How 20 self-made billionaires reached this status before age 40

There is no perfect formula for becoming a billionaire, but the right mindset can put you on the path to dizzying wealth. Creative thinking, gut instincts and a lifetime of hard work are common themes in rags-to-riches journeys. But in the internet age, the number of billionaires in their 20s and 30s has skyrocketed, and they all have three words in common — tech, tech and tech.

Heavyweights like John Collinson, Evan Spiegel, and Mark Zuckerberg tapped into a global consumer base to scale up billion-dollar ideas in the blink of an eye. They have rewritten the playbook for modern-day entrepreneurs, following luminaries like Bill Gates, now 64, and Michael Dell, now 55. Gates reported a $12.5 billion fortune in 1995, 20 years after founding Microsoft, and Dell’s estimated net worth in 2000 was $19.1 billion.

Pioneering global communication

From its infamous beginnings as “Facesmash,” a site on which Harvard University students would compare the “hotness” of classmates, Facebook quickly became one of the most influential companies in history. With over 2.5 billion active users, Facebook changed the way humans stay connected and reinvented the global advertising industry.

At just 36, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a lot of responsibility (and an $86 billion fortune). In 2011, Forbes declared Zuckerberg’s Harvard roommate and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, having been born just eight days after Zuckerberg himself. At the time, he was worth $2.7 billion to Zuckerberg’s $13.5 billion, and has since grown his fortune to $14.3 billion.

Investments from Facebook have boosted other entrepreneurs to prominence. Instagram founder Kevin Systrom signed a billion-dollar deal with Facebook in 2012, and under his leadership the photo-sharing platform grew to have over 500 million active users. Today, 36-year-old Systrom is worth $1.8 billion. A couple of years after purchasing Instagram, Facebook acquired global messaging service WhatsApp for $19.3 billion, giving WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum, 38 at the time, an estimated fortune of $7.5 billion.

Facebook may dominate social media markets, but plenty of other innovators have pursued unique ideas to make their mark.

Evan Spiegel, founder of the photo messaging app Snapchat, became the world’s youngest billionaire in 2015 at 24, when Snapchat was valued at $10 billion. Spiegel and co-founder Bobby Murphy are now worth $4.5 billion and $4.7 billion. And 44-year-old Jack Dorsey has built a fortune of $6.9 billion in the 14 years since founding micro-blogging site Twitter.

Harnessing the online marketplace

While social media moguls built an industry from scratch, other tech geniuses created digital platforms to modernize familiar ways of doing business. Airbnb hardly invented the bed and breakfast in 2008, but the online vacation rental platform has connected over 500 million guests with renters in 100,000 cities. Its co-founders, 37-year-old Nathan Blecharczyk and 38-year-olds Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, are each worth $3.1 billion.

Taxi drivers from Mexico City to London have protested Uber, but the popular ride-hailing app has expanded to over 900 cities around the world since starting up in 2011. Founder Garrett Camp, 41, owns four percent of the company and is valued at $2.9 billion, while Camp’s 43-year-old co-founder Travis Kalanick sold his four percent for $2.5 billion last year. 

Ernest Garcia III made Fortune’s 40 under 40 list in 2017 after founding used car marketplace Carvana. Garcia’s tech innovation netted him a net worth of $4.2 billion at the age of 37. Carvana effectively eliminated the trope of the slick used car salesman by reinventing the car buying process to be entirely online and even contact-free, a focal point of the company’s advertising amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reinventing infrastructure

Sometimes the internet complicates, rather than simplifies, business as usual. In the early days of e-commerce, sending and receiving money online was insecure and inaccessible. Entrepreneur brothers John and Patrick Collison created Stripe to simplify digital payment processing. When Stripe was valued at $9.2 billion in 2016, John and Patrick became the world’s youngest self-made billionaires at 26 and 28. Today, they are each worth $3.2 billion.

Other tech entrepreneurs sought ways to improve online connectivity. Dropbox, a file storage and sharing service with over 500 million users, was founded in 2007 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Drew Houston. Now 37, Houston owns 20 percent of Dropbox and is worth $1.6 billion. And Robert Pera, who founded wireless data communications company Ubiquiti Networks in 2005 when he was 27, has a $10.8 billion fortune.

Following more familiar paths

While the vast majority of today’s self-made billionaires have digital technology to thank, there is money in other industries.

John D. Rockefeller made his riches as an oil magnate, and the $3.3 billion fortune of John D. Arnold, the 45-year-old founder of energy trading firm Centaurus Advisors, shows that the industry is still profitable. And while Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has given away large shares of her wealth, Forbes named her a billionaire in 2004 when she was just 38, proving that even writing can bring home the bacon.

In 2018, Forbes estimated that Kylie Jenner would become the youngest self-made billionaire ever. Earlier this year, the magazine retracted its valuation, claiming that the makeup mogul and reality TV star overstated the revenue of her beauty company Kylie Cosmetics. Her value is an estimated $900 million, still an impressive sum for a 22-year-old businesswoman. And while she may not be a tech genius like Mark Zuckerberg, her 186 million Instagram followers certainly don’t hurt her sales.

The self-made billionaire boom shows that with entrepreneurial savvy, innovative problem-solving, and hard work, anything is possible on the internet.

Every self-made billionaire starts somewhere (many famously founded their empires in garages). Aim for your first million today, and tomorrow you might be joining the billionaire club yourself.