Home Billionaires How These 15 Billionaires Had To Fail To Succeed

How These 15 Billionaires Had To Fail To Succeed

Loraine November 27, 2017

If you’ve ever felt like you’re a failure, you should take a look at this list of distinguished billionaires. All of them had major setbacks whether it was through bad decisions or rejections. The one common characteristic they all tend to share is their ability to bounce back. They persevered past failures and used it as fuel to be better next time. In the end, they all experienced wild success and serve as an inspiration to those striving to make it in the world.

Attributed to CNBC

1. Jeff Bezos Failures with Amazon

Jeff Bezos may be one of the richest people in the world now but it wasn’t an easy road to get to where he is today. He is the CEO of Amazon.com and also happens to own the Washington Post. Bezos had an affinity for computers before it was a thing. He studied both computer science and electrical engineering at Princeton University.

After graduating, he did a stint on Wall Street and was the youngest senior VP at D.E. Shaw, an investment firm. He quit his job to follow his dreams which was to open Amazon.com in the mid 90’s. Through the wild success of his online bookstore, he is still one of the biggest success stories for online business ideas to date. He then bought the Washington Post for $250 million.

This surprised a lot of people because the Post had been steadily declining for years and he knew nothing about running a newspaper. It took Bezos just three years to change how the newspaper communicated relevant news. The Washington Post is 140 years old but Bezos lead it into the new age. Readership has exploded and content is better suited to our digital world today.

There were mistakes along the way that could have deterred him but he kept pursuing his goals to get Amazon off the ground. When Amazon started selling toys as well as books, he changed the business model. He purchased more than 100 million toys and had them warehoused for an anticipated Christmas season. After Christmas, there were still 50 million toys left which had to be donated because they didn’t have the space. The Fire Phone was not a hit when launched in 2014. The public found it to be gimmicky and it was discontinued.

Despite whatever missteps occurred with business ideas, Bezos has come on top with equally great ideas. He didn’t let fear of failure get in the way of innovative ideas that made him extremely rich. How rich? $95.8 billion rich.

Attributed to deluxebattery.com

2. Nick Woodman – GO Pro Founder

Fun Bug was Nick Woodman’s first big idea. He gathered together investors who consequently lost millions in funds due to this failed business idea. Fun Bug was a marketing company that was going to bring together marketing with gaming. It was a total flop but Woodman gained insight to successfully launch his next venture, the GO Pro.

Nick Woodman had a modest beginning and a rocky road to get to the success story he is today. Before the launch of GO Pro, he and his wife were selling jewelry made from shells out of their VW van in California. They managed to save $30,000 doing so and then borrowed $235,000 from his parent.

Ten years later, their company went public. There are more than 1,700 employees working for Nick’s company and is worth over a billion dollars.
Go PRO has been worth more than it is today due to shares of the stock falling dramatically due to production issues. Woodman is convinced that profitability will return by the end of 2017. He knows all about life’s ups and downs. He knows that to be successful, you just have to persevere. Currently, he is looking to ensure that GO Pro can capitalize on the virtual reality market.

He also says that his success as an entrepreneur is a result of his perseverance and dedication. A great quote by Woodman is this,
“I think the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who tell themselves, ‘I am going to die before I give up on this effort.'”
Nick Woodman is currently worth $2.25 billion which might be considered a baby billionaire. It’s a long way up from selling shells out of a VW van though.

Attributed to zimbio

3. Fred Smith and FedEx

Fred Smith had a dream. He wanted to create an overnight delivery service but the road to achieve this dream was long. Today, FedEx ships over 10 million packages every day in 220 countries. An argument with a professor while he attended Yale was the inspiration he needed to develop a business model for an express, overnight delivery service.

His plans were halted and his idea would have to wait as he fought in the Vietnam War. He almost died during a Vietcong ambush. He survived though and when he did, he continued on with development of FedEx. Federal Express was founded in 1971 after raising $91 billion in venture capital. Officially, operation began in 1973.

