20 Inspirational Stories Every Entrepreneur Should Read

Sometimes we all need something to point us in the right direction and if you are thinking of starting a business but are worried about how to go about it, here are 20 inspirational stories to give you all the motivation you need.

1. Harland “Colonel” Sanders -Kentucky fried chicken

Harland had to toughen up after his father died since he had to drop out of school to take care of his siblings. He was a troubled teenager who kept getting into fights with his coworkers and by the time he was 30 he started a ferry boat firm. Harland tried selling the ferry boat business and establish a lamp manufacturing company only to realize another store was selling better versions. At 40, he was selling chicken dishes from a service station. He bought a motel, but later it burned down, but that did not stop Harland; he built another motel. He then looked for someone to buy his franchise, but his secret recipe only came to be accepted on the 1,010th time. The franchises came to be known as Kentucky Fried chicken which today is a worldwide brand.

2. Jack Ma – Alibaba.com

They say education is the key to success and for Jack Ma, it was quite a hurdle. In his primary school education Jack failed twice, then after going to Middle School, he failed thrice. Getting into university was difficult because he failed thrice in the entrance exams before getting into Hangzhou Normal University. Before that Jack had applied to Harvard University ten times but got rejected. It seems like Jack was on a losing streak; after university, he applied 30 times but never landed a job. He then decided to be an entrepreneur, but two of his undertakings failed. After getting to the US in 1995 and being introduced to the internet world, Jack searched for results for China but never got any good leads from Google. He decided to put China on the internet, and that is how Alibaba.com came, and now Jack is worth $39.9 billion.

3. John Paul DeJoria – John Paul Mitchell Systems

John graduated from high school and decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy hoping to join college later. However he married young, but the marriage fell apart leaving him with a son to take care of and very little money to live on; they had to survive on rice, lettuce, potatoes, canned soup, cereal, macaroni, and cheese. John took on any job that came his way; selling insurance, repairing bicycles, pumping gas among others. At two points in his life, he was homeless and had to live out of his car. In 1980, John partnered with Mitchell with a capital of $700 to establish John Paul Mitchell Systems, a lucrative hair company. His partner Mitchell died of cancer later, and John has been at the helm of the company and today has an estimated net worth of $4.2 billion.

4. Kevin Plank – Under Armor

Kevin has always had a knack for business, and he knew he would be a great entrepreneur when he made $580 selling bracelets while his brother made only $70. Kevin also tried his hand in bootlegging T-shirts where he made a profit of $6-$11 on each T-shirt he sold, but that business came crumbling when he was discovered for pretending to be a Deadhead. He used $20,000 to establish his company after watching Mike Tyson in a hat, and the company that sold the hat got orders worth $250,000. However, his strategy backfired, and he got into $40,000 credit card debt, so Kevin had to move back in with his mum. Things looked up when Atlanta Falcons called asking for long-sleeved shirts, and Arizona State asked for cold weather shirts. Today, Under Armor sponsors sports teams with deals worth millions of dollars; for instance, it has a 15-year agreement with UCLA worth $280 million.

5. Daymond John – FUBU

He has been a constant face on Shark Tank but ever wondered how he came to be a wealthy investor? Daymond started from a middle-class family but was plunged into poverty when his parents divorced immediately making him the man of the house, responsible for fending for his family. His entrepreneurial skills, which he had begun while in first grade by customizing pencils for the prettiest girls in his class for a fee, went a notch higher to distributing flyers at an hourly rate of $2. When his mother told him he had to figure out what he wanted to do with his future, Daymond wanted to establish an apparel firm for young men, and his mother showed him how to sew wool caps. His first sale earned him $800, and his mother mortgaged the house to get $100,000 capital for her son to start his company, FUBU. FUBU has made over $6 billion in sales worldwide.

