By Chuck Thomas / in Branding & Market Views / June 16, 2017
Failure can be (and often is) the first step to success. Skeptical? Here are 15 examples of how extremely successful people got off to terribly bad starts.
Bill Gates is now one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, but he didn’t earn his fortune in a straight line to success. Gates entered the entrepreneurial scene with a company called Traf-O-Data, which aimed to process and analyze the data from traffic tapes.He tried to sell the idea alongside his business partner, Paul Allen, but the product barely even worked. It was a complete disaster. However, the failure did not hold Gates back from exploring new opportunities, and a few years later, he created his first Microsoft product, and forged a new path to success.
2. George Steinbrenner
Before Steinbrenner made a name for himself when he acquired ownership of the New York Yankees, he owned a small basketball team called the Cleveland Pipers back in 1960. By 1962, as a result of Steinbrenner’s direction, the entire franchise went bankrupt. That stretch of failure seemed to follow Steinbrenner when he took over the Yankees in the 1970s, as the team struggled with a number of setbacks and losses throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Eventually he led the team to an amazing comeback, with six World Series entries between 1996 and 2003.
Everyone knows Hershey’s chocolate, but when Milton Hershey first started his candy production career, he was a nobody. After being fired from an apprenticeship with a printer, Hershey started three separate candy-related ventures, and was forced to watch all of them fail. In one last attempt, Hershey founded the Lancaster Caramel Company, and started seeing enormous results. Believing in his vision for milk chocolate for the masses, he eventually founded the Hershey Company and became one of the most well-known names in the industry.
The actor struggled for nine years, getting only small non-credited movie roles and working on the side as a carpenter to support his wife and two sons. He was hired to build cabinets at the home of director George Lucas, who recognized his talent and cast him in a supporting role in the film “American Grafitti.” Shortly afterwards, Ford was hired by Lucas to read lines for actors auditioning for “Star Wars.” Lucas was so impressed with Ford’s character portrayals during the readings that he offered the Han Solo role to the cabinet maker.
After two years of practicing and performing relentlessly, often for 10 or more hours a day, the Beatles were finally given their first audition for a recording contract with Decca records. Decca turned them down without hesitation, stating that “guitar groups are on the way out.”
Theodor Seuss Geisel submitted his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, to 27 different publishers. All of them rejected it. According to Geisel, as he was walking home to burn the manuscript he happened to run into an old Dartmouth classmate who helped him find a publisher for the book. Dr. Seuss went on to become a legendary children’s author of classics like The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. His books have sold over 600 million copies.
The British inventor, industrial designer, and founder of the Dyson company is best known for inventing the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner. What is less well known is that, while developing his vacuum, he went through 5,126 failed prototypes before getting it right. He also exhausted his savings in the process. He is now worth an estimated $4.5 billion, according to Forbes.
For decades, Harland Sanders held many jobs including fireman, insurance salesman, and gas station owner before trying his hand at selling fried chicken from a roadside restaurant in Kentucky. Just as his local restaurant was gaining some traction the construction of a nearby highway put him out of business. He then made over 1,000 pitches of his chicken recipe to investors before, at age 68, he found a buyer and started franchising the business. Seven years later he sold the fried chicken company for $15 million.
Oprah, of course, hosted one of the highest ranking TV shows in history and is the richest self-made woman and the only black female billionaire. However, she was fired from her first television job as an anchor in Baltimore. According to CNN, Oprah’s first boss told her she was too emotional and not right for television. Oprah reflected on her experiences during a Harvard commencement speech: “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.” Creating your own TV channel is a sure way never to get fired again!
In what might be at once the most discouraging statement and worst teaching practice of all time, Thomas Edison was told by his teachers he was ‘too stupid to learn anything’. Edison went on to hold more than 1,000 patents, including the phonograph and practical electric lamp. Death most likely spared his teachers the ignominy of their incorrect assessment.
One of the most creative geniuses of the 20th century was once fired from a newspaper because he was told by the editor that he ‘lacked imagination and had no good ideas.’ Trying to persevere, Disney formed his first animation company, which was called Laugh-O-Gram Films. He raised $15,000 for the company but eventually was forced to close Laugh-O-Gram. Undeterred, Old Walt went on to create the cultural icon that bears his name. Disney’s take on failure “I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young… Because it makes you kind of aware of what can happen to you. Because of it I’ve never had any fear in my whole life when we’ve been near collapse and all of that. I’ve never been afraid.”
His name is synonymous with intelligence, yet it wasn’t always that way for Albert Einstein. As a child he didn’t start speaking until he was four, reading until he was seven, and was thought to be mentally handicapped. He went on to win a Nobel Prize and altered the world’s approach to physics
Lincoln’s failures were broad and numerous. He achieved the unique feat of leaving for a war a captain and returning a private (the lowest military rank). He next took failure in his stride during multiple failed business attempts. Undeterred, Lincoln marched into the political realm, where he launched several failed runs at political office before his ascendance to President.
“You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.” These are the words that greeted Elvis Presley after his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry, after which he was promptly fired. Presley went on to become the world’s biggest star with a legacy that endures.
Either he was part of the greatest high school roster of all time or his coach made a huge mistake in cutting Michael Jordan from his high school basketball team. Six Championships and five MVPs later, Jordan became arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. Jordan famously said: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Material used from these sources: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/15-highly-successful-people-who-failed-their-way-success.html; http://www.wisebread.com/11-famous-failures-that-led-to-success-and-the-lessons-they-teach