Now this part is like some glamorous Hollywood story. During the first few years of the business, Smith accumulated $29 million in losses. Desperation lead him to fly to Las Vegan where he actually won $27,000 in blackjack. He wired it back to FedEx immediately. In 1976, FedEx brought in $75 million in revenue but is still in debt. In 1978, the company goes public.

FedEx purchased the Flying Tiger cargo line in Asia for $880 million but it wasn’t easy to integrate the company’s to work together. This caused their net income to drop from $185 million in 1989 to $6 million just two years later. In 2009, the great recession caused FedEx to take a financial beating. In 2007, they had $2 billion in profit and by 2009, they had a $98 million profit.

Smith called for saving within the company where they could, diversified for international growth and focused more on e-commerce. In 2013, they experienced a record sales high of $1.6 billion. Fred Smith is currently worth $4.8 billion despite decades of ups and downs.

Attributed to CNBC

4. Walt Disney Living on Dog Food

Walter Elias Disney and his brother co-founded Walt Disney Productions. It is one of the most world-renowned motion-picture production companies on a worldwide scale. Walt himself won 22 Academy Awards and founded Disneyland and Walt Disney World. It was anything but smooth sailing for him however.

In the early days, Walt Disney was told he has no creativity. He had a failed production company as well. There was a point where he had to eat dog food and couldn’t make rent. When he did create something meaningful and lucrative, it was stolen from him. Oswald the Rabbit was a character he had created and it was taken away. Walt and his brother Roy had struck a deal with Margaret Winkler to distribute their Alice series cartoons. In the midst of this venture, they also created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

When Disney realized a few years later that Winkler had stolen the rights to Oswald, they were compelled to produce three cartoons. This was when Mickey Mouse was introduced to the world. Story over right? No. MGM rejected Mickey claiming that women had a major fear of mice.

The screening of Pinocchio ended up being a disaster when Disney hired some little people to stand on the marquee dressed as puppets. They were supposed to wave at parents and kids coming into the theater. Disney’s fatal mistake perhaps was feeding them wine because by the time the screening started, the little people he hired were drunk, in the nude and swearing obscenities at the crowd.

One of his earliest ventures, Laugh-o-gram Studios went bankrupt. If anything could have gone wrong for one creator, it seemed to for Disney. He never gave up though. Today, he has been nominated for 59 academy awards, won 32 of those nominees and holds the records for Oscars won by one person. Disney died in 1966 with a speculated worth of about $80 million which was a great deal of money back then. I’d say he was close enough to being a billionaire.

Attributed to CNBC

5. Steve Jobs College Drop Out

Steve Jobs had a great deal of failures before he ultimately reached success. He dropped out of Reed College in Oregon after one semester. He quit one of his first jobs as well to backpack around India and indulge in psychedelic drugs. He does attribute these experiences as inspiration for his branding however so maybe it was more advantageous than college.

Some of Steve’s failure was the Apple I which didn’t do what it was supposed to during the initial launch. He had created an epic commercial which was showcased during the Superbowl but the product just didn’t stick with people. The Apple Lisa (named after his daughter). Ever heard of it? Nobody really has. It’s something of a legend and was another product that cost plenty to develop but saw no return.

Jobs also made some bad investments with purchasing other companies. In the mid 80’s, George Lucas was selling off his Pixar graphics arm of LucasFilms. He was selling the company for $10 million, believing it could never make that much money anyway. Steve Jobs purchased it but not to make Toy Story. He believed it had the potential to be a great hardware company. While he didn’t make money with a new hardware company, he did support the co-founders that created the full feature film Toy Story.

There were times when Jobs was extremely frustrated but that only propelled him to push forward. He lost millions for Apple and continued to make decisions without listening to people. This would eventually see him ousted from Apple in the 1980’s.
In 1997, he came back to Apple and helped in leading the company through major growth. The innovation he helped with is what has made Apple so lucrative today. Before he died, he had a net worth of $8.3 billion.

Attributed to thestreet.com

6. Warren Buffet and his Berkshire Hathaway Purchase

It is probably only Warren Buffet that judges himself for the purchase of Berkshire Hathaway today. Buffet bought controlling interest in the company so he could fire its CEO. Buffett later recalled this to be a 200 billion mistake. He had wasted so much of his time and money on a textile mill, he had no more capital to use funds on more profitable ventures.

