5 Billionaires Who Failed Before Succeeding

Entertainment Culture and Lifestyle
Jul 6, 2019

Rags to riches: Disney, Rowling, Branson, Dyson, and Winfrey

H as a recent failure or the stress of schoolwork brought you down? Get inspiration from these 5 billionaires on how they overcame the adversities in their lives.

Walt Disney 

It was good to experience huge failures when you were young.

The Walt Disney Company current net worth: $130 billion 

Before Walt Disney became the entertainment mogul we know him today, he first had to go through challenges.

  • At 16, he quit school to join the Army, but he was rejected for being underage. He joined the Red Cross instead.
  • He applied as an intern in a newspaper but was fired because he “lacked imagination and had no original ideas.”
  • He started the Laugh-O-Gram Studio which went bankrupt after the second year.  
  • Lost his first original character, Oswald the Rabbit, because it was licensed under his former partner Charles Mintz.
  • The bankruptcy of the Laugh-O-Gram studio left Disney bankrupt. He moved to Los Angeles where he created Mickey Mouse and his first spoken animation movie.

JK Rowling

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.

Net worth: $1 billion

The years preceding the publication of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling went through internal and external challenges, some of which she even incorporated in the novel.

  • Lost her mother at the age of 25, six months after she began writing Harry Potter.
  • In 1992, she married Portuguese TV journalist Jorge Arantes, and had a daughter. However, their marriage lasted only 13 months. 
  • After moving to Edinburgh with her daughter, she failed to find permanent work, and eventually went through depression and became suicidal.
  • She lived on state benefits while writing her novel. It took her 5 years to finish her manuscript.
  • After she finished the manuscript, it was rejected by 12 publishing companies.
  • In 1997, Bloomsbury published Harry Potter.  In 1998, Scholastic Inc. published it in the US.

Richard Branson

Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.

Net worth: $4 billion

He built eight separate billion-dollar companies in eight different industries all on his own. He is also a well-known philanthropist.

  • He is dyslexic which made school difficult for him. Dropped out of high school and hand poor reading and math skills.
  • He started on various business ventures from the age of 16. Although each achieved a small-scale level of success, Branson was unable to sustain it for a long time. However, he always moved on to a new venture.
  • His most successful venture is Virgin Records, where he was able to sign record deals with iconic artists. However, Virgin Records had trouble staying afloat financially, and in 1993, Branson had to sell it to Thorn EMI for $1 billion.
  • Other business failures: Virgin Cola, Virgin Cosmetics, and Virgin Brides. 
  • He has since been able to establish successful companies under the Virgin Group. Some of these include the Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Media, Virgin Money, and Virgin Trains. His latest venture, Virgin Galactic, aims to send non-astronauts to space.

James Dyson

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.

Net worth: $13.2 billion

His creation is a household name, literally and figuratively. The years he spent struggling to create the perfect product did not go to waste.

  • An innovator at heart, Dyson’s first invention is the Sea Truck in 1970 while studying at the Royal College of Art. 
  • He had the idea for a vacuum cleaner that used cyclonic separation that would be able to clean up dust without compromising the suction. It took him 15 years and 5,126 prototypes for the Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaner.
  • He was unable to find a manufacturer or distributor for the product. So, he had to launch it in Japan. 
  • With his success in Japan, he was able to establish his own manufacturing company, Dyson, Ltd.
  • Other companies started producing bag-less vacuum cleaners like his. One, however, copied a fundamental part of the patented designs, and was sued by Dyson. The High Court ruled in favor of Dyson.

Oprah Winfrey

The choice to be excellent begins with aligning your thoughts and words with the intention to require more from yourself.

Net worth: $3.2 billion

Oprah Winfrey is a media mogul, whose fame transcends geographic boundaries. She is the first African-American female billionaire.

  • Winfrey showed promise as a public speaker at a young age. However, her childhood was fraught with poverty and abuse. She revealed in an interview that relatives and a number of her mother’s friends had molested her as a child. 
  • At 14, she had a child and had to live in a shelter. Her child died shortly after birth. After the tragedy, Winfrey’s father took her in and sent her to school. She was able to win a full scholarship at Tennessee State University where she majored in speech and drama.
  • At 19, she worked as an assistant to Nashville’s local evening news anchor. A year later, she became the news anchor on Nashville’s television—a big feat at that time. However, she was fired after 9 months. 
  • She acted as Sofia Johnson for Quincy Jones’ film adaptation of the novel The Color Purple.  She was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the Best Supporting Actress. 
  • In 1986, she started her own talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show . She has also started her own charities, The Angel Network and The Oprah Winfrey Foundation.

Meet the 5 Billionaires who braved failure

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