Published 25 August 2017 Category: Entrepreneur, Business, Insights

How the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs Got Their Start

They all start with a dream and drive; from there, it’s a combination of business smarts and luck. The world’s most successful entrepreneurs “succeeded by giving the customer something better, faster and cheaper than their nearest competitors.”

Here’s a look at how a few started out, and the qualities they all seem to have in common.

They worked their butts off
Oprah Winfrey’s first big break came when she was still a teenager. She landed a job as on-air talent at a local radio station. Her presence, personality and passion impressed her managers, leading to bigger and better gigs at other stations. Oprah was only 19 when she became a news anchor at Nashville’s WTVF-TV, making her the youngest person and the first African-American woman to hold the position.

“I’ve met countless wantrepreneurs over the years. So many just want to get in, make a quick million or two, and get out. I always tell them the same thing: That’s not how it works. Do they listen? Nope. And you know what? It never works out for them. Because that’s not how it works.” – Steve Tobak.

They loved what they did
As entrepreneur and author Steve Tobak writes, “If you don’t love your work, you won’t stick with it.”
Walt Disney liked to draw and enjoyed sketching caricatures of horses from farms that neighboured his own family’s land. Microsoft founder Bill Gates spent his free time as a kid writing programs on his school’s teletype machine. Even by 1984, when Microsoft was well established, Gates was still deeply into coding. He said, “My house is full of microcomputer magazines, and I still come home every night to my IBM-PC. I don’t play the violin, you know”.

“I’ve known dozens of software and hardware developers who’ve said that writing programs or designing chips is like an obsession with them. Many, if not most, successful entrepreneurs do tend to fixate on one industry or discipline. – Steve Tobak.

They were the change they wanted for the world
Many entrepreneurs saw a need for something and decided they were the ones who should fill that need – and they monetised the solution they created.

“As one goes about their daily life, it is useful if they routinely ask themselves, ‘Isn’t there a better way?’” – Liz Lange, fashion designer.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs knew that consumers wanted portable electronics that were easy to use. Inventor Joy Mangano discovered a need for a mop that would wring itself.  Aaron Patzer, the founder of Mint.com, said, “I just wanted to create something that I wanted to use.”

Walt Disney decided that the world needed the biggest, most amazing theme park ever built, telling a colleague, “I want it to look like nothing else in the world.”

They leveraged friends, relatives, and whoever they could get their hands on
When Mary Kay Cosmetics founder, Mary Kay Ash started out, her barely-out-of-his-teens son ran the administration side of things, and she recruited her friends to help her out.

“I often say I started with nine people, friends of mine, really, who just didn’t have the nerve to say no.” says Mary Kay Ash. ”They didn’t intend to stay around, but they were going to help me get it started. They were very kind and sweet,” and, one presumes, now rich.

They learned from mistakes made by themselves and others
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm,” Winston Churchill said and added, “One of the most important things to do as a business owner is to avoid the mistakes of others and build on what you know.” For example, Richard Branson tells of how in 1971, he avoided a 33 percent tax by selling albums at Virgin Records that were supposed to be exported. But he was caught and fined £60,000. That mistake woke him up to the realisation that he needed to take the business more seriously.

They had nowhere to go but up
Many endured some early-life suffering. Andrew Carnegie was dirt poor and often went to bed hungry. J.K. Rowling was famously a single mother who was receiving public assistance when she began to write the Harry Potter series. Oprah Winfrey was so poor as a child that she wore dresses made out of potato sacks, and John Paul DeJoria, the creator of Paul Mitchell Hair Products, was living out of his car while selling mousse and hair gel door to door.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both dropped out of college. Jobs couldn’t afford school, so he unofficially audited classes, sitting in on topics he found interesting. He also took advantage of the free meals served by the local Hare Krishna temple and returned soda bottles in order to get the deposits back.

They were open to inspiration
Jobs said a calligraphy class he took for fun helped to inspire Macintosh computers’ font design and typefaces. Ben Baldwin, the co-founder and CEO of ClearFit, told The Wall Street Journal that he came up with his company’s business model as he sped down a highway, thinking about other things. His company “provides an easy way for companies to find employees and predict job fit".

“So take a break and smell the flowers, because while you’re out doing that, your mind may very well solve the problem that you are trying to solve or spark a solution to a problem you hadn’t considered before.” – Ben Baldwin.

Do what you know.
Perhaps the most successful entrepreneurs work in the markets they know best. Benjamin Franklin, the father of American entrepreneurship, stayed in the family business of printing his whole life — because he knew it inside and out.

“There’s a whole bunch of things I don’t know a thing about. I just stay away from those. I stay within what I call my circle of competence.” – Warren Buffett.