Most of us wouldn’t see the failure in this, However, Buffett insists that if he hadn’t spent money on Berkshire Hathaway and had purchased a company selling insurance, he would have doubled the returns through his career. In spite of all this, Berkshire will historically be one of the great investment success stories. Buffet learned a lot about himself in that he realized it was his arrogance that caused him to fail.

In contrast, his confidence and persistence to move past that failure allowed him to create success regardless. He was stuck with the business so he made it work. He kept the sinking ship alive, saved it from bankruptcy and brought it back. He couldn’t use his original business model for Berkshire so he turned it from textile company to investment company.

He is the third wealthiest person in the world, turning Berkshire Hathaway into one of the world’s biggest holding companies. He shared ownership in businesses like Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs and Apple. He is worth close to $70 billion.

Attributed to CNBC

7. Arianna Huffington and Her Many Rejections

Arianna Huffington is hugely successful today, reaching wealth and success that is sadly rarely found in female inventors and entrepreneurs. She had her fair share of rejections however. Probably more than any man who was equally as talented and educated actually. She ran for governor in California and only received 1% of the popular vote.

She took something away from her failed political attempts however. She has said that running for office taught her about how powerful the internet can be. She used that to launch The Huffington Post. It is a news website and blog that is well-known and visited by probably everyone looking for informative information.

When she wrote her second book, it was rejected by nearly 40 different publishers. Her view of failure is very positive. She truly sees it as a means toward success and with that belief, she doesn’t let it stop her. It merely propels her forward.

She sold Huffington Post and started a new venture. The site sold for $313 million and she got 6.6% of the sale. Currently, she is worth $50 million but if she continues striving the way she has, she’ll be part of the billionaires club soon enough.

Attributed to Geddy Images

8. Bill Gates, the Failure of Traf-O-Data and Harvard Drop Out

Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard University and he was also co-owner of the failed Traf-o-Data idea. Traf-o-Data read and analyzed data from roadway counters. This would create reports for traffic engineers. The problem was nobody cared about the data. They tried to sell their product all the way to South America but no takers. While the idea was good, their business model was not. They did no market research and had no scope of the difficulties of capital commitments. In six years, Traf-o-Data experienced net losses of $3,494.

Another failure from Gates was to not capitalize on the opportunities the internet offered. Bill wanted to protect Windows so he didn’t create a strategy to keep Windows and Microsoft systems ahead of the pack. Microsoft’s positioning therefore declined at the beginning of the new millennium.

Said to be one of the biggest mistakes in tech was investing in Apple. Microsoft bailed out Apple with $150 million investment in stock buys. Apple got the funding it needed to basically reinvent itself and come out as one of the biggest, most innovate companies in history. This leads one to ask, if Apple had crashed and burned, would Microsoft’s mp3 player be the one on top today?
Despite these mistakes, Bill Gates is worth nearly $90 billion today.

Attributed to i.pinimg.com

9. Thomas Edison Failed 1,000 Times

Most of us think of a few failures in our life as enough to deter us from trying again. Let Edison be your inspiration that you should never stop trying.
Thomas Edison was the inventor of the light bulb. Although, not quite a billionaire, the amount of failures he experienced is what put him on this list. He was an inventor and when attempting to successfully create the lightbulb, he failed 1,000 times. To honor this great man, I will use his words, he used 1,000 steps to achieve success. That’s how he viewed failures, as steps to success.

Edison was told by his teachers at a young age that he was too stupid to learn anything. He wasn’t successful in the workplace either. Edison was fired from his first two jobs for lack of productivity. In the end, Edison was extremely successful. He was an inventor, scientist and businessman whose inventions are greatly appreciated by us today.

He is a legend who significantly impacted the world. He invented the phonograph, the motion picture camera, electric generating system, sound-recording device, and a long-lasting light bulb.
While Edison was never a billionaire, nobody had been as of yet. He died in 1931 with a property value of $12 million.

