5 Entrepreneurs Who Started With Nothing – and 3 Lessons to Learn
Have you ever imagined yourself as a successful entrepreneur, who has everything? A good job, a big house, a modern car and a lot of money to solve most of your problems.
Well, not everything is as it seems.
Being a successful entrepreneur doesn’t mean you had it easy in life or that you haven’t had any problems on a path to become a successful person.
On the contrary, a lot of entrepreneurs started off with nothing and managed to build their businesses over time with a lot of sweat and tears.
You probably know some of the people we’re talking about. Yes, we know the first two people who crossed your minds are probably Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
But we will not talk about them in this text.
Instead, we will focus on other people’s stories, who also had had it rough before they became successful in what they do.
So strap in and enjoy the ride!
1. INGVAR KAMPRAD
Ah, Sweden, the land of many opportunities! It is often called the USA of Europe because of that. A lot of very important and interesting things come from Sweden, for example, the Nobel prize, Vikings and of course IKEA.
If you do not know what IKEA is, then you are probably from another dimension or you have been living in a wilderness in Canada for far too long.
Jokes aside, IKEA is one of the most famous international retail companies which specializes in the furniture business.
The founder of IKEA is Ingvar Kamprad, born in 1926, who basically started with nothing and still managed to create one of the biggest furniture retail company in the world.
IKEA got its name from his initials, the farm he was born (Elmtaryd) and the village close the farm itself, where he was raised (Agunnaryd).
The very beginnings
Ingvar Kamprad started to do business when he was just 5 years old, believe it or not.
He was selling matches to the people in his town, and by the age of 7, he expanded the business by getting a bicycle, which he used to travel to Stockholm, get cheaper matches, then return back to his village and sell it at a higher price and make a profit.
Later on, he widened his business by selling other products too, from fish to pencils.
On his 17th birthday, he was awarded a small amount of money from his father, which he used to found IKEA.
A Brief History of IKEA
A couple of years after IKEA was founded, Ingvar Kamprad began to use trucks which were used for milk deliveries to distribute his own products, which expanded the area where he could deliver the items.
Several years later, he made a deal with local furniture producers and agreed to sell their products.
It didn’t last a very long time, because they started protesting and breaking the deals he made with them because he wanted the price to be low enough in order for it to be accessible to everyone.
Later, that became one of the IKEAs motos, that everyone should be able to afford good quality furniture.
Because of that, he had to continue creating the products in his home instead of doing business with individual manufacturers.
Despite their tries to sabotage his business, he managed to fight them off and expand it even further. He established a policy which was rare at the time. He didn’t only care about making a profit.
Instead, Kamprad believed that it is his duty as a human being to help other people, not just rip them off for money.
Working on those principles, IKEA has slowly grown to become a multinational company.
Starting to spread first across the entire Scandinavia, then the rest of Europe and eventually the entire world.
Interesting facts about Ingvar Kamprad
Despite being a famous businessman and owner of one of the biggest furniture retail companies, Kamprad was a very humble and funny person.
When he was young, his father often criticized him for sleeping too much, so he took his alarm clock, set it up for 6:00 in the morning and removed “off-button”.
He never liked to brag about his wealth, so he always traveled with normal people, in economy class. Also, he preferred to call his employees “colleagues” and has always been trying to instigate informal talk in the company.
Also, he had been using the old Volvo car for over 2 decades, because it was close to his heart and he didn’t care about buying a modern car. When he had to abandon that car because it was not to safe to drive it anymore, he got a new car, which was still more than 15 years old.
He passed away on 27th January 2018.
2. J.K. ROWLING
Perhaps you didn’t have a clue who Ingvar Kamprad was, but surely, you have to know who this amazing woman is.
J.K. Rowling or Joanne Rowling is the author of the brilliant Harry Potter series.
But did you know that she didn’t have it easy during early life? In fact, there were times when her life and the future were hanging on a thread.
Joanne’s early life
Joanne Rowling was born in 1965 in England. She was raised in both England and Wales along with her little sister Dianne.
Joanne has been surrounded with books her entire life since her parents were heavy readers. Some modern kids would find that very boring and tedious, but in fact, she really enjoyed it.
Ever since she was a little girl, Joanne was in love with writing. She wrote her first story at the age of six. The story was called “Rabbit”, a story which depicted, as you may have already guessed, a rabbit.
At the age of eleven, she wrote a book about seven damned diamonds and their rightful owners.
As for her education, she went to St. Michael’s Primary School, then later continued secondary education at Wyedean College.
She applied to join Oxford but didn’t manage to pass the tests, so instead, she attended the classes and got her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Exeter, where she had studied French and Classics.
How did the idea of Harry Potter come to life?
