5 Entrepreneurs Who Started With Nothing — and 3 Lessons to Learn

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

It’s not uncommon to hear about entrepreneurs who used the wealth they made from a previous endeavor to build a thriving new startup, or about seasoned business owners who took over a decades-old franchise and transformed it into something new. These stories are inspiring in their own way; but to me, it’s even more inspiring to hear about people who started with nothing.

These are entrepreneurs who started their journey with no capital, no funding and sometimes no education or experience, yet despite the odds were still able to build massive successes.

How did these people accomplish such unlikely feats, and what can we, as entrepreneurs, learn from them?

1. John Paul DeJoria

With a loan of just $700, the two of them started a business that turned into the conglomerate now known as John Paul Mitchell Systems. Later, DeJoria co-founded Patron Spirits, and was a founding partner of the House of Blues chain. Today, he’s worth more than $3.1 billion.

2. Kevin Plank

Soon after, he made a landmark sale of $17,000 to Georgia Tech University, and in a wave of momentum, made sales to two dozen NFL teams. From there, he went on, in just a few years, to cultivate millions in sales and hire hundreds of employees. Today, Under Armour does nearly $2 billion in retail sales, and has 5,900 employees.

3. Jan Koum

He spent a decade in that industry before realizing the huge potential of the app industry in 2009 and starting WhatsApp Inc. By 2014, WhatsApp had become enormously popular. Facebook bought the app for a staggering $19 billion.

4. Sam Walton

He relied on a $25,000 loan from his father-in-law to fund that initial purchase, and was an instant success in the retail industry. The first official Walmart was opened in 1962, in Rogers, Ark.; and by 1976, Walmart was worth more than $176 million. At one point, Walton was considered the wealthiest man in the United States.

5. George Soros

His most famous move was shorting the British pound in the early 1990s — which made him $1 billion in a single day.

Key lessons to learn

Debt is a viable option. Debt is scary to take on, especially when your idea isn’t a sure bet, but almost everyone on this list got a loan at some point to establish early momentum. As long as you have a plan to pay it back, debt can be a valuable tool.

Invest in yourself. You need to invest in yourself before you invest in anything else, by focusing on improving your skills, education and experience. Without self-investment, you won’t be able to build a business, let alone sustain one.

Look to the future. These savvy entrepreneurs didn’t enter a market that already existed; they created new ones, or made bets on how current markets would evolve. Future-focused strategies always win out over present-focused ones.

Entrepreneurs can come from humble beginnings, so long as they’re willing to work hard, commit to their ideas and take the risks necessary to see those ideas become reality. Take inspiration from the massive successes who have come before you, and don’t let a lack of money or experience dissuade you from following your dreams.

For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!

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