Meet the 5 brilliant entrepreneurs that turned adversity into opportunity. Thanks to their resilience, they've now created empires that modern society relies on. We think a few of these might surprise you...
Woody Allen said that '80% of success in life is showing up', because in truth, we don't always have the motivation to do so. Show up to work, to class, to that wine mixer you promised you'd show your face at… Sometimes you'd rather be, frankly, anywhere else.
Success as an entrepreneur largely depends on your ability to keep showing up, even in the face of adversity. Whilst it certainly isn't easy, we can take inspiration from those who have lived to see their tenacity and hard work pay off. The most encouraging of which, are those who have built their empires from the ground up. The ones that started with nothing. The ones who have faced the ultimate adversity to wealth: poverty. Here are 5 business trailblazers that disprove that 'only money makes money'...
Known for: Harry Potter
Net Worth: $1.2bn
J.K. Rowling had a turbulent start as a writer. Enduring rejections from 12 different publishers, before finally being selected by Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling was living life as a single parent on the breadline and severely suffering from depression. After a painful divorce, Rowling was living hand to mouth, relying on state pensions to care for herself and young daughter, Jessica. 'I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless.' Rowling explains 'I remember 20 years ago not eating so my daughter would eat. I remember nights when there was literally no money [...] By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.' Even during the months where she was forced to forgo heating in her small Edinburgh flat, Rowling doggedly kept writing in pursuit of a better life. Since then, she has gone on to sell 450 million copies of the Harry Potter series, win countless awards, and spawn a hugely successful film franchise. Rowling now holds the title for 'wealthiest writer of all time', beating the likes of Stephen King and James Patterson to the post. From humble beginnings, Rowling has carved a magical empire now worth billions, and even contributes part of her success to enduring the hardships of her past. “I know what grinding poverty feels like,' says Rowling, 'The memory never, ever leaves you.”
Known for: The Oprah Winfrey Show
Net Worth: $2.9bn
Oprah was bounced from pillar to post during childhood. After the separation of her parents, she was moved many times between Mississippi, Wisconsin and Tennessee to split childcare between family members various. During the years that Oprah lived with her mother in a dangerous Milwaukee ghetto, she was left unsupervised and at the mercy of her abusive and predatory relatives. From the ages of 9 and 14, Oprah endured many counts of sexual harassment while her mother worked odd jobs to get by. Despite growing up destitute and downtrodden, Oprah never felt defeated. 'I don't think of myself as a poor deprived ghetto girl who made good,' She states, 'I think of myself as somebody who from an early age knew I was responsible for myself, and I had to make good.' She, like Rowling, claims that her past taught her something truly valuable: remarkable empathy. 'I know what it feels like to not be wanted... you can use it as a stepping stone to build great empathy for people.' The compassion that was learnt from her traumatic childhood was what later proved to be Oprah's biggest asset as a talk show host, and because of this, she was even named by Time magazine as one of the 100 people who most influenced the 20th century. Oprah attributes her strength to her unrelenting faith, and ability to turn her wounds into wisdom. Whilst her positive attitude continues to inspire millions of people all over the world, she still remains one of the most humble women in showbiz. 'I still have my feet on the ground,' She says, 'I just wear better shoes.'
Known for: WhatsApp
Net Worth: $9.7 Billion
Jan Koum, CEO and cofounder of instant messaging application Whatsapp, was born in 1976 to a humble Ukrainian family just outside of Kiev. Koum and his family spent many years living in a home with no hot water whilst they worked around the clock to make ends meet, eventually migrating to California to escape the conditions of Ukrainian poverty. Koum, then aged 16, began sweeping floors at a Mountview grocery store to help contribute, and lived off the charity of government food stamps. After losing his father in 1997, and mother in 2000, Koum began teaching himself to computer programme using manuals from a second hand bookshop. Landing an engineering role at Yahoo!, Koum honed his programming abilities and put them to use by setting up his own mobile messaging platform which then launched in 2009. Whatsapp now has over 1 billion monthly users, and is the most popular messaging app worldwide, ranking first in a staggering 109 countries. The idea for Whatsapp came from a need for secrecy, which he was deprived of in Ukraine: 'I grew up in a society where everything you did was eavesdropped on, recorded, snitched on. I had friends when we were kids getting into trouble for telling anecdotes about Communist leaders.' Koum's idea for Whatsapp was born from something he experienced during a difficult childhood, which he then moulded into something positive using technical prowess. A prowess that didn't go unnoticed, as In 2014, Koum sold Whatsapp to Facebook for a whopping $19bn. Quite ironic seeing as Koum's business partner and Whatsapp Co-founder, Brian Acton, was rejected for a role at Facebook just months prior to the launch of Whatsapp.
