Lots of entrepreneurs get off to a rocky or humbling beginning yet go on to become wildly successful. Here’s a glimpse at five who, despite their early challenges, managed to make their own way in life. We can learn from their endeavors and find opportunities in the unlikeliest places.
1. Start a juice stand. As a young boy growing up in Honolulu, Hawaii, Steve Case demonstrated his undying entrepreneurial spirit by starting a juice stand with his brother using limes grown in their backyard. He and his brother Daniel went on to share a paper route, sell seeds and magazine subscriptions and start a company they called Case Enterprises.
Case eventually worked for Procter & Gamble and while traveling, tinkered with the personal computer, which back then was considered a novelty device. He became intrigued with the possibilities of the online world.
His brother Daniel, who had become an investment banker, introduced him to the directors of Control Video, a struggling computer game company. They offered Case a job as a marketing assistant on the spot, and he took it so he could pursue his vision of an interactive world of computer-based communication and entertainment.
In 1989, Case created his own branded online service named America Online. Quantum Computer Services, a company Case had founded and was running, changed its name to America Online, Inc. in 1991.
Case now devotes much of his time and energy to philanthropic activities. (Sources: Wikipedia; Online Encyclopedia)
2. Read aloud and perform recitations. Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Oprah Winfrey was reared by her grandmother on a farm where, at the age of 3, she started building the foundation for her broadcasting career by learning to read aloud and perform recitations. From age 6 to 13, she lived in Milwaukee with her mother. After suffering abuse and molestation, she ran away and was sent to a juvenile detention home at the age of 13, only to be denied admission because all the beds were filled. As a last desperate measure, she was sent to Nashville to live under her father's strict discipline.
At 17, Winfrey's broadcasting career began. She was hired by WVOL radio in Nashville, and two short years later signed on with WTVF-TV in Nashville as a reporter and anchor.
She headed for Chicago in January 1984 to host WLS-TV's "AM Chicago," a near hopeless local talk show. In less than a year, she turned "AM Chicago" into the most popular show in town. The format was soon expanded to one hour, and in 1985 it was renamed "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
When Forbes magazine published its list of America's billionaires for 2003, it revealed that Winfrey was the first African-American woman to become a billionaire. (Sources: Wikipedia; Fresh Thinking Business, and Amazon)
3. Develop an independent streak. At nine months, Larry Ellison contracted pneumonia, and his unmarried 19-year-old mother living in New York gave him up to her aunt and uncle in Chicago. Until he was 12 years old he did not know he was adopted. As a boy, Ellison showed an independent streak and often clashed with his adoptive father. From an early age, he showed a strong aptitude for math and science.
During the final exams in his second year in college, Ellison's adoptive mother died, and he dropped out of school. He enrolled at the University of Chicago the following fall, but dropped out again after the first semester. His adoptive father was now convinced that Ellison would never make anything of himself, but the seemingly aimless young man had already learned the elements of computer programming in Chicago. He took this skill with him to Berkeley, California, arriving with just enough money for fast food and a few tanks of gas.
For the next eight years, Ellison bounced from job to job, working as a technician for Fireman's Fund and Wells Fargo bank. As a programmer at Ampex, he helped build the first IBM-compatible mainframe system.
In 1977, Ellison and two of his Ampex colleagues founded their own company, Software Development Labs. They went on to win a two-year contract to build a relational database management system (RDBMS) for the CIA. The project's code name: Oracle.
They finished the project a year ahead of schedule and used the extra time to develop their system for commercial applications. They named their commercial RDBMS Oracle as well. In 1980, Ellison's company had only eight employees, and revenues were less than $1 million, but the following year, IBM itself adopted Oracle for its mainframe systems, and Oracle's sales doubled every year for the next seven years.
The million-dollar company grew into a billion-dollar company. Ellison renamed the company Oracle Corporation, for its best-selling product. Oracle went public in 1986, raising $31.5 million with its initial public offering. (Sources: Wikipedia; Woopidoo)
4. Backpack through India. Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco to Joanne Carole Schieble and Abdulfattah John Jandali and adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs. He spent his childhood in the South Bay area, a region that would later become known as Silicon Valley. During high school, Jobs held a summer job at the Hewlett-Packard Company in Palo Alto before attending college. His original association with Steven Wozniak began as a result of attending lectures and working at HP.
Although he attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Jobs never graduated, having spent only about six months at college. He returned to California in 1974 and began attending meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club with his friend Wozniak. At the same time he took a job at Atari to save money for a spiritual retreat to India. While working there he discovered that a popular whistle recreated the tones needed to make long distance phone calls with AT&T. Jobs convinced Wozniak to go into business with him to make blue boxes and sell them to people desiring to make free long distance phone calls.
Jobs ended up backpacking through India but returned to work with Atari. He continued to work with Wozniak on other projects and finally convinced him to market a computer Wozniak had built for himself. On April 1, 1976, Apple Inc. was born.
Jobs has grown Apple from a company bordering on bankruptcy in the 1990s to a very successful company today. He has helped establish the new electronic divisions and personally helped create the iPod, iPhone, and other personal devices. (Sources: Wikipedia; Woopidoo)
5. Sell sketches to neighbors. Walt Disney was raised on a farm near Marceline, Missouri, and became interested in drawing at an early age, selling his first sketches to neighbors when he was only 7 years old.
In 1918, Disney attempted to enlist for military service. Rejected because he was only 16 years old, Disney joined the Red Cross and was sent overseas, where he spent a year driving an ambulance and chauffeuring Red Cross officials. His ambulance was covered, not with stock camouflage, but with drawings and cartoons.
After the war, Disney returned to Kansas City, where he began his career as an advertising cartoonist. In 1920, he created and marketed his first original animated cartoons, and later perfected a new method for combining live-action and animation.
In 1923, Disney left Kansas City for Hollywood with nothing but a few drawing materials, less than $50 in his pocket and a completed animated and live-action film. His brother, Roy Disney, was already in California, with an immense amount of support and $250. Combining their resources, they borrowed an additional $500, and constructed a camera stand in their uncle's garage. Soon, they received an order from New York for the first "Alice Comedy" feature. The brothers began their production operation in the back of a Hollywood real estate office two blocks away.
Mickey Mouse was created in 1928 with his first sound screen debut in "Steamboat Willie," the world's first fully-synchronized sound cartoon. In 1940 construction was completed on the Burbank Studio, and in 1955 the Disneyland Park opened. (Sources: Wikipedia; Amazon)
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What lessons can you learn from these global entrepreneurial icons who changed the face of American culture? In going after a dream, exercise unbridled enthusiasm until you achieve it. So do something unusual to manifest your own latent entrepreneurial capabilities: start a juice stand, backpack to India or sell a sketch to a neighbor. You never know where it will lead.