She dropped out of college – now she’s in the top 1% of millennials

Marga Salvador
She had no college degree, no background in programming or marketing, and had to move in with her dad. Things weren't looking good – but then here's how US entrepreneur Lauren Holliday made it work

An earlier version of this story first appeared on KalibrrVisit this page for more on the ups and downs of navigating your career.

We’ve all heard those inspiring success stories of regular people who make it big, despite having no college degrees and little money. Apart from the obvious Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs success stories, we rarely hear about millennials who have forged their own path despite adverse conditions. 

Lauren Holliday is the heroine of one of those unsung Cinderella stories. Like many other Americans with college loans, she was swimming in debt and was forced to drop out of school. With no college education, no network, and essentially zero credentials or experience, she had no choice but to move back in with her dad and work as a waitress for more than 40 hours a week. 

In the Philippines, it’s not uncommon for children to continue living with their parents throughout and even after college. In other countries however, once you turn 18 you are on your own. So for Lauren to move back in meant things were bad. Knowing that this wasn’t the life she wanted for herself, she started making plans to get back on her feet starting with becoming a full-stack marketer.

“Full-stack derives from web developers, who can do a project from start to finish without assistance because they know front-end and back-end programming languages,” explains Lauren. “Full-stack developers are purple unicorns, meaning they are extremely difficult to find. Similarly, this is the case with marketers–especially for marketers whose clients are small businesses and startups. If you’re a full-stack marketer, you can complete everything your client needs from start to finish. This means more money, because the majority of marketers specialize in things like social media and SEO.”

Taking control and starting small

Now, if Lauren actually had a background in programming or marketing, this wouldn’t seem like an unlikely jump in her barely budding career but she didn’t even have a degree. So she took matters into her own hands and signed up for online classes to close her knowledge gap. Lauren still didn’t have experience, how did she solve that one? As she learned the ropes, she offered her new services to family and friends for free. She wasn’t acting on any whims either. She had a plan for this sudden career shift:

  1. Land two projects: one to add quality to her portfolio and one to widen her skill set.
  2. Create and document her service journey map. After her pilot projects, she started charging for her services, starting and finishing one project before moving on to the next.
  3. Establish her digital trademark and getting word about her services out there.

Lauren used her father’s dry cleaning business as the guniea pig and pilot project for her new stack marketing gig. She made a simple WordPress site and after the business next door saw her work, she had officially become a professional full-stack marketer.

She didn’t have a network to use, much less a client base, so she built one. After doing research on small businesses that didn’t have and social media or online presence, Lauren spent an hour or two every day just cold-calling and trying to get herself hired by them. She did all this on top of her full-time waitressing job. 

Pay-offs and pay-it-forwards

After 6 months of non-stop hustling, things paid off. Lauren’s work had been discovered and she landed herself a $72,000 marketing director position in Boston. “Since then, I’ve gone out on my own, and I’m now in the top 1 % of millennials,” says Lauren. (This is based on a Fusion story that reports that those with an income of around $106,500 a year are in the 1% of millennials.) 

She’s paying it forward, too. Her startup Freelanship is dedicated to helping the growing 20 million students “who can’t afford to intern every year gain experience through flexible, remote freelance projects.”

No one would have expected Lauren, a college dropout with little to no experience to her name, to succeed – and yet she did. She didn’t stumble onto her own company, she made it. “When it comes down to succeeding in life, it’s all about GSD [getting sh*t done]. I think everyone makes their own luck. I’m not smarter or more talented than anyone else. I just work harder than a lot of people.” 

You don’t even need a great idea to make something for and of yourself. Many millennials are obsessed with being #1, but they don’t realize that the top has a place for all kinds of people. You just have to use your brain and put in enough elbow grease to get the gears going. –

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Marga is a food enthusiast with the thighs to prove it. She will try just about anything (legal) once, twice if you’re paying. Her hair is real and it is full of secrets.