6. Konosuke Matsushita – Panasonic founder

Konosuke started working at nine years old after his father gambled away all the family money. He changed jobs and found himself at Osaka Lights where he created a new type of light socket; the best that was in the market at the time. He worked on the product with only his wife and three assistants willing to help him. To beat the competition Matsushita sold his products at 30% cheaper but 30% better in quality than the competitors. He discovered that the people needed bicycle lamps and his innovation led to other electronic products until he created the first ever black and white TV in 1952 and later in 1960, the first color TV set. His brand Panasonic is now a household name.

7. Howard Panes –Logic founder

Howard started his company, Logic which manufactured electronic cigarettes, with a loan of $10,000 from his dad. He was so broke that the bank had to take his house on a short sale and as if that was not enough, he underwent a messy divorce. By then, Howard was $600,000 in debt, but maybe when they say life begins at 40, they had Howard in mind. He established Logic at 42 years old with his partner, Ellie and later sold it to Japan Tobacco International. His success has led him to amass the most luxurious cars including Porsches, Ferraris, and McLarens.

8. Kent Clothier- REWW founder

Kent started his entrepreneurship journey at 17 years by selling groceries with his father. However it was not the traditional way of selling groceries where you wait for people to come buying; they went around asking clients what they would want then sold them precisely what they wanted, meaning they had a ready demand. At 30, Kent was raking $2 billion in revenue, but after falling out with his partners, he decided to do it on his own. Unfortunately, after one and half years, the $1 million he had in his account was down to $5,000, and it was after watching a real estate infomercial that his fortune changed. With an $8,000 check, Kent started REWW, using the arbitrage knowledge he had acquired in the grocery business in real estate and now he is known for revolutionizing the real estate industry.

9. Sam Walton – Walmart founder

Sam Walton passed away on April 5, 1992, but his legacy lives on through the global outlets he created when he established Walmart. Sam’s father was a farmer, and Sam took up jobs to supplement the family income; besides selling the surplus milk, he sold subscriptions and delivered newspapers. After enrolling in University, he expanded his hustle by adding more routes to his newspaper delivery business, waiting tables in exchange for food, and lifeguarding. Sam later approached Ben Franklin stores with a strategy to cut down their costs but they rejected it forcing Sam to build his own team and implement the plan, and Walmart was born.

10. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah grew up with her grandmother until she fell ill and had to live with her mum in a boarding house where there was not only poverty but physical and sexual abuse. She was raped by her cousin at nine years of age but went to live with her father at the age of 14 and experienced a positive change in her life. She discovered her love for the media while in high school, and she dropped out of college to pursue her media ambition. Oprah founded Harpo Productions which brought in $300 million annually and later started her own radio channel, a magazine, and cable channel.

11. Russell Brunson – ClickFunnels

Russell started by selling videos teaching people how to make potato guns, and soon he learned everything there is to know about online marketing. His mission to help others is the foundation of his business, ClickFunnels which aims to assist thousands of entrepreneurs in creating, with just a few clicks, powerful sales funnel. Russell one day decided to run an event over a weekend, so he created a makeshift agenda, pushed it live and sent it out on email. It took two days but eventually, two people responded, and he had to find a way to cater to the events. His business is now worth millions of dollars, and the sky is the limit.

12. Andrew Carnegie

Andrew was born into a family that came from a generation of master handloom weavers but when steam-powered looms came, the family business crumbled. His family went to bed hungry, and Andrew began working at the telegraph office as a messenger. At 17 age, he was earning $35 per month as a telegrapher, and he began investing; first with $217 in a sleeping car company where he reaped $5,000. His investments grew, and in 1873, he started his steel business, and by 1900, his company manufactured more steel than entire Great Britain. He sold Carnegie Steel for $480 million in 1901 and dedicated his last 18 years in charitable acts.

13. Joyce Hall

Joyce was the last born son of three siblings, and they were poor meaning Joyce had to work from the age of eight. He sold cosmetics for California Perfume Company when he was nine, and on attaining ten years, he and his brother bought a stationery store. At 16, he and his two brothers came together to invest in postcard business, with each contributing $170. The business started doing well, and in 1905, he sold both customized and generic designed cards, and in 1907, the brothers established the Norfork Post Card Company. In 1915 a fire burnt down the store leaving the entrepreneurs $17,000 in debt. Joyce watched over his business until his death in 1982 and he beloved that his success was because he worked harder than the rest.

