Let’s face it, everybody dreams of leaving their cubicle behind and instead, spending their days on a beach somewhere. Whether it’s the nagging boss, the soul-destroying corporate culture or the repetitive daily tasks, the thought of escaping it all and controlling your own destiny is a hugely attractive prospect.
Yet for some strange reason, many people still think you need a degree in marketing and an MBA in order to branch out on your own. Even in 2018 – when anybody can make money online – millions of would-be entrepreneurs are deterred by the idea that business success can only be attained with financial clout and a string of qualifications.
This is, of course, nonsense and we can prove it; there are countless examples of men and women, young and old, who have overcome poverty, poor education and a complete lack of business experience to succeed. So, if you’re ready to take the plunge and you want to get started, look no further – here are 7 successful entrepreneur stories to inspire you.
1. Sophia Amoruso
Diagnosed with ADHD at an early age and withdrawn from school as a result, Amoruso spent her formative years working odd jobs at the likes of Subway; following her parents’ divorce, she then relocated to Sacramento, CA, where she claims to have survived by hitchhiking, shoplifting and stealing from bins.
The San Diego native managed to catch a break in 2006, however, when she started selling vintage clothing and other items through her eBay account under the guise of Nasty Gal Vintage (so named after a Betty Davis record); its revenue subsequently grew from $223,000 in 2008 to nearly $23m in 2011, leading to her being dubbed the “Cinderella of tech” by the New York Times.
Amoruso has also written a book about her experiences (which was later commissioned by Netflix into a full-length TV series), and although she has since stepped down as CEO of Nasty Gal, the company made $20m from its sale to retail giants Boohoo. In 2017, Amoruso founded Girlboss Media, a lifestyle website for millennial women.
2. Kevin Plank
Using money he made selling flowers in college – as well as a combination of business loans, credit cards and other savings – the newly graduated Plank managed to devise a prototype for a football jersey that absorbed sweat, running his fledgeling business out of his grandmother’s house in Georgetown.
Settling on the name Under Armour, the Maryland native then utilised his contacts in the college football scene to get his products vital exposure. It wasn’t until 1999, however, when Plank used the company’s entire budget to take out an advertisement in ESPN Magazine that his luck truly changed. Thanks to the ad, NFL teams and athletes began buying Under Armour products in bulk, resulting in over $1m worth of sales.
The company has since continued to grow, branching out into several markets and establishing itself as a prominent sportswear provider to some of the biggest sports teams in the world. Plank is still CEO, and currently oversees a 20,000-strong workforce, as well as $5bn worth of annual revenue.
3. Jan Koum
Born in the then-Soviet Union, Koum moved with his mother and grandmother to California in 1992, where a social support programme initiated by the state allowed the family to receive a small apartment. At the age of 16, the young entrepreneur took a cleaning job at a grocery store to help support his mother. After teaching himself how to code, he then spent 9 years at Yahoo as an infrastructure engineer.
However, Koum’s eureka moment came in 2009 when he realised the potential of Apple’s then-fledgeling app store. The mastermind created WhatsApp a week later, utilising the ability to push notification apps on iPhones and establishing the app as an alternative to traditional SMS messaging. In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg became interested, with Facebook acquiring WhatsApp for $19bn and appointing Koum to its board of directors.
Although Koum stepped down from his role in April 2018 (forfeiting an estimated $1bn of stock in the process), he is estimated to have personally amassed over $9bn from his exploits.
4. Pierre Omidyar
After spending most of his 20s flitting between various software development gigs, Paris-born Omidyar began working on a simple buyer-to-buyer auction website in 1995, naming it Auction Web and initially using it to sell off his own unwanted personal possessions. As he realised the potential demand for seemingly useless products, though, the site began to grow. Over the next few years, the number of transactions taking place on the site began to rise uncontrollably, with Omidyar incorporating his project and subsequently re-branding it as eBay.
The company was publicly offered in 1998, making Omidyar a billionaire overnight; as of 2018, his personal net worth is estimated to be over $11bn. eBay is still hugely profitable and continues to be a success, too, although Omidyar has since founded a number of other enterprises. He is also a renowned philanthropist and has served as an executive producer on several Hollywood film productions.
5. Richard Branson
No list of startup inspiration stories would be complete without the inclusion of Richard Branson, who has seemingly (and successfully) tried his hand at every possible line of investment across the last 40 years - not bad for a man who performed poorly at school, was diagnosed with dyslexia and then bestowed the unfortunate title of Virgin on his first enterprise (supposedly due to his then-status as a “virgin at business”).
Luckily, that first venture was the hugely profitable importing and re-selling of music records during the 1960s, alongside the management of the popular Student magazine; as a result, Branson was able to open a dedicated record store in London in 1971. He used the profits from this project to then establish Virgin Records, working with many of the artists that he’d previously interviewed for Student, such as the Rolling Stones.
From there, Branson has created and developed market leading products and services in aviation, media, beverages and rail transport among many others; his personal net worth is estimated to be around $4.9bn, as he constantly seeks to invest his profits from one venture into another.
6. Jay-Z (Shawn Carter)
Although Jay-Z (real name Shawn Carter) is better known for his musical exploits, the New York-native has demonstrated a wide array of entrepreneurial characteristics throughout his career. Indeed, unable to secure a major record deal, Carter initially sold copies of his recordings out of his car, before co-creating his own record label in 1995.
Carter’s subsequent success in the music industry has allowed him to invest in a wide variety of business ventures, including clothing brands, real estate, nightclubs and even a sports management agency, where he represents several notable athletes. He has also invested in a champagne brand, launched a range of signature cigars and at one time owned a major stake in NBA franchise, the Brooklyn Nets.
Although he continues to make music and tour heavily, Carter’s investments and businesses represent the main bulk of his estimated $900m net worth, while his wife – the singer, Beyoncé – is allegedly worth $350m through her own entrepreneurial ventures.
7. Jack Ma
When it comes to taking a hint, few can match the stubbornness of Jack Ma; after graduating in 1988 (a process that he was initially rejected four times for), the Hangzhou native struggled to find work, getting turned down by over 30 companies (including, infamously, KFC), before seeing all 10 of his postgraduate applications to Harvard Business School unceremoniously refused.
However, on a 1995 trip to visit friends in the US, Ma’s luck finally changed; after being introduced to the internet, he managed to raise $20,000 to build an online directory for Chinese businesses, taking on additional various web development projects for Chinese companies and government organisations. Utilising these experiences, he returned to China in 1999 and created the online marketplace Alibaba, subsequently raising $25bn at its IPO stock exchange offering in 2014 – the highest amount of any floated company, ever.
Ma is now one of the richest people in the world, with an estimated personal net worth of nearly $43bn, while the Alibaba group is responsible for nine major subsidiaries (among them the hugely popular Aliexpress).
As you can see, anyone can create their own business success story from scratch, yet these entrepreneurs all had one thing in common: determination. Regardless of their education level, the resources available to them, or the field in which they made their respective fortunes, they created their own opportunities through hard work, self-belief and no small amount of creative talent.
If you believe you could do the same, then what’s holding you back? Starting your own business is as simple and cost efficient as it’s ever been, so there’s no better time to stake your claim. Besides, who knows? With a little luck, you could even appear on future editions of this list!
Which entrepreneur story has inspired you? Let us know in the comments below!