Some people are born into money, but for most of us, the road to riches is a long and seemingly impossible one. However, we should not forget there are plenty of entrepreneurs out there who have managed to reach the top despite starting with next to nothing. Those success stories provide true testament to the power of the entrepreneurial spirit and the real value that can be derived from undying determination and vision on the part of a committed entrepreneur.
Not only do this lot now run their own empires, and command the respect of the business world, but they have successfully overcome some of the most difficult obstacles imaginable to do so. The 5 examples below can act as inspiration to entrepreneurs everywhere, showing that with a lot of hard work and the right idea, there is no reason your company couldn’t graduate to the business big leagues.
WhatsApp founder Jan Koum
Plenty of eyebrows were raised when Facebook purchased the popular mobile messaging app WhatsApp for a staggering $19billion in February 2014. Even more so when the history of the apps founder Jan Koum emerged.
Koum was born in a small village on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine where his father worked as a labourer and his mother was a housewife. Struggling to make ends meet, their home was apparently often without hot water. Aged 16, Koum and his mother emigrated to California, where he would support them by sweeping the floors of a grocery store and collect food stamps. In his spare time, Koum was researching computers, and by the age of 18 he had become a highly skilled computer hacker.
In 1997, he got a job as an infrastructure engineer at Yahoo. In January 2009, he is said to have purchased an iPhone and quickly realised the potentially lucrative app industry which it could spawn. On his birthday, February 24, 2009, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc. in California. The rest, as they say, is history.
Media mogul Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey is now a highly recognised global entertainment brand, but her beginnings were far from glamorous. Oprah spent much of her childhood living with her grandmother who was so poor she could only afford to clothe her with dresses made out of potato sacks. Winfrey then fled an abusive home aged 13, and aged just 14 her new-born child died shortly after birth.
She then returned to live with her mother for a short while before being sent to live with her father. It was here that Oprah turned her life around. First by sealing a full college scholarship and then winning a beauty pageant (where she was discovered by a radio station). From there, the Oprah name became an empire. According to Forbes, she is now worth $3 billion.
IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad
While growing up on a farm in rural Sweden, IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad displayed a knack for business with a wide range of short-lived ventures in his early years. He was well known locally for selling his neighbours just about anything he could get his hands on, from matches and pens to Christmas decorations and fish.
Before long he decided to start a mail-order business (using money his father rewarded him with for good grades) which would eventually become IKEA. Early on, furniture emerged as one of Kamprad’s best-selling products as a result of him using local manufacturers to keep production costs and customer prices low. Once one of the world’s richest men, his value has fallen slightly recently but still stands at an amazing $3.8 billion.
Forever 21 founders Jin Sook & Do Won Chang
Husband and wife Do Won Chang and Jin Sook moved from Korea to America in 1981. With little to their name, Do Won worked three low-paid jobs as a janitor, gas station attendant and in a coffee shop to support them. They opened their first clothing store, then called Fashion 21, in California in 1984.
That one store turned over $700,000 in its first year and the Forever 21 brand has gone on to become a multi-national empire with 480 stores worldwide, generating up to $3 billion in sales each year. The couple’s net worth is estimated by Forbes to be around $5 billion.
Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich
There are many conflicting reports surrounding the early business endeavours of the enigmatic oil and football tycoon Roman Abramovich. One thing all these reports agree on, however, is that Abramovich’s childhood did not make his route to a life of luxury a straight-forward one.
Both Abramovich’s parents died by the time he was just 4 years old and he was raised by his uncle and his grandmother. His business career is said to have begun when he received an expensive wedding gift from his in-laws, which he sold for capital. A series of entrepreneurial schemes during his time studying in Moscow supposedly range from selling dolls, designer clothes and even rubber ducks. He made the bulk of his fortune from a number of controversial oil export deals in the 1990s and is now thought to be worth around $9 billion.