don't take time off to find yourself," Luckey advises. Traveling or taking time to decide what you want to do with your life is not a reason to quit, he says. (Some call it a gap year, and not all students tend to return to school after taking time off.)
"I recommend that people stay in college and they can find out what they want to do while they're getting college done, and they could do their year or two [of time off] after they've done all of that," he says.
And Luckey isn't the only successful college dropout to advise current students to be wary about following his path. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who famously dropped out of Harvard on his way to making billions developing software, has said that "getting a degree is a much surer path to success" than his own."
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