Have you ever wondered why so many billionaires have had either a dysfunctional or difficult upbringing? It’s true, when we look at the most prominent billionaires around the world, many of these individuals have the most inspiring rag to riches stories imaginable.
Guy Laliberte, the CEO of Cirque du Soleil, was a fire eating busker when he first took a chance on flying a troupe of colorful performers to Las Vegas. Oprah Winfrey was born into poverty in Mississippi in spite of becoming the very first African American TV host at nineteen years old. And Do Won Chang was a gas station attendant before starting up one of the biggest fashion companies on the planet – Forever 21.
Here are three more of the most inspiring billionaires who came from nothing and what we can learn from their continued success:
Top 3 Billionaires Who Came From Nothing – How It’s Done
Jan Koum and an Example of Persistance
Jan Koum was born into poverty in a tiny village on the outskirts of Kiev in Ukraine. Although his father was a builder, the family was extremely poor and struggling to make ends meet.
In response to an increasingly anti-Semitic government, Koum’s mother decided to emigrate without his father and take Jan to what they hoped would be a new life in America. It would be a tough start to their new life as his mother was diagnosed with cancer and confined to relying on disability benefits. What’s more, Jan was known as somewhat of a troublemaker at school – possibly the result of a young boy who was now missing a father figure in the household.
But how did a seemingly troubled young boy go on to do such great things?
Well, during this time, Jan took a very deep interest in technology and started to invest all of his pocket money in computer manuals. Somehow, he enrolled in the San Jose University and by the late 1990’s, he managed to get hired as an infrastructure at Yahoo where he would meet Brian Acton. For the next ten years, Acton and Koum developed a close relationship and eventually left Yahoo to travel the world – citing “monotonous work” as being their reason to leave.
However, with Jan’s bank account dwindling, he set his sights on the new iPhone App Store and began masterminding with a Russian friend called Alex Fishman. Together, the two would talk over tea and pizza about an idea to create a new interactive address book. As part of the address book, this app would enable users to include their status such as “at the gym” or “on the way”.
However, the app was failing to gather any momentum with users and Koum was constantly required to persevere in spite of this lack of interest. Eventually, Koum and Whats App got a greak when Apple iPhone integrated push notifications to their apps.
Simply put, this gave vitality to Whats App in a sense that everytime a user updated a status, their entire address book received a notification. At this point, Whats App went from being an address book to an instant messaging service.
After several years of growth and success, Whats App was eventually sold to Facebook for $19 billion. Interestingly, in a symbolic move, Koum travelled across town to sign this deal at the welfare office from which he used to collect benefits.
Jan Koum Showing How It’s Done
Jan Koum had an incredibly unfortunate upbringing in many regards. After being born into poverty, he had to deal with the uncertainty that comes with moving home at an early age. In fact, he had to deal with moving to a foreign country with a different culture and entirely new language. As if that wasn’t enough, he was now without his father and had a clear disdain for school.
However, Brian Acton described Jan as a “non nonsense type of person” which is arguably why he was able to focus on what he wanted to do rather than what everyone else was doing. We can see this when he left Yahoo and started up Whats App in an environment that was yet to witness any apps at all.
From this point onward, it was a matter of consistency as Jan flirted with the idea of giving up on Whats App. But through constant testing, endless data entry and blind faith, Jan created what would become the largest instant messaging app in the world.
In many ways, one word can sum up the work of Jan Koum – persistence.
Elon Musk and Thinking Different
Elon Musk was very much an unknown for most people when PayPal was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion. At the same time, the South African entrepreneur had worked tirelessly to create revolutionary products and was proven right in spite of PayPal being voted as one of the top ten worst business ideas of 1999.
Musk grew up in a notoriously challenging environment in South Africa but it was often his greater intelligence that caused problems. In a recent interview with Joe Rogan, he cites “never ending thoughts and ideas” as being a reason why many people assumed he was a strange child. For such a young mind, this was difficult to overcome but in hindsight, this was also the brilliance that would being forth his many creations.
You see, when you look at his long line of achievemts, PayPal was merely a blip on the radar for Elon’s career. After all, he also founded Neuralink before going on to construct the foundation of Tesla and become lead designer for Space X. Incredibly, almost every expert in the car industry said that Tesla would fail and according to the CEO, they were within weeks of doing exactly that – failing.
Elon Musk Showing How It’s Done
If there was ever an example of following your heart or gut feeling, Elon Musk epitomizes this concept. At every turn, his revolutionary ideas have been condemned and criticized. In times of severe financial difficulties, the future looked bleak and almost impossible but sheer will has brought each and every product to the frontline of their respective industries.
For many people, this iron will is often misconstrued as being stubbornness but the truth is, Musk has developed well researched ideas that provided value before profits with every product. In this sense, there is a clear reason for Elon Musk succeeding where most people fail and this commitment to thinking different should be recognized as one of his most awe-inspiring qualities.
Howard Schultz and the Power of Visualization
Howard Shultz stepped down as the CEO of Starbucks for a second time this year with an estimated net worth of $3 billion. As you may know, Schultz is another “rags to riches” story as he grew up in a housing complex for the poor.
In recent interviews, the billionaire described how he always felt like he was living on the “wrong side of the tracks”. After all, in contrast to his neighbors, he and his family were in constant need of money, resources and even happiness. As a metaphor, he also went on to say that he regularly envisioned crossing these tracks and achieve something far greater than what people thought to be possible.
Although Schultz was never a grade A student, he managed to win a football scholarship for the University of North Michigan. What’s more, he used his qualification to land a job at Xerox but not long afterward, he took over a coffee shop in Seattle called Starbucks. As you know, Starbucks is now a giant in the coffee industry with close to 18,000 shops but back then, it had no more than sixty.
Howard Schultz Showing How It’s Done
When most people look at Howard Schultz, they see a powerful man in an immaculate suit. For many more, they also see this story and think of Schultz as being rather lucky to inherit a coffe chain with sixty shops.
But the truth is, Schultz is a surprisingly humble man who remembers where he came from. Also, his achievements though youth were the result of work rather than talent as winning a football scholarship is no easy task, it requires an immense amount of dedication. What’s more, he worked tirelessly to become the head of this sixty-strong chain of coffee shops back in the 1980’s.
With this in mind, it’s largely unsurprising to hear about Schultz’s backstory. In fact, when you look at the exponential growth of Starbucks since that time, much of its’ success is down to the work ethic and passion that Schultz infused into his brand.
Indeed, for many people, they see a suited man when they look at Howard Schultz but beneath this appearance, there lies an important lesson that visualization is often enough to take a bold idea and turn it into something that few people will ever realize….on either side of the tracks.
Let’s be honest, each of the above entrepreneurs had a clear sense of intelligence that enabled them to progress but at the same token, there was clear disadvantages in the case of Schultz, Musk and Koum. For this reason, it must be recognized that these are not only examples of what can be achieved from seemingly hopeless situations but also a lesson that with the right attitude, anything is possible.