Everybody knows the challenges and risks of starting your own business. As tempting and promising as it may seem in our imagination, there is always a lingering hesitation we find at the back of our heads whether we would be able to succeed.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and many of the most successful entrepreneurs came from very humble beginnings. These entrepreneurs started small but grew their companies to worldwide brands. They started with nothing and still hit dizzying heights of business success. You might be sitting there today wondering how you can make your idea take off.
Successful entrepreneurs started with tiny, humble beginnings and grinded their way to successful, widely known businesses through persistence and hard work. If you need some inspiration, we got you. Because what could be more inspiring than the life story of successful entrepreneurs and the story of how they made it to the top.
Howard Schultz is known for building the world-renowned brand Starbucks, but he started as an employee. He joined the Seattle-based company in 1982 as the director of retail operations and marketing.
In 1983, Schultz took a trip to Italy and discovered there were 1,500 coffeehouses in Milan. He imagined starting a local coffee chain in the U.S. and quit Starbucks to start his own company. In 1987, Schultz bought the original Starbucks and began growing the global empire we know today.
Ralph Lauren graduated high school in the Bronx, New York, but later dropped out of college to join the US Army. He worked as a sales assistant at Brooks Brothers when an idea struck him to build his own clothing company. He wondered if men would be interested in exploring more colorful, bolder ties and incorporating them into their daily fashion.
Lauren launched his business selling ties in 1967 and grossed $500,000 in sales in the maiden year. The next year, he launched Polo and built his company into the successful global empire that we know today.
The Ralph Lauren Corporation is now a global multibillion-dollar enterprise and Lauren is a household name, counting A-list models and actors as close friends. As of 2018, Forbes estimates his wealth to be $7.2 billion, making Ralph Lauren the 91st richest person in America.
“You have to create something from nothing,” and “The world is open to us, and each day is an occasion to reinvent ourselves.”
Do Won Chang
Who doesn’t know the fashion chain, Forever 21? With 794 chains worldwide and an annual net worth f $3.2 billion, one would find it hard to believe that its founder, Do Won Chang started as a janitor, at a gas station, and in a coffee shop when he first moved to America from South Korea before launching the retail empire in 1984. The first store he opened with his wife was 900 square feet in LA.
He opened with only $11,000 in savings and dove all-in into the business. At first, the shop’s original name was Fashion 21 and most of the customers came from the Korean-American community. Not long after, the customer base expanded the name changed to Forever 21, which is now an international household name.
His top tip? Never forget where you come from. Speaking to the LA Times, Won Chang said: “Forever 21 gives hope and inspiration to people who come here with almost nothing… The fact that immigrants coming to America, much like I did, can come into a Forever 21 and know that all of this was started by a simple Korean immigrant with a dream.”
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak
The Apple Empire story started in a humble garage in Los Altos, California. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had just dropped out from their respective college courses and began developing consumer computer devices in Jobs’ parent’s garage in California. Before this, Steve worked an assortment of low-income jobs.
After developing a couple of different models with Wozniak, it became clear that the pair would need more financing. So Jobs looked for a guarantor to get a bank loan for $250,000. When he died in 2011, he was said to be worth $10.2 billion. He’d built this up over time. He had a million dollars to his name in 1978, when he was just 23. As for his legacy? Well, it’s in our pockets, on our screens, at the cinema in the 2015 film Steve Jobs, and all around us.
His advice for you? “Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”
Inspiration to many female entrepreneurs and fashion-followers, Sophia Amoruso is the founder of Nasty Gal. She began her empire by scouring the racks at second-hand stores and selling her vintage finds on eBay. She used the money from her sales to move her stock into a warehouse, and She utilized her network on the social media site MySpace to promote her online store.
In 2016, her net worth was $280 million. But life wasn’t always an entrepreneurial journey. Amoruso lived a nomadic lifestyle as a young adult, hitchhiking on the West Coast and grabbing food from bins to survive. Although Amoruso admits she had no real strategy, she grabbed every chance she could get chance to pursue something she was passionate about.
More recently, Amaroso has lost half of her fortune but her star is still rising. She continues to evolve her brand, focusing on a best-selling memoir, a coffee table book, and a binge-worthy Netflix series about her past, Girlboss.
Her advice? “Everyone has a different personality in the workplace,” Amoruso said “By bringing your best self and not letting the small things sway you, that will allow you to keep rolling ahead in work and in life.”
Daymond John is mainly known as one of the investors of thefamous American TV show, Shark Tank, but he’s also the founder of the contemporary sportswear brand, FUBU. He started his clothing line using sewing machines at his mother’s house in Queens, New York.
Today, FUBU flourished into a global brand, and John went on to invest in dozens of other successful companies. He’s also the author of four books and owns a co-working space in Manhattan.
Founder of the American superstore, Walmart, Sam Walton had just returned to private life after serving in the US Army during World War II, when he opened his first retail store in 1945. He started with nothing to his name, and he had to borrow $25,000 from his father-in-law, which he used to purchase his first store.
Walton ran the business with his younger brother and expanded the franchise to own 15 different stores. But the company that managed the franchise chain was not willing to expand into rural areas. This urged Walton to start his own business.
By the mid-1970s, Walmart was valued at more than $176 million. Today, it has more than 11,000 stores worldwide and has an operating income of more than $21 billion in 2019.
One of his key principles is to follow your path, not the path followed by others. “Ignore the conventional wisdom,” he says here. “If everybody else is doing it one way, there’s a good chance you can find your niche by going in exactly the opposite direction.”
Kevin Plank started Under Armour using his savings and five different credit cards to afford his first store. In the first year of the company, he was broke and drowning in credit card debt.
His big success came when he sold his clothing to Georgia Tech for $17,000.This purchase marked the take-off of his product and was used by NFL teams and picked up by major retailers. Today, Under Armour is a billion-dollar brand known across the world.
Sara Blakely was selling fax machines door-to-door when she started today’s largest collection of slimming intimates, Spanx. She used $5,000 of her savings as capital to start and climbed her way to success. To this day, she’s never taken on any funding and owns 100% of the company.
She advises new entrepreneurs not to look to friends and family to validate their business idea, saying this “can stop a lot of multi-million dollar ideas in their tracks in the beginning.”
Richard Branson is a British businessman whose name may be often associated with entrepreneurial success. But he came from a humble beginning, at one point believing he was “the dumbest person at school.”
His first attempt at business was by founding Student Magazine that he launched in 1966. The youth magazines during that time were too “boring”, and his ideas for the magazine were considered “too revolutionary”. So he created a space that will allow fresh and new content that will interest the student audience. The magazine was a success, and this became a significant stepping stone for his future success. He’s now the founder of brands including Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Money and his latest venture, Virgin Galactic — which he believes will be the world’s first space tourism company.
“We didn’t need lots of money to start our first business, and that’s even truer today than it was back then,” he said as he encourages modern entrepreneurs to utilize the internet as much as they can to give their business a big break. His personality and unconventional business style garnered him awards, global fame, and fortune; he is now worth $4.2 billion.
Lessons to Learn From Successful Entrepreneurs Who Started Small
As these inspiring stories show, your background doesn’t define your future. Some of the people featured in this article were born into poverty, raised by single parents, or were even drowning in debts. And yet none of them let these “disadvantages” and “setbacks” hold them back in later life.
Successful entrepreneurs know this clearly: Action is the only way to learn and move forward truly. The lack of wealth, in many cases, became the motivator for those who desire to build a better future. So don’t let your own life’s setbacks hold you back. Use them as fuel to power you forward on your entrepreneurial journey, too.
Edited by Chooli