In 1990, while she was waiting for a delayed train, she first got an idea for the Harry Potter novel. In the next several years, she developed a story and wrote many notes, which would later become one of the most popular fantasy series of all times.
She got the inspiration after her mother passed away. That moment in her life really hit her hard and if you read the Harry Potter novels, you can sense that sadness in the sentences where she describes how young Harry feels about losing his own parents.
She transferred so many of her emotions into those moments in the book.
This may sound weird, but that hurtful moment in her life planted a seed which grew into one of the best stories of all times.
After that, Joanne moved to Portugal, where she was working as an English teacher and there she met her husband, with who, she had a baby named Jessica a year later.
Alas, not everything was honey and milk for Joanne. After her daughter had been born, Joanne divorced her husband because of her husband’s abuse and returned to Scotland, where she had a really tough time, being a single mother.
Because of a lot of stress and responsibility, she fell into depression and even thought of taking her own life at some point.
During this period of her life, she was dependant on the state benefit, which was really tough for her and her baby daughter. Apart from that, her husband came looking for them, so she had to seek help from a court, issuing a restraint order. He had to go back to Portugal and they were left in peace.
In 1995, she finally finished the first installment of Harry Potter books and tried to offer it to twelve publishing houses.
All of them declined and Joanne was desperate for money in order to feed both her and her daughter.
Finally, the following year, her request was approved and the book was published in 1997.
Never forget your roots!
Funny thing is that one of the publishers told Joanne that she should find an actual job because she wouldn’t be able to feed herself by writing books for children.
We are really glad she proved him wrong because her wealth is estimated at £600 million. Joanne was, however not selfish.
She didn’t waste her money on expensive things. Instead, she remembered how hard it was for her to live in those harsh conditions, without a job, without enough money to even feed our own child.
Therefore, she gave most of her money on charity, in order to help the poor people and orphans, who are struggling to survive every day.
3. JAN KOUM
Starting a new business is always hard, especially if you start with nothing. But the potential benefits can be very, very high. It takes a lot of time and effort to first develop the business, then to find proper customers and eventually succeed.
This is the story of a man, who is ranked as the 3rd richest entrepreneur under 40 in America. This is the story about Jan Koum.
Who is Jan Koum?
Jan Koum is a co-founder of WhatsApp and one of the richest younger entrepreneurs in America.
He was born in 1976 and grew up in Kiev outskirts in Ukraine, which was at the time part of Soviet Union. After the Cold war, he moved to the United States in 1992 with his grandmother and mother, where they lived of state support for a while.
His father tried to get to the US, but he never managed to leave Ukraine. Though they were separated, Jan and his father stayed in touch until his father died in 1997.
His mother worked as a babysitter and young Jan himself worked as a janitor in a market. When he was 18 he started to show interest in programming and later joined a team of young hackers.
At that time he was studying at State University in San Jose while working in Ernst & Young at the same time.
How was WhatsApp born?
One day at the beginning of 2009, Jan got himself an iPhone and while he was looking through the App Store, he noticed a trend and predicted that the store itself will soon need to change drastically.
Luckily he had some ideas what could possibly be done to exploit that situation.
Then he had a conversation with his friend Alex Fishman about the ideas he had. And that is how the idea of a messaging application came to his mind. They talked and talked and Jan eventually picked a name for his new project.
In February 2009, he founded WhatsApp Inc. At first, the application seemed to be a failure, but later that year, Apple introduced a new system of notifications, called “push notifications” and Koum thought of this as the opportunity for his app to shine. And oh boy, he was right!
Once the app had gained some popularity, Koum invited his friend Brian Acton, who he met while he was working in Ernst & Young, to be his partner, which Brian accepted and invested some of his money into the company.
In 2014, Koum was offered a deal from Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, to join with him.
Several days after that, Facebook issued an announcement that they had officially acquired WhatsApp Inc. for a hefty sum of money ($19 billion).
Two years later, Jan sold around 50% of his total Facebook shares and in mid-2018, he declared he was stepping down from the Facebook board, because of some conflicts with other people.
Not an entrepreneur?
There is one funny and interesting thing about Jan Koum. He doesn’t consider himself to be an entrepreneur.
On the contrary, he hates when people call him like that.
In his mind, an entrepreneur is a person who only cares about money, who is driven by a desire to always make more money.
He doesn’t consider himself to be that kind of person, because he has always just wanted to make products which would be useful to ordinary people.
4. HOWARD SCHULTZ
We all like Starbucks’ coffee. There is no point in denying that. But back in the ‘80s most of the people in the world didn’t even know about Starbucks, because it only had several stores in the entire United States.
But what has changed since then? How did a regular coffee shop grow out to become the most famous coffee brand in the entire world?
Well, there is one man who can take some credit for that and his name is Howard Schultz, a former CEO of Starbucks.
