Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard. So did Mark Zuckerberg.
Stirred by entrepreneurial urges and a mind for developing computer software, Chris Kelsey dropped out with a 4.0 GPA during his senior year at Santa Rosa’s Maria Carrillo High School.
“I had six months left to graduate,” he said. “I purposely didn’t. I am a day-to-day person. I could die in a day. I don’t take anything for granted. I need to do things now or never. Today is the only time we have.”
When he dropped out, his parents were upset; high school and college have value for most young people. But school was uncomfortable.
“I was picked on,” Kelsey said. “In eighth grade, I would do really well on tests and get called nerd and geek. I was more socially awkward. My way of getting revenge is by becoming successful. Why spend four years in college? I know I’m going to be an entrepreneur. Why not just start now?”
He read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, published in 1937. Kelsey thought, and determined to grow rich.
“I was obsessed with learning about business,” he said. “I was going to make my own job.” He studied body language to boost his personal effectiveness.
In December 2014, he founded Appsitude custom software company and claimed a 2015 profit of $300,000 after barely a year in business. Now he lives nomadically. Based from his parents’ Santa Rosa home and San Francisco Airbnb outposts, he jets worldwide to work with enterprises in Australia and Mexico and manage a team of code developers in the Ukraine.
Richard Branson, 65, swapped education for business when he was even younger than Kelsey. Branson dropped out of Stowe high school in England, founded Student magazine at age 16 and sold $8,000 worth of advertising into the first issue. He launched a record shop, recording studio and Virgin Music, which signed the punk-rock Sex Pistols in 1977 and the Rolling Stones in 1992. Branson’s business ride careened. Skirting financial peril in 1992, he sold Virgin Records to Thorn EMI.
His entrepreneurship bloomed anew. Virgin Group’s 200 companies employ some 50,000 people in 50 countries. Forbes estimated Branson’s worth at $5 billion. Last week, Alaska Air agreed to pay $2.6 billion for San Francisco-based Virgin America, founded by Branson in 2007. Virgin Group owned 25 percent of the airline, yielding a $650 million payday.
Will Kelsey, who turns 19 next month, fly so high? Like Branson, he embodies a sense of unlimited frontier. “I want to build an empire,” he said. “That is my goal. This company is my life.”
For starters, perhaps he’ll rethink Appsitude’s name. Branson adopted Virgin — clean, memorable. Appsitude suggests apps with attitude, Kelsey said. But customers struggle to remember and find the domain. Was it apps with aptitude — appstitude.com? Or apps with amplitude — appslitude.com? Or simply app with tude — appitude.com? Vernacular wasps buzz the business name, eager to sting.
“Yeah, people say Appstitude,” Kelsey said. “Maybe we’ll change it. The main thing is the domain.”
While the name needs a tweak, Kelsey has a gift for business opportunity. He and his “creative architects” study apps for whole industries, such as the business of art galleries. “I had them figure out the pain points,” he said, interviewing owners of nearly 30 galleries in San Francisco and London. “Art galleries are a dying industry. We can do virtual-reality apps. A lot of their clients are traveling.” He envisions an app where a customer can remotely roam through the art in a gallery and zoom in and out before bidding on art.