7 Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Made It From Scratch

A list of entrepreneurs who started at ground zero and made their way up the ladder through sheer perseverance.

Published On Mar 01, 2023 | Updated On Feb 27, 2024

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Ever since Shark Tank India started airing, entrepreneurship is becoming a popular dinner time conversation. Season 2 is back with a bang, with stories of inspiring entrepreneurs who are looking for the Sharks’ support to be able to make it really big. We can see the Indian landscape evolving; from parents earlier forcing their children to pursue either medicine or technology, to now actively pushing for entrepreneurship. In an effort to celebrate this wave of entrepreneurship in today’s new India, here’s a list of 10 entrepreneurs who started from absolutely nothing and made an example for others to lead by. Success was not easy, but these founders turned an ordinary life into a success story that is celebrated around the world.

Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, one of the largest supermarket chains in the United States, opened his first store in 1945, shortly after returning to civilian life from military service in World War II. Because of the generous loan of $25,000 from his father-in-law, he was able to purchase his first store, where he promptly found great success. As of the mid-1970s, Walmart was worth around USD 176 million. In 2019, it had more than 11,000 locations throughout the world, and an operating income of over USD 21 billion.

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His book, ‘Made in America’, talks about his story but one of his core tenets is that you should go in the direction that best suits you. He is telling us to "disregard accepted wisdom." It's possible to carve a unique niche by going against the tide, while everyone else is swimming in the same direction.

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John DeJoria, an entrepreneur, has built his fortune from scratch. He is well-known for creating the Paul Mitchell brand of hair care products. But he didn't have a wealthy upbringing; rather, he worked as a truck driver, a janitor, and even as a door-to-door Christmas card salesman. First position in the hair care industry, he was let go from Redken Laboratories. The following year, in 1980, he and hair stylist  Paul Mitchell started John Paul Mitchell Systems with a little USD 700 in startup capital. His net worth has increased to USD 3.1 billion.

What does he think of success? “The greatest challenge is being turned down,” Dejoria once said. Make sure you're prepared for whatever business you decide to start. Successful individuals do what unsuccessful people don't want to do, and that's what sets them apart. It's been said, "When ten doors are slammed in your face, go to door number eleven cheerfully, with a smile on your face.” These are, in our opinion, really wise words.

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How did a country shoemaker in Germany, who loved sports so much, become the backbone of a global industry? Find out what makes this entrepreneur successful in a time when there was no Shark Tank!

A family firm founded by a German man named Adolf Dassler, Adidas has grown to become one of the most successful sports corporations in the world, with annual revenue of more than Euro 23 billion, and a global workforce of more than 60,000.

Adolf Dassler spent his entire childhood in a Bavarian village, where he crafted his first pair of athletic shoes by hand. Many times, his company was on the verge of failure before it became successful around the world. His extraordinary life may be summed up in three words: originality, ingenuity, and, above all else, a love of sports.

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Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, is now virtually synonymous with entrepreneurial success. He was raised in a low-income housing complex by a family that struggled financially. Part-time work and student loans helped him finance his education. Additionally, he broke the mould by becoming the first member of his family to graduate from university. Schultz first encountered the Starbucks name while working for a coffee firm. He went to see a new company's Seattle office. He became the company's director of marketing not long afterward. It was in 1985 that Schultz quit Starbucks to start his own coffee shop. He was able to raise the necessary capital to open the first store. Starbucks as we know it today was founded two years after the company's original management sold the retail division to Schultz. Not bad for an empire that Schultz conceived while sipping a cup of coffee in the afternoon; his net wealth is now over USD 2.9 billion.

This man has a philosophical outlook on life, thanks to the lessons he has learned. He once observed in a speech, "I believe life is a series of near-misses." Much of what we attribute to chance is actually the result of hard work and preparation. It's about making the most of the now and taking charge of your future. It's about having a vision that other people don't have, and working to make it a reality.

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Wondering who that is? Familiar with the store Forever 21? Although Won Chang's Forever 21 clothing store is well-known, he himself is not a household name. Won Chang immigrated to the United States from South Korea in the early 1980s and worked as a janitor, at a gas station, and at a coffee shop, before beginning his retail business in 1984. The first store he opened with his wife was 900 square feet in LA, and they launched with barely USD 11,000 in funds, putting it all into the firm. Initially, the store was known as Fashion 21, and its clientele were primarily members of the Korean American community. But after rebranding as Forever 21, the company's popularity skyrocketed and it became a global phenomenon. Do Won Chang is rumoured to be worth $3.2 billion thanks to his now global, 790-store enterprise.

His best advice? Remember your roots no matter how far you may have travelled. When asked about Forever 21's impact on the community, Won Chang told the Los Angeles Times, "Forever 21 brings hope and motivation to those who come here with absolutely nothing. A modest Korean immigrant with a dream was able to develop Forever 21 so that other immigrants may come to America with the same knowledge that I did.”

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When Perkins was 19 years old, in 2007, she had an idea called Canva. Her story is an inspirational entrepreneur success story for all those who are scared of rejection. While at university, she was instructing her peers on design software and came to the conclusion that design software was too costly, complicated, and out of reach for most people. She imagined a time when design was straightforward, digital, and team-based.

To begin, Perkins had to raise venture funding, which proved to be an even greater challenge than expected. After more than a hundred rejections and countless fruitless trips to Silicon Valley, she finally found her first investors. In fact, it took Perkins and her husband, co-founder Cliff Obrecht, nearly three years to secure their company's initial funding. It wasn't until 2013 when Canva was released to the public.

She was inspired to keep going by her belief that everyone should have access to good design. Since charity is important to Perkins, she decided to donate 30 per cent of the company to an organisation whose mission is to end global poverty.

Among unicorn startups, Canva is unusually successful. Canva, which has been valued at USD 40 billion, has reportedly raised USD 560 million in funding.

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Biocon Ltd. was founded by Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, who is also its chair and managing director. Forbes lists her as the 72nd most powerful woman in the world, and her wealth is estimated at USD 3.7 billion.

Biocon Ltd, which was started in a garage in 1978, is now an innovation-led global biopharmaceuticals organisation that has made significant contributions to life sciences and research around the world. Biocon Ltd is India's largest listed biopharmaceutical corporation, with a revenue of Rs 7105 crore in FY 20-21.

From her early days as a PDG in Malting and Brewing (a male-dominated field) following in the footsteps of her father, Majumdar Shaw has defied expectations as a first-generation entrepreneur.

For the unorthodox thinker and visionary who wants to give back to society and work for its elevation and future, the recognition that this was the value that she had generated as a woman entrepreneur is a source of great pride.

She is an inspiration to countless others as a prominent scientist and a lady. As a result of her remarkable success, Kiran has been recognised on a national and worldwide level with a number of prestigious prizes, honours, and titles. She is the recipient of India's two highest civilian honours, the Padma Bhushan (2005) and the Padma Shri (1989).


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