Before they were famous: 11 people who struggled to the top

“There is only one success – to be able to spend your life in your own way.” – Christopher Morley

What did you want to be when you were little?

Fireman? Astronaut? Chief taster at Walker’s crisps? Well, whatever you had in mind, I’m sure it wasn’t working 9 to 5 in a grey old office, staring at boring spreadsheets all day (if it was I’m so, so sorry).

The thing is we’re all busy. We all get distracted and our plans encounter setbacks. That’s life.

However, it’s nice to know that some of the most successful people in the world have struggled with exactly the same issues. Whether they were starting their own businesses, convincing others they had a great idea or trying to write that great novel.

They made mistakes, did jobs they hated and many didn’t achieve their ambitions until later in life. What they didn’t do was ever give up.

So, take a break from the spreadsheets and get inspired by the fantastic stories behind these famous faces.

Bill Gates

Every heard of ‘Traf-O-Data’?

Nah, me either. Well it turns out this was old Bill Gate’s first, less successful company.

Yep. After dropping out of Harvard and a very brief criminal career (in reality just a speeding offence; step down lawyers), Bill started Traf-O-Data, which bombed big time.

Undeterred, he refined his vision and went on to create Microsoft.

Colonel Saunders

Chicken mass-murderer Colonel Saunders was rejected over 1,000 times before a restaurant finally bought into his secret recipe.

By the time he opened his own restaurant and founded Kentucky Fried Chicken he was already 65 years old.

Walt Disney

Old Walt was originally rejected from Hollywood because ‘he lacked imagination and had no original ideas’.

Pfft, whatever. That wasn’t goiung to stop old Walt and he soon set up his own animation company and was a huge succ…oh, actually that went bankrupt too.

Of course eventually he did succeed and The Walt Disney Company now makes an average revenue of $30 billion every year.

Evan Williams

His name may not be as famous as Mark Zuckerberg (we’re sure a biopic is coming soon, Evan) and the Twitter founder wasn’t quite the overnight success of his Facebook counterpart either.

See, before co-founding the social media giant, he had an idea for a podcasting platform called Odeo.

Unfortunately, just before they were ready to launch Apple jumped in and announced that iTunes would include a podcasting platform of their own, which immediately made Odeo obsolete.

Mark Cuban

“I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how many times you failed. You only have to be right once. I tried to sell powdered milk. I was an idiot lots of times, and I learned from them all.” – Mark Cuban

And he should know. Before creating and selling Yahoo (making him millions) poor old Mark tried his hand as a carpenter, cook, and waiter and failed epically in each role.

Thomas Edison

The most successful inventor of all time, registering 1000 patents and inventing the most efficient (others had a hand in the creation) light bulb. He was told by a teacher that he was too stupid to learn anything and suggested he go into a field that did not require intelligence. Stupid teacher.

Henry Ford

We know him now as an innovator of the motor industry and for leading in the way in modern car manufacturing. However, Ford wasn’t an immediate success. In fact, he started five failed businesses and filed for bankruptcy before he founded the Ford Motor Company.

J.K Rowling

The story of how she created her most famous work is almost as legendary as the boy wizard himself.

Struck with inspiration while stuck on train to London, she struggled as a single mother on benefits for seven years until ‘Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone’ found a publisher.

She is now worth an estimated $1billion.

Stephen King

A struggling teacher, married with kids and living in a trailer. That where Stephen King was when his first book, Carrie, was turned down for the 30th time.

Broken by rejection, the future master of horror almost gave up on his tale of teenage telekinesis but the intervention of his wife encouraged him to keep trying…

Finally, the book found a home.

Harrison Ford

Told that he didn’t have ‘star quality’ by Hollywood producers, Harrison Ford gave up acting and decided to train himself as a carpenter. Luckily for him and us, one of his first jobs was fitting a few shelves for up-and-coming film director George Lucas. Iconic roles as Han Solo and Indiana Jones followed.

Michael Jordan

The most famous basketball player of all time didn’t get off to the best start when he was cut from his high school basketball team.

Later on in his career he 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.”

…And there we are.

Feeling inspired?




Andy Siddons
Content Writer

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