Big Shots

Stories of Entrepreneurs Who Were Once Big Failures

Created on 30 Jan 2024

Wraps up in 6 Min

Read by 2.3k people

Updated on 26 Feb 2024

Do you ever wonder how many individuals come up with the idea of starting a new business every year? Well, the exact number is hard to conjure, but I know how many are actually able to realize the dream. Have a look at the pie chart below to get the gist. 👇

Yeah! Only 80% survive the first year, and only half of that crowd makes it to their 5th year. Everyone talks about the success story, but in this article, we will discuss a few stories of failure.

The personalities included in this article are known by many, and their life is a splendid example of the perseverance one must adhere to to make it to the top.

Famous Entrepreneurs & Their Failures

When you think of your favorite movies, the protagonist always overcomes all the obstacles and achieves whatever success they desire (mostly involving the love interest). Globally famed entrepreneurs like Dhirubhai Ambani and Ratan Tata are good examples of this scenario.
But do you ever take a moment to ponder on the many obstacles these well-known personalities might have come across? With a never-giving-up attitude, the entrepreneurs in this list marched ahead of all the resistances and downfalls.

Bring your inner child to the forefront because the end of every story has a moral incorporated.
Let’s dive into the first one!

Ritesh Agarwal: From Zero to Hero

Ritesh Agarwal

The formula to find inspiration from one’s vicinity was cracked spectacularly by OYO Rooms founder Ritesh Agarwal. His passion for travel across the globe led him to found Oravel Stays, a startup for bed & breakfast.
But we know Ritesh Agarwal as the CEO & Founder of OYO Rooms, so what happened with Oravel Stays? Let’s take you on Ritesh’s rocks & thorns-filled journey from Oravel Stays to OYO Rooms.
Having been interested in coding since his teenage years, Ritesh soon realized what he wished to do in life, so he dropped out at 17. (Wish it was that easy for all of us!) Wandering from one city to another, Ritesh caught sight of an issue that was a constant amidst travelers.

Yes, we are talking about the lack of proper accommodation at reasonable prices, especially for a few hours or a one-day stay. Seeing potential in this sector, Ritesh decided to dive into the accommodation business and thus started Oravel Stays.  
However, the young entrepreneur had a difficult beginning in the business world as Oravel Stays tanked. An uncooperative and unbalanced team created many mishaps in the work environment, leading to the folding of the startup.

Alas, Ritesh Agarwal didn’t become a millionaire by giving up easily. He restarted from scratch and converted Oravel Stays into OYO Rooms, registering it in May 2013. Today, OYO Rooms holds the spot for being the largest budget hotel chain. Ritesh Agarwal is an uplifting example of a startup that gained success in a short time.
Moral of the Story: If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” — Henry Ford. 🚶

Vera Wang: Changing The Tide

Vera Wang

A well-known fashion designer, Vera Wang was a figure-skater in her teens. One of the firstly chosen wedding outfit designers by many, Vera Wang dreamed of making it in the 1986 Olympics. After failing to accomplish that, she shelved her dream of figure skating with her graduation degree and entered fashion.
Vera Wang has travelled the long distance of becoming a worldwide fashion name from the ground. Reaching considerable heights in work at Vogue, Wang left the company after being rejected for the editor-in-chief position. She then spent a few years at Ralph Lauren as an accessories designer. After the corporate buzz, she started her fashion line with a bridal boutique specialising in wedding outfits.
Her wedding gown designs made the designer into a brand that is now a globally recognized name worn by celebrities and commoners alike.   
Moral of the Story: If the door closes, instead of being stuck, look for a hidden portal. There is always one present, you just have to find it! 🪟

