8 People Who Failed Before Making It Big (And the Lessons They Teach)

Sometimes fear can hold us back from our dreams. Inspire your own start-up success story with these 9 people who failed before they hit the big time.
Oprah Winfrey
Fired from her first job as a TV anchor in Baltimore, Oprah went on to reign as queen of daytime TV for 25 years. She now owns her own television network, is worth a reported $2.9 billion and features regularly on the ‘Forbes Most Powerful’ lists. This story proves that some people just won’t ‘get you’. Though I’m a firm believer in making your own luck, sometimes it’s really about working with the hand you’re dealt. Resilience and hard-work will be your keys to success.
Walt Disney
Here is another example of someone whose legendary vision wasn’t recognised by his employers. Disney was fired for his ‘lack of ideas’ from the Kansas City Star newspaper, where he had been working as an animation artist.  Set-backs seemed to be ten to the dozen for a while and Walt faced the first of two breakdowns he would have in his life. However, when he moved to California his stories went stratospheric, the first step in the creation of a brand that controls one of the world’s most powerful entertainment empires.
R.H. Macy
The man who gave Macy’s to the world, arguably one of the best known department stores, originally failed in several attempts to open dry goods stores to service the local milling industry. However Macy was determined to deliver a new kind of retail experience to shoppers in New York, and learnt from his previous mistakes. As expansion opportunities came, Macy’s business grew to the place it now holds in popular American culture.
Vincent Van Gogh
Selling only one painting during his lifetime, Van Gogh carried on beyond financial and emotional ruin in pursuit of his passion. He travelled across Europe in search of a community of like-minded peers who would embrace his creativity. He doesn’t seem to have ever found this, and was in fact ostracised by those around him for being a ‘madman’. Today however Van Gogh’s paintings fetch millions of dollars at auction, his skill appreciated the world over.
Bill Gates
When starting your own business, it’s important to remember that you can only control your own offering. “Traf-O-Data”, the first start-up of multibillionaire IT juggernaut Bill Gates, failed when its core service provision was undercut by a free like-for-like offering from the State of Washington.  Regardless, the business was a building block of billion-dollar making Microsoft.
Colonel Sanders
Proving that you can never be too old, the Colonel’s secret recipe didn’t tantalise restaurateur’s taste buds until he was 65. He travelled all over America in search of a restaurant that would support his recipe, with over 1000 business owners failing to recognise the products potential.  Doubtless his success would never have come without the Colonel’s seemingly unwavering belief in his idea.
Richard Branson
Here’s a very successful man from whom we can all learn about the importance of failures. Now on the cusp of sending “customers” into space with Virgin Galactic, Branson once shaved his beard and wore a wedding dress to promote “Virgin Brides”. Perhaps unsurprisingly the spectacle couldn’t save the venture from failing in 2007; however Branson advises entrepreneurs to embrace failures. Your reaction to and management of challenging events are of greater importance to investors than the number of calamities you face.
Vera Wang
Now one of the most sought-after and internationally renowned wedding dress designers, Wang originally wanted to be an Olympic figure skater. When she failed to make the team, her attention turned to what became a trailblazing career in the fashion industry, starting first at Vogue before moving into retail in 1990 with a global brand that encompasses fashion, fragrances and shoe collections.