A short story about Howard Schultz
Schultz was born in 1953 in New York, where he was also raised.
His family was quite poor, as his father had to feed three children, so young Howard didn’t have too many options during his early childhood, as his father had to work several low-paid jobs just so he could manage to feed his family.
Despite that, Howard has always been proud of his father, because he tried the best as he could in order to provide his family with the most necessary things in life.
There was a time when his father got injured on work so he wasn’t able to work for some time, and at the same time his mother was pregnant, so they were basically living without any money and were hiding from tax collectors, by claiming there were not home whenever they would call.
Though he had it rough, Howard had never allowed himself to despair. Instead, he found a vent in doing sports, for which he managed to get a scholarship and eventually graduate at the Northern Michigan University, which made his entire family proud.
After his graduation, he started working as a salesman for Xerox, where he had spent 3 years before he joined the Hammerplast U.S.A. as a General Manager.
Success of Starbucks
In 1983, Howard Schultz came to Starbucks. At that time, it had only 4 open stores.
A year later, he traveled to Italy, where he learned about the process of making coffee and espresso, which really intrigued him and inspired him to leave Starbucks and open his own store.
However, four years later he decided to return to Starbucks, but not empty-handed. He managed to find several investors, who would help him acquire the store, which he succeeded. He became a CEO and at that time Starbucks had coffee stores on 17 other locations.
Since then, it has grown exponentially and right now, there are over 28 thousand coffee stores in 77 countries.
The company employs over 350 thousand people.
Howard Schultz decided to leave the company in 2017 because he wanted to explore other options, which are available to him.
5. GARY VAYNERCHUK
The last person on this list is the one who has the highest chance of not being recognized, at least not compared to the other people on this list.
However, that doesn’t change a fact that this person also started with almost nothing, managed to fight his way up and become one of the most influential people when it comes to digital marketing.
Who is Gary Vaynerchuk?
His birth name is Gennady Vaynerchuk and he was born in Belarus in 1975, which was part of the Soviet Union at that time.
When he was 3, his family decided to move to the United States. He had lived in a small apartment in New York with eight of his siblings and other family members before they moved to New Jersey.
During his early childhood and school period, he had interests in doing business, which was supported by the facts that he managed to make tens of thousands of dollars while he was at school. He succeeded in that by selling lemonade and baseball cards.
Later on, when he was 14, he joined the family business. Anyway, his family was doing wine retail business, where he started to work as a wine critic and managed to expand it from $3 million to over $60 million.
After that, in 2009, he decided to leave the family business and start his own digital marketing company along with his brother. They named it VaynerMedia.
The company is oriented towards making and managing marketing strategies for the companies from the fortune 500 list.
VaynerMedia has grown over time and in 2017 it acquired PureWoW and restructured itself to VaynerX, but continued to do social media strategy development.
WHAT ARE THE 3 MOST IMPORTANT LESSON WE CAN LEARN FROM THESE PEOPLE?
Now that we presented our choice of entrepreneurs who had it rough during early life, but still managed to end up being victorious, we might want to mention some things we can learn from their examples and mistakes.
1. Never stop trying!
As we could see, all of these people had a very rough childhood and life before they become successful entrepreneurs.
But even when things seemed grim, they didn’t give up, they didn’t succumb to their grief and problems. Instead, all those things made them stronger and even more confident.
So it doesn’t matter how hard it is, you should never give up on your dreams because as you were able to see in this text, some dreams come true when you least expect it.
2. The best investment is an investment in yourself!
No one is perfect, we all have flaws and strengths. We all have to learn during our entire lives in order to stay on track with new trends and options available to us.
None of these people we mentioned started as a genius.
They all had their difficulties, but they all found the time and effort to invest in themselves in order to become better and specialize in things they wanted to do with their lives.
And we should all do the same. We should all find what are our strengths and weaknesses and work on improving the strengths and removing the weaknesses.
3. Future is the key that opens all doors
And last, but not the least, if you want to become a successful entrepreneur, do not just start working something which was already done, but instead, try to create something new, be innovative and try to look things from a different perspectives, to measure what could happen in the future with what happened in the past and what is happening right now.
Because one of the keywords in the very definition of “entrepreneur” is innovation.
“Entrepreneur is the person who can notice the possibilities around him, who knows how to exploit those possibilities to create something new or to use something which was already there in a completely innovative way.”
That is why you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment, because benefits are huge, as you could notice in the text.
In this text, we presented 5 entrepreneurs who had started with nothing and became successful in what they do.
There are a lot of examples, some are even more famous and noticeable, but by showing these 5 people, we wanted you to see that there are a lot of people who were in the similar situations and who despite everything managed to become who they are today.
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