Attributed to ourownstartup

10. Richard Branson Failed A Lot

Richard Branson is well-known for his success and his epic fails as well. Some call his approach to business much like a scattered gun. He owns 400 companies under the Virgin brand so in the end, he’s still on top. Branson dropped out of school at 16 and started a magazine called “Student.” The magazine idea didn’t work very well so he started a mail-order business selling records and advertised it in the magazine. It was a good move and made Branson realize that the business he should be in was records.
He opened up his record shop and named it Virgin.

Branson tried to create a community much like Facebook in 2000 called VirginStudent. Though not called social networking at the time, it had similar functions to Facebook. It was shut down five years later because there were a bunch of technical problems.
Virgin Cola was another business fail which was associated with alcoholic drinks such as Virgin Vodka. Branson learned that he couldn’t go up against the big soft drink makers. They fought him and he lost. He did see success with Virgin Wines, selling it to Direct Wines with $74 million in sales this year.

Other flops includes Virgin cosmetics, Virgin lingerie, and Virgin cars. Virginware closed with a fire sale offering 35,000 pairs of Virgin-branded undergarments. Only 2,000 cars were sold when Branson estimated they would sell 24,000. Virgin Megastores ultimately closed down too. He admits that maybe the failure was not letting the Megastores go sooner. He saw them as a great marketing strategy without seeing how big that marketing bill actually was.

Despite the failures, he has made a lot of incredible business choices. He currently has a net worth of over $5 billion.

11. Oprah Winfrey and Her Many Setbacks

The story of Oprah Winfrey is an inspiring one. You will notice that there are not many women on this list. Success in a man’s world is rare as a woman, never mind a black woman who did not grow up with privilege. She has persevered through some major setbacks in her life and come out a shining star.

Oprah was born in Mississippi to a broke teen mom. She was abused at age 9 and ran away from home at 13. Things started to change for Oprah when she moved in with her dad and took her studies seriously. She was a natural at debate and won a state beauty pageant. She worked reading the news for a radio station and eventually earned a scholarship.

She gained a lot of notoriety and was given a post-graduate job in Nashville. Life progressed quickly and that opportunity turned into a better opportunity with an affiliate of ABC. She became a primetime news co-anchor, which at this time, was unheard of. The network used Oprah to widen their viewership and put a lot of expectations on her to succeed. The show failed and she was blamed for it. They demoted her to writing and reporting. She wasn’t so great at writing.

Oprah floundered for a few years doing gigs she wasn’t that fond of, finding her ground on things that mattered. She ended up taking a co-hosting job on a show called People are Talking. The show ran for five years and Oprah was then recruited to run a morning talk show in Chicago. Her show took off, superseding the success of Phil Donahue who was the leader at the time. The Oprah Winfrey Show ran for 25 years and she became one of the most influential and wealthiest women in the US. Oprah is worth $3 billion.

12. Mark Cuban and His Failed Powdered Milk Business

Mark Cuban is no stranger to failure. Though he has achieved a lot in his professional life, it took grit and determination to get to where he is today. He failed quite miserably at a good few jobs early on. He tried to lay down carpet but was no good at that job. He was a short-order cook with no natural talent for it. As a server, he had a hard time uncorking wine bottles with finesse.

When he did branch out and try his first business venture after finished business school, he invested in the powdered milk business. His only customers were his parents. He learned that it’s important to launch something sustainable.

Cuban moved to Dallas to work at a software program company. His initiative would be do his detriment as he was fired after landing a big sale. This was a wake up that he needed to be working for himself. Cuban was living in poverty for a while, having a credit card cut up and his electricity cut off at one point. He found his big break with MicroSolutions which he would sell later for $6 million. He bought the majority stake of the Dallas MAvericks in 2000.

Even then, he failed to re-resign Steve Nash because he didn’t see his potential. He ended up joining the Suns and winning MVP two years straight. He also experienced big failure in his first TV show. The Benefactor was cancelled before the first season aired due to really bad ratings. He is now the wealthiest shark on Shark Tank and is worth $3.4 billion.

