The life of a successful entrepreneur can be exciting!
When you look around the ‘Net, you see others with smiling professionally taken headshots, lots of social followers, personal snaps having a blast with friends and family. To the outside observer, it appears they have it all.
Have you ever thought they might struggle just like you? That their success was born out of trouble and turmoil? That being an overnight success is more myth than fact?
I love shows that tell biographies because they shed light on the truth about what it takes to make it; about what and who successful entrepreneurs really are.
One particular 2-parter episode of Biography dealt with how the greatest U.S. food moguls royally screwed up and still made millions.
I was fascinated by three business success stories in particular of people who totally got it backwards and still managed to land on their feet. Even though their vision was upside down or their process was sideways, they kept pushing through until they got it right.
It was quite inspiring!
Famous Entrepreneur #1: Milton Hershey – Built A Complete Community Around A Product That Didn’t Exist
Take, for example, Milton Hershey. Did you know that Milton had no product to sell? He had a vision and the idea of a product (milk chocolate) that he tasted when visiting abroad. He also had an idea for a complete community built around the company that was yet to be.
So, before the company or product ever materialized, he started working on the town, decent housing for employees, the factory and everything else that his community would consist of.
He wasn’t even sure how to make milk chocolate, so he enlisted chemists to figure out the secret to bringing this decadent treat to the U.S. He spent millions of dollars before he ever had a chocolate bar. Not much as far as business success stories go!
Later on, once Hershey had become a successful entrepreneur, he stepped up to conquer the Great Depression and the lack of meat with a new confection: Mr. Goodbar. The peanuts in the bar caused Hershey to market this as a “Tasty Lunch” and a great source of protein. The idea was that this candy bar could be a meat substitute. Let the innovations roll!
Famous Entrepreneur #2: Colonel Harland Sanders – The Road Less Traveled
Harland Sanders (forever known as Colonel Sanders) had no military background. He did have a string of odd jobs that eventually landed him at a gas station in a rather remote area. In addition to filling their tanks, motorists also needed to fill their stomachs.
So, the Colonel started frying chicken in the kitchen using a cast-iron pan. He knew people would pay for the convenience of buying food while buying fuel. But, of course, the traditional way of frying chicken takes a long time! Customers didn’t always have 25 to 30 minutes to wait. That’s when Sanders’ entrepreneur story shifted and he began to experiment with different, faster cooking methods.
Eventually, reworking a pressure cooker to use oil instead of water, he had a quick-cook process that took chicken from raw to ready in about 9 minutes! He was raking in the profits. Until a new interstate was built that bypassed his gas station entirely.
Thinking of ways to use his new circumstances to his advantage, Sanders decided to license his cooking technique and recipe to existing restaurants. I like the way this man thinks! Less work, more money.
Famous Entrepreneur #3: Clarence Birdseye – Invented Products No One Could Distribute Or Store
Then there was Clarence Birdseye who, after living in Newfoundland (on assignment for the Department of Agriculture) was taught to ice fish. He noticed that the fish froze almost instantly at such low temperatures and that, when thawed and cooked, they were delicious.
In the U.S., commercial food was frozen at much higher temperatures and was mushy and not very tasty when cooked. This gave Birdseye a brilliant idea: develop freezing technology that would flash-freeze food, so it tasted better. Sounds like the type of thinking successful entrepreneurs have, right?
There was just one problem. OK, just three problems. Most homes didn’t have freezers. Most grocery stores didn’t have freezers. There was no way to ship large amounts of frozen foods long distances.
Undeterred, Birdseye began building his factory, so he could freeze and package his food. He knew this was going to be a huge breakthrough. He was right! His business success story is one that has lasted generations! Today, you’ll still find Birdseye frozen foods in every supermarket across the country.
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But food moguls aren’t the only ones who had it rough. Let’s look at some others.
Famous Entrepreneur #4: J.K. Rowling – Abused And Poor
The author of the internationally famous Harry Potter series had a dream since her childhood of a wizard boy and his friends. For a decade she worked on the story adding bits and pieces as time allowed.
However, life stepped in and threw her several curves. Her mother (with whom she was extremely close) passed away leaving her with an enormous hole to fill. After relocating to Portugal to teach English, Rowling entered a dysfunctional relationship that ended with the birth of a child – both of whom were tossed out on the street by her then spouse.
After moving back to England, and landing on public assistance to survive, she finished all the books in the series while searching for work.
The tide turned when – after submitting her manuscript to and was rejected by (what she describes as) loads of agents. After she landed one, the agent submitted her work to 12 publishers before getting accepted Bloomsbury.
She later rolled her fortune and the Harry Potter brand into movies, a theme park, clothing and all sorts of other products. That’s being how to create a true business success story!
Famous Entrepreneur #5: Richard Branson – Dyslexic & Determined
As a child, Richard Branson (of Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airlines fame) suffered with Dyslexia. Needless-to-say, this caused his schoolwork to be below par. Always determined (even at age 15), Branson chose to move forward with his dreams.
After starting a student magazine (which didn’t pan out), he started a record store. This led to the airline which almost didn’t get off the ground thanks to a flock of birds flying into the engine of Virgin’s only plane.
A soda company that fizzled, an online car dealership that was a dud, a bridal boutique that bombed and a digital download site that died. All of these failures! Who would have ever thought Branson would end up with a net worth of $4.4 billion as of 2020?
Want to read some other business success stories? Check out Business Insider: Rags To Riches Stories That Will Inspire You
Do you see a common denominator here? Just because everything wasn’t all set up and pretty, and just because the entire process wasn’t perfect, these pioneers didn’t let it hold them back. They moved ahead with what they could do at the time.
When they hit a roadblock, they didn’t fall apart. (OK, maybe they did for a little while.) They set their brains in motion to figure out what they could do next.
I encourage you to look ahead. Decide what you want or need to do, and work on whatever part of the process you can right now. If you wait until everything is perfectly aligned, you’ll never take the first step.
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