When it comes to entrepreneurial life, we’re all a bit guilty of discussing successes and steering clear of the formative years beforehand.
It’s perfectly understandable. After all, in a results-driven world, the bottom line is sometimes all we can use to define a long week of hustling, hoping, and continuing on our own respective journeys.
But whether you’re an aspiring boardroom leader, a plucky new startup in a one-bedroom flat, or the next big thing in digital innovations, it’s important to remember those who have come before us and succeeded where others insisted they couldn’t.
Why is this important? Because there is no one true path to achieving your goal. Over the last 20 years, I’ve certainly learned this the hard way. But I’m grateful for my mistakes, as they’ve inspired me to come back stronger.
Within a year, I went from worried business owner to being featured alongside Sir Richard Branson in Forbes magazine, being commended for my business resilience.
On paper, it may seem like a Cinderella story. But behind that accolade is decades of hard work. Through Your Brand Found, I’ve been proving for years that with the right tools, any business can thrive.
In fact, as these 7 inspirational business icons have shown us, there’s no such thing as impossible either.
7 Inspiring Entrepreneurial Success Stories
1. Lord Alan Sugar
Before he became the no-nonsense king of the televised boardroom on The Apprentice, and a global force on the business market, Alan Sugar was a young entrepreneur with lofty ambitions and few financial means.
Growing up in a council flat in Hackney, Sugar had no choice but to rely on his natural ability to sniff out a good business opportunity. There was no silver spoon or family-owned enterprise for him to inherit, so he set about making it happen for himself.
From £100 to £125 Million
With a business capital of £100, a young Alan Sugar began to sell aerials and other electrical goods from the back of a van. This ragtag operation grew into the electrical goods company Amstrad, which sold for a staggering £125 million to BSkyB in 2007.
As of writing this, Lord Sugar is one of the richest people in the U.K, with a net worth of £1.2 billion.
Inspired to Make His Own Success
For Lord Sugar, there was no such thing as impossible. As a legitimate self-made billionaire, he has proven that where you come from doesn’t define where you can go, or what you can achieve.
Through understanding mass product appeal and some good old-fashioned hustle, this entrepreneur has taken himself from the council estate to the billionaires club.
2. Sir Richard Branson
It may surprise you to know that Richard Branson, possibly the most famous entrepreneur on the planet (and even outside of our planet), failed miserably at school.
Suffering from dyslexia, Branson left school with no real qualifications. At one point he found himself squatting in abandoned buildings with £300 to his name while contemplating his next move.
Mistakes, Mishaps, and Finding Opportunities
After several failed business ventures, Branson began running a magazine titled Student. While the publication kept him afloat, it wasn’t deemed an outright financial success.
However, the magazine’s ability to sell mail-order records at a fraction of competitor prices gave him the opportunity to diversify and expand. Branson opened his first-ever record store in 1971, using the profits to form Virgin Records.
It’s safe to say that success hasn’t made Sir Richard complacent. Over the last two decades, he has expanded further into the telecoms and travel industries. Nowadays, Virgin Media is a global behemoth that’s an essential part of modern living.
This incredible amount of success over the last five decades has landed Sir Branson a net worth of $5bn and cemented his place as one of the most influential people in the world.
Inspired to Adapt
Adapting and expanding your enterprise is a key component of marketing. It’s truly inspiring to see someone so willing to move with the times and not stubbornly cling to the past.
While the wealth and fame Sir Richard Branson has obtained are amazing, the true inspiration here lies with his willingness to accept defeat, learn from failure, and apply it to his next steps in business.
3. J.K. Rowling
It’s fascinating to look back at some of the most successful people in their fields, and discover that at one point they weren’t perceived as the game-changers they eventually became.
Today, we know J.K. Rowling as one of the most famous and influential authors in modern history. Not only has she amassed a gobsmacking fortune of £820 million, but she’s also created one of the biggest cultural phenomenons of all time.
But there was a time where the idea of selling 500 million books was about as likely as a muggle finding their way onto the train to Hogwarts.
Benefits, Book Rejections, and Box Office Gold
J.K. Rowling was a single parent on jobseekers benefits while writing what would become the best selling book series of all time. Scribbling in cafes, and punching out words late into the night on a manual typewriter, she completed the first draft of what would become Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
The book was submitted to twelve different publishers. Every single one of those twelve publishers outright rejected it.
