​Skipping school to become tech giants

Investing in college dropouts with big ideas 06:48

A select group of whiz kids seems to be thriving despite having dropped out of college. All any of them seems to need is a high-tech idea, a sofa to sleep on ... plus a $100,000 grant. John Blackstone explains:

When brothers Kieran and Rory O'Reilly were both accepted to Harvard, their parents marked the accomplishment with new license plates: One read "2 N HRVD"; the other, "HARVRD 2."

"They might change it to '2 DROPOUTS,'" said Rory.

They both quit Harvard as undergrads two years ago. They were just 18 and 19 when they moved to San Francisco with big hopes, and almost nothing else.

"Three bags of clothes -- every day we would take it, move from hotel to hotel," said Rory.

"I remember our bank account was always negative $66, because that's the overdraft fee," said Kieran.

They're now living IN their office. "Every single day our mom tries to call us or send food," Rory said.

They've created a website, gifs.com, a tool for re-editing online videos. Seventeen million people in the past month have used it.

Rory and Kieran O'Reilly dropped out of Harvard to launch their own website. gifs.com, which now gets 17 million users a month. CBS News

The O'Reillys are on a path made famous by some of the tech industry's biggest names: Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg.

"People that drop out of Harvard, maybe the Bill Gateses of the world, the Zuckerbergs, they're the people that are really changing the entire world, in my opinion," said Rory. "And yeah, I'm glad to be a part of that."

The O'Reillys are "part of that" partly because Peter Thiel, one of the billionaire founders of PayPal, gave them $100,000 each.

Thiel started his surprising giveaway five years ago, offering $100,000 to kids who quit college to "build new things."

Jack Abraham is executive director of the Thiel Fellowship, which distributes the money to 20 new dropouts each year. And what is he encouraging? "If you have a great idea, the time to pursue it is now," Abraham said. "We also hope to show society that this is an alternate path that people can and should consider and take."

Abraham says the 105 current and former Thiel Fellows have created more than 1,000 jobs and raised $330 million from investors.

Only eight have returned to college.

A few of the 105 current and former Thief Fellows. CBS News

The selection committee is now sorting through 5,000 applications for this year's 20 fellowships. Most of the applicants would have much better odds getting into the Ivy League.

"It breaks my heart when some of the most promising students don't fulfill their potential because they're chasing rainbows," said Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford University, who has been a critic of the Thiel Fellowship from the beginning."