Our world has been shaped by the inventions and ideas of entrepreneurs. The mass production of Henry Ford’s assembly lines made cars affordable for millions of people, transforming how we get around, as well as the national landscape. The hardware and software creations of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates revolutionized the ways humans connect and work. Oprah Winfrey reinvented the daytime TV talk show with an inclusive approach to interviews that won over millions of adoring fans and made her one of America’s richest people. All of them took risks to create something new and valuable to consumers.
Successful entrepreneurship stories show how unconventional thinking, ingenuity, and problem-solving skills can help aspiring entrepreneurs as they start or dream of starting their own businesses.
What is a successful entrepreneur?
A successful entrepreneur is someone who starts and runs their own business. These businesses sometimes offer novel solutions to common problems or fill unmet needs. A successful entrepreneur sees things a bit differently than most people, taking strategic risks to develop and bring a product or service to market. An entrepreneur can range from a sole proprietor running a small ecommerce business to someone who founded a business that becomes a multibillion-dollar global corporation.
9 successful entrepreneurs
Successful entrepreneurs create flourishing businesses that provide valuable products or services to customers. Most entrepreneurs balance a healthy appetite for risk with careful consideration of market demands. There is no one-way entrepreneurs succeed; some, like Jobs and Gates, are college dropouts, while others, like Google co-founder Larry Page, have graduate degrees from prestigious universities. A common thread among successful entrepreneurs is that they are persistent and unafraid of failure or hard work on their journey to create useful and valuable products and services. Below are some prominent entrepreneurs and the industries where they made their mark.
3 successful entrepreneurs in retail
1. Sarah Blakely, founder of Spanx
Sarah Blakely began her career selling fax machines, where she honed her business skills. One day, she experimented with cutting the feet off her pantyhose and wearing them under her pants, giving a slimmed-down appearance that let her still wear open-toed shoes.
When Blakely couldn’t find a store near her that sold anything similar, she decided to create a new business, which she called Spanx. The undergarments became a hit for many women who wanted the same slimming effect. Spanx was valued at $1.2 billion in 2021 when it sold a majority stake to the investment firm Blackstone.
2. Chichi Eburu, founder of Juvia’s Place
Nigerian entrepreneur Chichi Eburu always struggled to find makeup products that would work with her dark skin. She dreamed of starting her own makeup brand for people with darker skin tones, but struggled to find the capital to do so. She set aside $2,000 of her own money to start her business, selling just brushes and tools at first until she finally made enough money to begin selling full-sized eyeshadow pallets in 2016. Utilizing social media, she built her brand. Juvia’s Place has more than 2.5 million Instagram followers and hundreds of beauty stores carry its products nationwide.
3. Ben Francis, co-founder of Gymshark
Ever since he was a teenager, Ben Francis wanted to combine his love for fitness with his desire to become an entrepreneur. At university, he and Lewis Morgan co-founded UK-based Gymshark, which started off as an ecommerce store for bodybuilding supplements. At the time, Francis struggled to find workout apparel that fit him properly, which prompted him to switch from selling supplements to manufacturing fitness apparel. His custom designs were a hit, and the fitness wear company generated more than $50 million in profit in 2021.
3 successful entrepreneurs in media
1. Ariana Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post
Ariana Huffington started her career as a radio and television host on the BBC. She attracted even more media attention when her husband unsuccessfully ran for a US Senate seat in 1994. In 2005, using her media experience and increasing publicity, she helped launch the Huffington Post, a digital news website that also published blogs. It pioneered the strategy of search engine optimized (SEO) keywords to gain more clicks and would go on in 2012 to become the first for-profit digital outlet to win a Pulitzer Prize, US journalism’s most prestigious award.
2. Oprah Winfrey, chairwoman and CEO of Harpo Productions
Oprah Winfrey’s journey from poverty to international stardom is one of the more famous stories of entrepreneurial success. Winfrey began her career working at small local radio and television stations in the 1970s, and started to develop her empathetic and charismatic hosting style. In 1986, she left her steady job as the host of the television news program AM Chicago to sign a syndication deal and produce her own show, The Oprah Winfrey Show. The program aired from 1986 to 2011 and made Winfrey a millionaire.
Winfrey founded her own media company, Harpo Productions, which co-owns the OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network TV channel and publishes O, The Oprah Magazine. She is one of the richest people in America, with an estimated personal wealth of $2.5 billion in 2023.
3. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit
As a hobby when he was a teenager, Alexis Ohanian taught himself how to build websites. After graduating from college, he and a friend pitched an idea for a food-ordering website to a venture capital firm, but they were rejected. Undaunted, they created a business plan for another business venture, a social media platform. This became the news aggregation and discussion website Reddit, whose simple interface and system of organizing conversation topics into subtopics attracts millions of daily users. As of January 2023, Reddit was the sixth-most visited website in the US.
3 successful entrepreneurs in tech
1. Tobias Lütke, co-founder of Shopify
German-born Tobias Lütke skipped college to enter a computer programming apprenticeship where he learned website design. In his early 20s, he moved to Canada and, with two business partners, started an ecommerce store selling snowboards. Lütke was dissatisfied with existing ecommerce software, which he felt was designed by people without retail experience.
So instead, he created software that was more user-friendly and tailor-made for ecommerce store owners. He and his business partners realized this software could be beneficial to ecommerce entrepreneurs worldwide, and together they launched Shopify.
2. Melanie Perkins, co-founder of Canva
Melanie Perkins struck out as an entrepreneur at an early age, selling hand-made scarves when she was just 14 years old in her hometown of Perth, Australia. While tutoring graphic design students in college, she noticed that most of the popular software programs such as Photoshop had steep learning curves.
As a first step, together with her business partner, Cliff Obrecht, she founded a yearbook design software program that had an intuitive graphic interface. This served as the basis for Canva, a broader platform with ready-made templates to make graphic design easier for users. The simplicity paid off; Canva was valued at more than $40 billion in 2021.
3. Larry Page, co-founder of Google
As a PhD candidate in computer science at Stanford University, Larry Page researched how different pages on the web, then in its infancy, were linked. He hypothesized that understanding linking could help him create a better search engine to let web users find relevant sites based on a keyword or phrase. Together with fellow Stanford computer science graduate student Sergey Brin, he founded Google in California’s Silicon Valley in 1998. Google has since gone on to become the most-used search product in the world, with a market value of more than $1.2 trillion as of March 2023—after only Apple and Microsoft.
Entrepreneur examples FAQ
Who are some examples of successful entrepreneurs?
The list of the most successful entrepreneurs is long, but it includes Henry Ford, who founded Ford Motor Company; Oprah Winfrey who started the top-rated Oprah Winfrey Show; and Melanie Perkins, who co-founded the design platform Canva. Others include Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder; Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard University to co-found Microsoft with Paul Allen; Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook; and Thomas Edison, who invented the lightbulb and started the company that became General Electric.
Why is it important to learn from successful entrepreneurs?
The stories of successful entrepreneurs can inspire small business owners, as well as provide tips on how to do things like seek funding when capital is limited, persevere when odds are not in your favor, and market your product to the right audience.
What are some key takeaways from studying successful entrepreneurs?
By studying successful entrepreneurs, you will notice some common threads. Many, for example, face multiple bouts of failure before becoming successful. Others find simple, elegant solutions to common problems. Most are able to fundraise and sell a product expertly.
What are some common characteristics of successful entrepreneurs?
Successful entrepreneurs are usually strategic risk-takers who dream up and implement unconventional or novel solutions to problems. They are also passionate about their long-term goals, which is important, because many businesses take several years to become viable.