Never Giving Up: 9 Successful Entrepreneurs Who Failed at Least Once

Business.com / Careers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Gates, Huffington, Jobs, Woodman, Bezos—even Edison—were deemed failures at one point. Here's how they bounced back from rejection.

If you’ve ever been frustrated or discouraged in the pursuit of your dreams, take this to heart.

Many of the most successful entrepreneurs have some pretty colossal failures in the past.

However, they were able to move past these mistakes and setbacks to continue on to greatness. Here are some prime examples of business men and women who didn't get it right the first time.

Related Article: Just Say No: 5 Mistakes That Are Shattering Your Productivity

1. Bill Gates and Traf-O-Data

Have you ever driven across one of those weird black cables that stretched across the road measuring traffic by counting tire bumps? So did Bill Gates and a few of his friends. This is why he founded Traf-O-Data

This system recorded traffic information and fed it back to government authorities, civil engineers and others that needed it. Like other inventions that had hyphens and capital 'O's in its name, the concept ultimately failed. Maybe 'Traf-O-Rama' would have been better branding.

2. Steve Jobs – Fired by the Company He Helped Found

Do you remember Apple I, or the Apple Lisa? If not, you aren’t alone. These were two products Apple produced that crashed and burned. Unfortunately for Steve Jobs, these were both products that he pushed and that Apple lost millions of dollars developing. It was these kinds of decisions that led to Steve Jobs being ousted from Apple in the mid-eighties.

Fortunately, Jobs eventually found his way back to the company in 1997. He helped lead the company during a period of growth and innovation that continues to this day.

3. Arianna Huffington – Multiple Rejections Before She Found Success

After Arianna Huffington finished her second book, she received rejection notices from nearly 40 publishers. When she ran for governor of California, she received less than 1 percent of the popular vote. However, she did learn something from her failed political campaign.

According to Huffington, running for office taught her about the power of the internet. She used this new found knowledge to launch her website, The Huffington Post. This is a news website and blog that is among the most well-known and frequently visited on the internet. She has a very positive view of failure, calling it a necessary part of success.

4. Thomas Edison – Too Stupid to Learn Anything

Thomas Edison as expelled from school for being unteachable. Fortunately, Edison's mother believed in him and encourage him to continue his education, even teaching him herself at one point. Things didn't get any better for Thomas when he entered the workforce. He was unceremoniously fired from his first jobs because he was not productive enough.

Even his first thousand or more attempts at getting the light bulb to work were failures. In spite of all of his failures, Edison was a prolific inventor who had amassed several patents by the time he died, including the light bulb and the movie projector.

Related Article: The In-N-Out Effect: Trademark Mistakes You Need to Avoid

5. Walt Disney – Failed Production Company and Labeled as Lacking Creativity

If you focus on his failures, it’s amazing that the Walt Disney Company ever went anywhere. Disney was at one point living on dog food unable to pay his rent. Then, his first character Oswald the rabbit was stolen right from underneath him. His Mickey Mouse character was rejected by MGM on the basis that women are afraid of mice.

Before the screening of Pinocchio, Walt Disney hired several little people to stand on top of the marquee, dress, as puppets to wave at the families coming into the theater. He provided them with wine and food for the day. By the time the screening began, the little people were drunk, naked, and swearing at the crowd. Clearly, Walt overcame these failures and turned Disney into an empire.

6. Fred Smith – A Failing Grade for FedEx

Actually, it wasn't a failing grade. According to legend, Fred Smith received a C on the writing assignment in which he outlined the basic concept behind FedEx. Fred had noticed that automation was becoming the norm, and realized that this was something that would impact the logistics behind package delivery systems, along with many other things.

Apparently, his instructors did not share his vision. Fortunately, his idea made the transition from college student's idea to one of the most well-known companies on the planet.

7. Nick Woodman – Fun Bug Flop to GoPro

Have you ever heard of Fun Bug? If you weren't one of the investors who lost a portion of a few million dollars in funds, you probably haven't. If you were one of those investors, the thought of fun bug probably brings back painful memories.

This was a marketing company that was supposed to merge marketing with gaming. This concept was a complete miss. Fortunately, Woodman learned from his mistakes, and ultimately launched the company that produces the GO Pro.

8. JK Rowling – Writing Harry Potter on The Dole

While she was writing the first Harry Potter book, JK Rowling was a single mother receiving welfare benefits. She overcame her situation by not only completing the book, but by also finding someone to publish it. In fact, the person who selected her book for publication did so because her daughter fell in love with the story.

Clearly, JK Rowling has not forgotten her humble beginnings. She has been asked why she doesn't establish citizenship in a place where she could find shelter from paying taxes. Her response is that she is happy to pay taxes into a system that supported her when she needed it most.

Related Article: Top 3 Business Mistakes You Don’t Want to Repeat in 2015

9. Jeff Bezos – Costly Mistakes Launching Amazon

Bezos, founder of Amazon, made some amazing mistakes getting the company off the ground, and even more after the company launched. Here are just a few of them:

  • When the company began selling toys, in addition to selling books, Bezos insisted that the business model be changed and that the company would purchase and store millions of dollars in toys. In total, more than 100 million toys were purchased and warehoused in anticipation of the Christmas season. After the Christmas season, 50 million toys were left. They were mostly given away due to lack of space.
  • When Amazon first launched, people could leverage a glitch that allowed them to buy a negative number of books and receive a credit from the company. Ultimately, Bezos righted ship, created an amazing company culture and has managed to maintain Amazon as the premier website for online shoppers.

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