Failure is a part of success, and these entrepreneurs are proof of that!
An essential part of succeeding as an entrepreneur is consistently learning from your mistakes. Be it a rejected pitch or a project that was eventually shut down, taking stock of your mistakes and figuring out how things can be different moving forward is crucial to succeeding in the startup space. Suffice it to say almost everyone who has succeeded in entrepreneurship has done so through trial and error.
If you have experienced roadblocks in your entrepreneurial journey, you can look at those that came before you for inspiration. Here is a list of five entrepreneurs that failed before eventually becoming the biggest names in their fields.
Having held the title of the world’s richest person between 1995 and 2010 and again between 2013 and 2017, business magnate Bill Gates has undoubtedly been successful in leaving his mark on the world. While you might be well aware of Gates’ billion-dollar company Microsoft, you might be unfamiliar with the fact that this wasn’t his first venture. Bill Gates and the other co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, had worked together to create a startup called Traf-o-Data in the 1970s.
The idea behind Traf-o-Data was to automate the process of reading traffic flows. The company saw a fair bit of success initially, with some counties near Seattle and a district in British Columbia coming on as their clients. The company even ended up making US$20,000. But it eventually flopped because the same service began being offered in Washington and other states for free, and the duo had started this project without adequate market research. Even though it failed, they learned a lot about microprocessors while working on the startup, which eventually helped them lead Microsoft to its success today.
The co-founder of the international company Sony, Akio Morita, experienced his fair share of struggles when he first started the company with his co-founder Masaru Ibuka. The duo had planned for Sony (earlier called Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo or Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation in English) to be an electronics company. So, they created their very first product— a rice cooker. Much to their dismay, this rice cooker consumed much of the rice and even burned some of it.
Thus, the duo pivoted. Thanks to its radio fixing services, the company stayed afloat until it successfully developed Japan’s first tape recorder. Since then, there has been no looking back, and Sony has become a billion-dollar conglomerate.
If you are interested in fashion or just an avid consumer of pop culture content, you would have heard of Vera Wang. Best known for designing wedding dresses, Wang initially used to be a figure skater and was really good at it. So good, in fact, that she competed in the U.S. National Championships. Despite being talented, Wang didn’t make the cut for the Olympics team representing the U.S. in figure skating in 1968. Her failure made her change course and take up a career in fashion.
Wang became a Vogue editor and spent 17 years working there, only to later move on and work with the luxury fashion brand Ralph Lauren. At the age of 40, she left Ralph Lauren to start a bridal fashion business under her name. As of 2020, Wang has a net worth of US$270 million and has stores in New York, London, Tokyo and Sydney.
Yes, the founder of Apple experienced failure too. In 1985, Steve Jobs was fired from Apple. He was dismissed because he pushed for the development of the Apple I and Apple Lisa, both of which failed and cost the company a lot of money.
After leaving Apple, Jobs did two things. He funded the animation company Pixar and led one of their biggest films, Toy Story, as an executive producer. He also started a new computer company called NeXT, pouring US$12 million of his money into this venture.
With NeXT, Jobs wanted to create computers for educational purposes. Despite their efficiency, these computers were failing to get traction because of their high costs. Thus, the company pivoted and began creating software. NeXT’s software proved so advanced that Apple bought the company for US$429 million, thus marking Jobs’ return to Apple with him taking over as CEO.
Before becoming a household name, Milton Hershey—the chocolatier behind the eponymous iconic milk chocolate brand—faced several hardships during the early years of his life. He had to drop out of school after fourth grade and pick up a job as a printer’s apprentice. Because of a lack of interest, he quit this job and started looking for candy-making work. After learning the tricks of the trade, Hershey opened a candy shop, only to shut it down due to a lack of profits.
He tried to open a shop again, failing a second time. Finally, in 1886, he opened the Lancaster Caramel Company, which was close to shutting down because of his bad credit from the past two failures. Luckily, this time around, things turned out in his favor, and the Lancaster Caramel Company was profitable. But by 1900, he wanted to move on to other projects and sold the company for a million dollars. He then opened the Hershey Company, and the rest is history.
If there is one thing we should take away from these stories, it is never to give up. While these entrepreneurs eventually succeeded, their path to success was lined with failures. Rest assured, if you keep at it, you can reach your goals sooner or later. Hopefully, these stories encourage you to continue working towards your dreams.
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