Sunil Bharti Mittal: Rags to Riches' Protaganist

Sunil Mittal

From becoming the CEO of Infosys to co-founding a multinational telecommunications company, Bharti Enterprises, Sunil Mittal is the 11th richest man in the world, as of the Forbes 2023 list.
There is hardly any sector in the business world where Mittal has not placed his flag. Telecommunications, steel, renewable energy and education are some of the sectors where Sunil Mittal has invested.
If you think Sunil Mittal's journey was swift with small ups and downs, then you can’t be far from the truth. Losing his father at the young age of 6, shouldering the family’s responsibility became a necessity for Sunil.
He started Bharti Overseas Trading Company in 1980, which made importing electric generators mandatory. However, the government banned the import of generators in 1983, forcing Sunil’s business to collapse suddenly.
Not giving up was the main motto for Sunil’s life as he found another way to succeed. With the launching of Bharti Airtel in 1995, Sunil became one of the most successful business magnates. He then expanded the business in different ventures and became a well-known tycoon.
Moral of the Story: Where there is a will, there is always a way! So, look carefully and patiently, it will present itself. 🛣️

Fred Smith: Persistance is the Key

Fred Smith

Life is all about gambling for the right bet. This theory is proven to be right in the success story of Fred Smith. The founder of FedEx, Fred Smith, renovated the concept of shipping items, making it easier and faster.

Fred came up with the idea for the business for an economic paper at Yale University, for which he received a “C” grade. Shocking, right? His professors thought the idea sounded good, but that’s about it.
Fred proved them wrong outstandingly with the grand success of FedEx. But, this success took its sweet time to arrive. With the rise of fuel charges in 1970s America, Fred’s company failed miserably. The business accounts had only $5000 left, which Fred converted to $27,000 by playing Blackjack in Las Vegas. Talk about luck at the right time! 🃏
With this short improvement in the capital, FedEx was able to receive new investors and clear off debts. In just a week, the company went from being bankrupt to becoming a multinational conglomerate.
Moral of the story: Taking risks is worthwhile if done smartly and efficiently. (And no, we are not promoting gambling by this example. It’s all about perspective.)

Jack Ma: Determination is Essential

Jack Ma

Jack Ma's story is not just about building an e-commerce empire; it's a testament to resilience, reinvention, and the power of never giving up on your dreams. Ma's journey with Alibaba involved countless rejections, near-death experiences, and, ultimately, a triumphant rise from the ashes. (No, I am not exaggerating, you will see!)

Before starting Alibaba, the e-commerce giant Jack Ma faced numerous rejections. He failed to gain college entry three times, and his early ventures, a restaurant and translation agency, met with limited success. He was teaching English to students in college at a mere $12/month salary when his brilliant brain spitted out a world-altering idea.

In 1999, Ma gathered 18 friends in his apartment and pitched a crazy idea: an online marketplace for Chinese businesses. However, the native investors didn’t believe in the then-futuristic power of the internet, which is why Jack Ma approached foreign lands.

He gambled by attending the 1999 Davos Forum with little knowledge of English and even less money. And that’s how Alibaba was founded. However, the beginning was a rough ride with financial crises and near bankruptcy for Alibaba.

However, Ma leveraged his deep understanding of China's online landscape to turn Alibaba into a multi-billion dollar juggernaut. And then 2014 arrived, bringing with it Alibaba's record-breaking IPO, making Ma a billionaire and a global icon.

Moral of the story: Just because you have something different from others doesn’t mean you are wrong. It only makes you unique.

The Bottom Line

Many success stories are present to take inspiration from, but the ones with ample climaxes always interest us more. Seeing people overcome hardships never raises a desire to do the same.

Remember that a positive attitude is the key to maintaining a calm head and thus achieving the target with time. So, let’s all walk, run, fall, and get up, but never stop.

As Edison once said, “I have not failed 10,000 times—I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.

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Preeti Gupta

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A book-lover who adores everything fictional, Preeti has undertaken the life mission of tasting every flavour available in the pantry. A science student with a Master's in Mass Communication, she now wishes to conquer the Finance world as a writer. With the power invested by the randomly chosen music, she is here to make Finance fun for you.

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