Attributed to djirehub.com

13. Sheldon Adelson Lost His Fortune Twice Early On

Sheldon Adelson is an extremely successful investor and is founder, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation. He owns casinos in Singapore and pretty much brought gambling to Macau. He started his entrepreneurial career at the early age of 12. He borrowed $200 from his uncle and got himself a license to sell newspapers in Boston.

When he was 16, he borrowed $10,000 from his uncle to start his own candy-vending machine business. Later on in life, he started using his successful recipe for bigger ventures. He sold toiletry kits and chemical spray to help clear off frosty windshields. By the time he hit his 30s, he had been a millionaire twice and lost his fortune.

Later on, he had to manage the big losses that came from the financial crisis. After the stock market crash, his net worth went from $28 billion down to $3 billion. There had been a massive debt for Sands’ big expansion and it had to be paid off. Adelson had to use his own money to keep Sands above water. This big risk eventually paid off for him and he was back in business once the economy recovered. The value of the stock for Sands has increased over 7000% in five years. Forbes listed him as having a $37.2 billion fortune.

14. Larry Ellison Nearly Sunk Oracle at One Point

Larry Ellison has a long history of risk taking. Initially, his life was laid out in front of him with expectations of becoming a doctor, getting married and having kids. While he went forward with medical school, his heart wasn’t in it. He dropped out of premed school and moved to California where he became an environmentalist. He did some computer programming, worked as a rock climbing and a river guide.

He was having a great time but his wife was not impressed with his lack of ambition. She kicked him out of the house and they divorced. Ellison looks back on this as a pivotal moment in his life. It allowed him to focus on the things he cared about finally, not what others expected him to care about.

He did a lot of job changing and experimenting through his 20’s. He was instrumental in creating a new database that was deemed essential technology at the beginning of the information age. Oracle was created and of course his family never accused him for lacking ambition again.

There were some challenges at the beginning of Oracle’s life. The sales team overstated the revenues to get bigger commissions. This forced them to restate their earnings two times which caused market capitalization to drop by 80%. Oracle was on the verge of bankruptcy four years after its initial public offering on the stock market.

Massive lawsuits and an overhaul of the senior staff helped them get back credibility. Ellison still feels that releasing incorrect earning statements was just bad business. Oracle and Ellison have moved way past this growing pain and he is the fifth richest person in the world. He currently has a net worth of $56 billion.

Attributed to y-oman.com

15. James Dyson and His Bag-less Vacuum Cleaners

James Dyson was not born a great inventor. He had no specific talents or gifts. Inventors that are familiar to us are considered grinders. People that simply didn’t quit, like Thomas Edison. Sir James Dyson is one of those people. Due to frustration of his own vacuum experience, he committed to creating a bag-less vacuum cleaner. He now sells his bag-less vacuum cleaners in over 50 countries around the world and it has made him a billionaire. Before he succeeded, he experienced a lot of failures.

One might even say he failed 5127 times. That’s how many prototypes he created in the name of the perfect vacuum cleaner. It took him 15 years to create a product he was willing to take to the market. His first vacuum made its debut in 1993. To create the vacuum based on Dyson’s patented principle which can only be described as a cyclone effect was the means in which to create a bag-less vacuum cleaner.

This is what Dyson had to say about his journey to success,
‘There are countless times an inventor can give up on an idea. By the time I made my 15th prototype, my third child was born. By 2,627, my wife and I were really counting our pennies. By 3,727, my wife was giving art lessons for some extra cash. These were tough times, but each failure brought me closer to solving the problem.’
Partially thanks to his supportive wife coupled with his unrelenting drive regardless of failures, Dyson was going to succeed. Today James Dyson has a net worth of $ 4.5 billion.

All of these highly successful billionaires were at points in their life where they failed. Each of them will tell you failure is a part of success. Without it, you will never know what you’re doing wrong. We are a goal-oriented species so it’s in our nature to just keep going until we get it right. Society may have taught us to play safe in life but without the courage to fail, none of the highly successful people on this list would have made it to where they are today.