In fact, it took over a year for Bloomsbury books to take a chance on the aspiring writer, agreeing to a run of just 1000 copies. For her troubles, Rowling was paid an advance of just £1500. How much faith did her publisher have in this initial small print run?
Rowling’s publishers openly encouraged her to apply for day jobs, as the children’s book market was not considered the place for financial gains.
Three years and two bestselling books later, Warner Bros were the winners in a bidding war to obtain the film rights to what would become one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time.
How did so many publishing companies overlook one of the biggest selling books of all time? If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was magic.
Inspired to Believe
J.K. Rowling’s journey from an unemployed single parent to a bestselling author is an inspiration for us all. Despite being told she couldn’t succeed, she maintained her vision in the face of multiple rejections.
She has proven that a good concept can thrive in any industry, regardless of the perceptions of demand for it.
The smartest business minds in publishing outright told J.K. Rowling that children’s literature didn’t sell. In the space of five years, she proved every last expert wrong and reminded us all that where there’s innovation, there’s public appetite.
4. Whitney Wolfe Herd
Inspiration for that next big idea can hit at any second. It’s what makes the entrepreneurial journey so thrilling.
But sometimes an idea outgrows itself, or the world outgrows the concept. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use that experience to develop a better idea. With every challenge comes a chance to use what you’ve learned before and elevate it.
Don’t believe me? Just take a look at Whitney Wolfe Herd, the world’s youngest female billionaire.
Finding Great Success from Difficult Circumstances
Wolfe Herd spent her early twenties working alongside celebrities in non-profit organisations. By the age of 22, she had joined the team that developed the Tinder app, earning herself the title of Vice President of Marketing.
Widely regarded as the main reason for its popularity through innovative campus marketing methods, she quickly established herself as a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, in 2014 she resigned from her position at Tinder amid allegations of her being subject to sexual harassment from other members of staff.
From this awful experience, she set about forming Bumble, a female-focused dating app where women make the first move with a potential date. This safer dating experience soon caught on, and Bumble recorded a phenomenal 100 million subscribers globally last year alone.
On the Nasdaq Exchange, Bumble was valued at $13 billion in February of this year. Shortly after this, Wolfe Herd took the company public, cementing her legacy as the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.
Inspired to Help Others
Wolfe Herd saw the potential to not only satisfy a need in business but to also reflect on her situation and channel this unfair treatment into her work.
In doing so, she created a global juggernaut that fulfilled a consumer need, protected women in dating, and turned frustration into success.
5. Sir Charles Dunstone
Sometimes an entrepreneur can see where the world is headed before the rest of us. Then it’s just a matter of them waiting patiently for the rest of us to catch up to them.
In the late 80s, Charles Dunstone was stuck in his flat trying to run a business from his bedroom to make ends meet. He had £6000 and a vision of the future of communications in our everyday lives. That future was mobile phones.
From the Bedroom to the Boardroom
Selling mobile phones in the 1980s was a risky endeavour. Old school mobile devices were hefty and difficult to carry around. Nevertheless, Dunstone saw a future that was in dire need of smaller, sleeker and more agile phones.
Naming his company The Carphone Warehouse, he was perfectly situated to enjoy the spoils of the early 2000s mobile phone boom. By the end of the year 2000 alone, the company was already valued at £1.7 billion.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Sir Charles began looking to where the next boom would be. Understanding that the technologies at hand were moving along faster than first anticipated, he created TalkTalk, which focused on competitively priced broadband.
Inspired to Look Forward
There had to be many times over the years that Sir Charles was told by friends, family and peers that he was taking a huge risk in putting all of his chips on the mobile phone industry.
A common phrase among sports stars is to not be where the ball is, but where the ball is heading. By doing exactly that, Sir Charles Dunstone was able to put his savings where his instinct told him to go. The results of him trusting that instinct speaks for itself.
6. Rita Sharma (OBE)
When it comes to finding an entrepreneur who decided to do it on their own terms, it’s always refreshing to see someone take the path less travelled to success. For Rita Sharma, that road to glory wasn’t through the pursuit of higher education.
In fact, Rita dropped out of college to take a different route than most on her entrepreneurial journey. It makes sense that she forged her own road towards being the richest Asian female entrepreneur in Britain.