14. Jan Koum – WhatsApp

Jan’s family emigrated from Ukraine to the U.S when he was 16, and they lived on food stamps. They had no way of knowing how their family back in Ukraine were fairing because the phones there were tapped and maybe it is that experience which fueled Jan to insist on the user privacy policy on his app. Jan learned about computers on his own, and his skills were so impressive that Yahoo hired him, Jan started WhatsApp Inc. in 2009 and later sold it to Facebook for $19 billion.

15. Ingvar Kamprad

Ingvar owes his ability to persevere through adversity to his grandmother; whereas his grandfather committed suicide after the company went down and he could not afford the mortgage, his grandmother took over the business and turned it around. Ingvar began by selling pencils and matches to his classmates for a profit, and as his peers ran after girls, he was seeking ways to expand his business; Ingvar established IKEA in 1943 at 17 years with capital from his savings and borrowing from his father. He began by selling everything, but after discovering the demand for pens was large, he took his first and last loan ever to buy 500 pens from Paris. He promised a bun and a cup of coffee to all those who bought from his store, and although he added fast food restaurants to his stores, he decided furniture would be the main source of profit in 1948. The company now operates in over 40 countries, and as of 20154, Ingvar was worth $3.8 billion.

16. Bob Evans

When Bob could not find a source of sausage that was perfect for his 12-stool diner, he decided to make his own sausages by using the best parts of the pigs he reared on the Bob Evans Farm. His sausages were so good that they sold themselves, and this attracted some friends and family to partner up with Bob. In 1962, he opened up his restaurants since the local ones did not want to buy his sausages. This first restaurant was on the farm but he expanded the operations, and by 2012, he had chains of restaurants in 19 states the business was worth $1.7 billion.

17. Pierre Omidyar

Pierre’s first venture was to print data on small cards for $6 per hour. In 1995 he launched Web, which was to help him auction his items but the site generated so much traffic that he was forced to upgrade from personal to business Internet account and he started charging a small commission per sale. He eventually resigned from his job to concentrate on the website which had gained popularity as users left positive feedback of their experience. He has had two negative experiences when the site stopped working for 22 hours in 1999, but he contacted the top 10,000 customers and explained the situation while also apologizing. It also experienced the same hiccup shortly after for 8 hours, but they still overcame it, making it clear that transparency and accountability in business are essential.

18. Yvon Chouinard

Yvon allegedly graduated from Stanford and went climbing with a crate of damaged cat tins to sustain him for the two weeks he planned to be there.  He bought a coal-fire-forge and learned how to make climbing gear for his friends and himself in 1957 and by 1970 they had created a small craze in the fashion industry. With the help of Tom Frost, they designed Patagonia and today the product is the best and comes with a lifetime warranty.  According to sources however, Yvon Chouinard never attended Stanford. In Medium post (linked to above) a few years back that said he did, but they had Yvon confused with his former climbing and business partner, Tom Frost.

19. John Pemberton

John is the man behind Coca-Cola. It all started with him joining the Army and being wounded. He took morphine to ease the pain but became addicted and to overcome his addiction, he experimented with different ingredients and coca and developed a syrup from kola nuts and coca extracts, which became the basis for the now renowned beverage, Coca-Cola. After mixing the syrup with carbonated water, and perfecting it, he sold it for five cents a glass. His morphine addiction became too expensive to sustain, and he sold the formula and a stake of the company to Asa Candler who made the product a worldwide brand.

20. Moses and Endel Phillips

Moses and his wife Endel emigrated from Poland, and since they had a large family comprising eight children, they had to look for ways to fend for themselves. They began hand sewing shirts and selling them to coal miners in Pottsville in 1881, and by 1921 it was the largest company in the world, Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. selling shirts. They introduced shirts with attached collars and those that were machine washable.


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