10 Famous Entrepreneurs With a Surprising Past

10 Famous Entrepreneurs With a Surprising Past
10 Famous Entrepreneurs With a Surprising Past

TED TURNER. photo credit: biography.com

Most of the famous entrepreneurs we idolize had a modest success (or failure) before they started the businesses that made them famous. So why are so many of us clinging to our first business like it is our life’s work?

if we can agree that starting a business is a creative process, why do so many of us stop after just one creation?

Can you imagine any other artist working on a single canvas for a lifetime? Would a cabinetmaker spend his entire life fussing over just one credenza? What if the Beatles had stopped writing songs after “She Loves You”? What if Robert De Niro had stopped acting after The Godfather?

Nowhere does it say that your first business has to be your only business. Sometimes, you need to start your first to get the hang of entrepreneurship. Then, move on with the lessons–and maybe a little capital–and start a second business.

That’s exactly what these household names did:

  1. Elon Musk, best known as the founder of Tesla, started with Zip2, which offered internet-based city guides.
  2. Richard Branson, best known as the founder of Virgin, started with Student Magazine.
  3. Sam Walton, best known as the founder of Walmart, started as a Butler Brothers store franchisee.
  4. Reid Hoffman, best known as the founder of LinkedIn, started with the dating website SocialNet.com.
  5. Ted Turner, best known as the founder of CNN, started with Turner Outdoor Advertising.
  6. David Geffen, best known as the co-founder of DreamWorks SKG, started with Asylum Records.
  7. Jack Taylor, best known as the founder of Enterprise Rent-a-Car, started with a delivery service company.
  8. Howard Schultz, best known as the founder of Starbucks, started with the independent coffee shop Il Giornale.
  9. Travis Kalanick, best known as the founder of Uber, started with the multimedia search engine Scour.
  10. Sheldon Adelson, best known as the founder of Las Vegas Sands, started with the tradeshow business Comdex.

According to our research over at the Sellability Score, 76 percent of business owners say they want to exit their business in the next decade, but only a tiny fraction of them–we estimate fewer than 10 percent–actually will.

It seems many us say we want to sell but very few pull the trigger.

The Accidental Business

Did you stumble into your business by accident? Were you always dreaming of having the company you run today–or did it just kind of happen? In my case, every business I’ve started evolved out of something else.

For example, I kind of stumbled into the Sellability Score after writing a book calledBuilt to Sell. No grand plan; it just sort of evolved.

Some entrepreneurs go to Babson College, write a business plan, and then execute; but I don’t think I’m alone in forging a less direct route. Many owners find themselves running a company they never dreamed of owning. They just saw an opportunity and jumped in, or they found a problem and figured they could solve it, or they were given a business and inherited their parent’s dream.

If we got into business out of happenstance, why do we remain so loyal to something that was never our dream in the first place? So many of the entrepreneurs I know are running the same business they started decades ago. Do they love their business? Some do, but most are doing it out of inertia or some sort of stoicism, and the next thing you know, their most creative, energetic days are behind them.

We celebrate stories of business leaders who persevere in the face of enormous challenges, as if they were actors in some Hollywood movie. How many times have you heard the legend of Colonel Sanders attempting to sell his fried chicken recipe 1,000 times?

Tenacity is an admirable quality and certainly a necessary ingredient for business success. But there’s a difference between being determined and being a martyr. If you’ve built a successful business by accident, congratulations! Now ask yourself why you’re sticking with it. Why not sell it?

Likewise, if you’re failing or treading water, why not close up shop and start something new? That’s exactly what Henry Ford did. Ford started with the Detroit Automobile Company, ran it for five years, and then shut it down in 1901–two years before he started the Ford Motor Company. The mistakes he made on the Detroit Automobile Company made Ford a better business.

How much more successful will your next business be if you can leverage the lessons–and maybe some capital–into something new?

Written by: John Warrillow


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