After all, her passion was travel, and it was that passion for travel that put her on the map.
From Garage to Golden Shores
We’ve all heard the tales of businesses being formed in a dusty old garage on nothing but a wing and a prayer. Rita Sharma was no different. This is no tale of overnight success. Through steady progress and a lot of hard work, Sharma was able to move from her garage into a small windowless office, where she sold transatlantic flights.
Through trial, error, rebrands and multiple lessons learned, she emerged with the ultimate travel experience that she honed through years of hustle, knowledge and long hours at her desk.
It was named Best At Travel, and it would place her shoulder to shoulder with some of the richest people in the world.
Inspired to Make Her Own Way
Rita Sharma proved that regardless of what qualifications hang on your wall, nothing can compete with a solid work ethic and an unbreakable belief in your ability to make a business work.
In the face of continued stumbles and a lack of family wealth to rely on, the sharpened senses of a determined entrepreneur can be put up against any marketing budget in the world.
7. Peter Hargreaves and Stephen Landsdown
Operating from a spare bedroom in Bristol with only £500 and their own cars for assets, it’s astonishing to see how far Peter Hargreaves and Stephen Landsdown have come over the last 40 years.
Using their humble and frugal upbringing as a template for a financial-services business, they found that by keeping a strict eye on the bottom line they were able to expand without selling off their business in the process.
To this day, Peter Hargreaves claims to have never borrowed a penny in his life.
With a polite, sensible, and no-nonsense approach, Hargreaves Landsdown began as an advisory firm for tax planning affairs. They began to circulate investment newsletters, which established them as thought leaders in their industry.
During the stock market crash of the 80s, they were one of the few firms to actively talk with terrified clients and advise them. While the rest of the financial world was ignoring their calls, Peter and Stephen were developing trust with clients and solidifying their reputation.
And how far did that combination of sound advice, frugality and strong reputation take them? Peter Hargreaves is now worth $4.1 billion, and Stephen Landsdown is worth $2.6 billion respectively.
Inspired to Remain True to Their Roots
The open nature of their initial client relationships is a testament to their success. The frugality and lack of sway by the elite of the business world have made these two entrepreneurs firmly rooted and aware of the world around them.
By never losing sight of the fundamentals, they’ve used simple and precise principles of sound financial advice with a desire to provide a good service. Revolutionary? No. Admirable and inspiring? Absolutely!
Entrepreneurial Predictions: The Next Big Things
So, how about the new breed of entrepreneurs that have their sights set on making their billions? Here’s a handful of some who are already halfway there.
Henrietta Morrison: As the founder of Lily’s Kitchen, the pricey but nutritious pet food enterprise, Henrietta has recently signed a £100 million deal with Nestlé Purina.
Julie Dean: Starting a small business from her kitchen table in a bid to get enough money to send her children to a better school, Julie’s Cambridge Satchel Company is now a $63 million business.
Pippa Murray: Originally making her own peanut butter to help sustain her during marathons, Pip & Nut has grown into a brand that’s estimated to be worth £9 million.
Amit Gudka and Hayden Wood: With a desire to make it easier for homes to switch to green energy, these two entrepreneurs created Bulb, the UK’s fastest-growing affordable energy provider, currently valued between £400-£500 million.
Rikke Rosenlund: By connecting dog owners with people who love to walk and play with dogs, Rosenlund built her BorrowMyDoggy empire through a £1.5 million crowdfunding venture.
Steven Mendel and Guy Farley: With their pet insurance company, Bought By Many, these two have used simple and jargon-free insurance methods to earn a current net worth of over $2 billion.
Inspired to Keep Moving Forwards
As you can see from these success stories, just because something has never been done before does not mean it cannot be done.
While there were many times over the pandemic that I felt like the world was against me, I’m grateful for the challenge, as it inspired me to channel my frustrations.
I formed Writefully out of a desire to help businesses through content that’s human-led but conversion-focused. This year has reminded me of what humans are capable of. When that human touch is implemented with good SEO, there’s no limit to what a business can achieve.
That’s what inspired me. But what inspires you?
If nothing else, I hope that you find comfort and solace in the fact that dedication, hard work and marketing savvy are still the best ways to add your name to this list of inspirational entrepreneurs.
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