The Self-Man Made: Kevin Rose

Man, what is it with tech bajillionaires and not graduating from college? Bill Gates we all know about, and we learned last week that Sean Parker didn’t even go in the first place. Now it turns out that Kevin Rose, aka the Digg guy, dropped out of the University of Nevada (go Wolf Pack!). As if I wasn’t bitter enough about the student loan notices I keep getting.

Kevin Rose

Kevin, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is this week’s Self Made Man. And while he may look like a Christian youth group missionary, he’s one of the savviest, most cunning entrepreneurs out there. He also shares a few similarities with other precocious tech gurus; Kevin took an early interest in programming and coding, learning the basics on his family’s Commodore 64 and becoming so obsessed that he chained his keyboard to his desk so his mom couldn’t steal it as punishment for lower-than-expected grades. That’s some straight-up sitcom nerd behavior.

It paid off, though. Kevin went to a vocational/tech high school conveniently named Vo-Tech High School, got a job at the Department of Energy’s Nevada Test Site, and enrolled at the University of Nevada Las Vegas before leaving the state altogether to pursue opportunities in Silicon Valley. The dot-com boom was in full sway by that point, and older readers probably remember what seemed like weekly articles in Time and Newsweek about 20-year-old millionaires who wore bedroom slippers to work and kept foosball tables in their offices. Some of you, let’s admit it, wanted to strangle those people, but that’s another column altogether.

Kevin bounced around tech start-ups for a while, and then took a production assistant job at TechTV, where he co-hosted a show called The Screen Savers, which focused on tech trends. His work there introduced him to Apple computer co-founder Steve Wozniak, who indirectly inspired Kevin to create Digg. Never let it be said that basic cable is death for one’s career.

Digg was basically Kevin’s way of shortcutting the cumbersome process of searching through online news aggregators for under-reported items about technology; instead of doing it all himself, why not build a community of other nerds who would post content from bloggers and news sites and rank what they found interesting? After talking with Wozniak about the idea, Kevin threw himself into designing the site, buying the domain name, and gathering the hardware needed to get Digg off the ground. It cost him his life savings and girlfriend, but he rallied and built Digg into one of the most popular things on the Internet (or at least it was until they botched the site’s redesign in 2010 and sent a lot of their users to Reddit).

More recently, Kevin has been making money in the lucrative field of bankrolling tech start-ups that immediately get bought out by larger companies. He also founded a mobile application company called Milk, and made a number of wise investments in companies like Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook.

Above all else, Kevin’s a guy who didn’t let momentary failures slow him down. One wonders if Kevin ever felt like a screw-up when the 90s tech boom ended and he was back to looking for a job. Or when he ended up working as a production assistant, which can be one of the most degrading jobs that doesn’t involve serving food or cleaning up after animals. Did he question himself when his girlfriend peaced out on him because she couldn’t handle the instability of risking everything on a web site project that he started on a whim? If so, he didn’t let it get in his way.

Then again, he is from Las Vegas, so it’s not like longshot gambles are anything new to him.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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