Known for: Starbucks
Net Worth: $2 billion
Founder of The Starbucks Corporation, Howard Schultz, grew up from the age of 3 in a Brooklyn housing complex for the poor. While his mother looked after him and his siblings, his father provided for the family by driving trucks delivering baby supplies. When Schultz was 7, his father broke his ankle and was unable to continue working. With no health insurance or compensation to fall back on, the Schultz family were left completely without income. Schultz was saddened to see his father a broken man, unable to provide for the family and invested all of his energies into improving the family circumstances.
Gaining a football scholarship to Northern Michigan, Schultz excelled both academically and athletically, but after deciding not to pursue football, Schultz took on part-time jobs and even donated blood to pay for tuition and becoming the first in his family to attain a college education. After graduation, he began working for Xerox in sales and buying roles before taking over a coffee shop, which would later be the start of his worldwide conglomerate. Schultz became the company's CEO in 1987 and continued expanding until Starbucks reached 25,000 outlets in 2016.
In spite of his already notable success, he is up by 4:30 every morning, striving to create an even better business. Schultz claims that Starbucks was born out of seeing his father struggle professionally: 'I grew up in a working class family where there was no health insurance. I saw first hand the fracturing of the American dream and the bitterness that comes when there is no hope and a lot of despair. So I wanted to build the company, in a sense, that my father never got a chance to work for.'
Known for: Ralph Lauren Corporation Design Company
Net Worth: $7.8 Billion
Born to Jewish immigrants having fled Belarus, Ralph Lauren always dreamed of the glamourous life he wasn't afforded as a child. Becoming enamoured with cinema and the likes of Cary Grant and Fred Astaire, Ralph Lauren looked for escapism in the world of fashion. Due to family circumstances, Ralph began selling handmade ties after school from the age of 12.
It has been said that Ralph Lauren doesn't much like to reflect back on his roots, but he was always extremely driven, even once writing just the word 'millionaire' under 'goals' in his High School yearbook. Following High School in the Bronx, Lauren dropped out of college and moved to New York in pursuit of the American Dream. With only his High School diploma and a few business credits, Lauren then worked his way up from a low-paid glove salesman to billionaire fashion tycoon over the course of two decades.
Lauren has said he had felt underestimated because of his upbringing, claiming that: ''People ask how can a Jewish kid from the Bronx do preppy clothes? Does it have to do with class and money? It has to do with dreams.' Ralph Lauren certainly proved any sceptics that this really was the case.
Let these fantastic business minds be a reminder of exactly what can be achieved if you continue to merely 'show up'. If we're ever feeling defeated, we can take strength from those who have overcome hurdles that may very well put ours to shame.
Instead of just enduring obstacles, these successes actually used them as springboards to success. Obstacles weren't deterrents to them, they were incentives. Some took inspiration for a product, a service, or business model, others developed skills in endurance and resilience- they used lessons learnt from hardships to carve themselves a niche or unique angle on fashion, literature, TV, retail or technology.
These entrepreneurs aren't great in spite of their hardships - they are great because of them. Adversity can make or break a person - it's you that decides which.
Special mention goes to...
Known for: Microsoft
Net Worth: $75bn
Although Bill Gates certainly did not grow up in want of anything, he never once used his family's wealth in his own business endeavours. Instead, Bill Gates is an advocate for social responsibility and has even said he will not be passing on his fortunes to his heirs. He believes that success and merit should be earned, not merely inherited. Too right, Mr. Gates. Too right.
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