These are excerpts from the life of great people, inventors, artists and thought leaders before they had reached the pinnacle of their fame and contributions to society.
However diverse they may seem, separated by nationality, race, color or ethnicity, all of them shared a common tenacity and thirst for doing something just one more time, in one more different iteration until they touched perfection. See how each one of these exemplary individuals saw the greatness within themselves and used it to create something they are today remembered for fondly.
Colonel Harland David Sanders
Col. Sanders popularly known as the face of Kentucky Fried Chicken, now KFC, had started off from selling fried chicken from a roadside restaurant in Kentucky during the Great Depression of the 1930s, a difficult time to start.
He started travelling by car to different restaurants and cooked his fried chicken on the spot for restaurant owners, keeping his secret recipe with him in his car as he traveled. If the owner liked the chicken, they would enter into a handshake agreement to sell the Colonel’s chicken. He used two years travelling across the nation, sleeping on the back of his car, being rejected time after time after time. Legend has it that Colonel Sanders heard 1009 “no’s” before he heard his first “yes”. Talk about tenacity, this man showed it in action.
He gradually recognized the potential of the franchisee model after setting up his first brand KFC restaurant in Utah in the 1950s, after realizing that he cannot keep up with the growing demands of the fast food business at his then age in the 60’s, he sold the company for USD 2 million to a group of investors. Even after nearly 70 years, we still see the Colonel on the KFC outlets even today, smiling and bringing smiles to others.
P.S. For you fact finders out there, he was not a conventional Colonel in the U.S. Defense Services, but had a title of Kentucky Colonel, for noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state or the nation.
The founder and head of Alibaba Group, the richest man in China, and first man from mainland China to appear on the cover of Forbes, man behind the largest IPO in history! Impressive? Yes, ofcourse. Even more so when you learn that he failed his college entrance exam 2 times, when job hunting he was rejected by 30 companies (including KFC).
Jack Ma mentions that he always has the intensity of learning more than he knew. Stories saying that in order to satiate his appetite for learning English, after waking up at 5 A.M. he would pedal his bike for 45 minutes to reach Hangzhou Hotel just to talk to foreigners and take tourists sightseeing for free. Through this practice, he not only polished his English but also learned “Western people’s system, ways, methods and techniques.” Little would he know that he would be rubbing shoulders with likes of the western people he met, when he rang the NYSE bell during the Alibaba IPO launch done with 8 other Alibaba customers! He claims that this was because of the customer-centric nature of the Alibaba Group.
When he was refused by banks and trading institutions to use their payment solutions on Alibaba, Jack went ahead and developed and independent payment system called Alipay in defiance. Today 800 million people use Alipay!
William H. Gates III (likes to be called Bill)
Before being the richest person in the world and owning Xanadu 2.0 (the ‘Bill Gates House’), a computerized residence with real-time adjustable temperature, music and lighting for each pin-wearing guest, Bill Gates was a failing entrepreneur.
Bill Gates, once the world’s richest man, started Microsoft in a motel room he had rented (and was living in) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, US. And also had his brush in with the law there when he was arrested for speeding and reckless driving. But what stuck with him from those days was after he and Paul Allen (still in the Microsoft leadership today) made Traf-O-Data, which gave road signal data to road engineer via reports (nobody bought that). That was a fail fast moment for them, and then they came to the idea which started Microsoft and it is common knowledge on how that went.
They kept on going and Microsoft became the largest personal-computer software company in the world. But it’s still nice to know that even the richest philanthropist in the world can make business blunders.
It’s hard to think of Henry Ford as anything other than a smashing success in the automobile industry. Early on, though, he was anything but. Ford’s first company – Detroit Automobile Company – went out of business in 1901 “amid customer complaints of high prices and low quality”, according to Newsweek. Henry Ford Company (founded one year later) was abandoned due to a fight with his partner, while a third company nearly collapsed from low sales numbers.
What these failures said to Henry Ford, loud and clear, was “listen to your market!” Which, to Ford’s credit, he undoubtedly did. With the assistance of angel investors (and the harsh lessons of his past failures), Ford reincorporated as Ford Motor Company and focused squarely on mass-producing vehicles customers both wanted and had the ability to buy. Consequently, we all know about Ford Motor while barely anyone remembers Detroit Automobile Co.
“I will work day and night to avoid failure, but if I can’t, I’ll pick myself up the next day. The most important thing for entrepreneurs is not to be put off by failure.”
Richard Branson is an icon of being the classic middle class entrepreneur, rising from humble beginnings and now in charge of the Virgin Group, whih has more than 400 companies under it. He has fought with authority in school, Dyslexia and personal relationship loss in his quest for “changing the world”. His autobiography “Losing My Virginity” released in 1998, is considered as a must-read for any upcoming entrepreneur. Having tried and failed at creating companies from cosmetics, to sports drinks, the Virgin Group remains a testament to how Branson conducted himself and his thirst for always doing some more!
P.S. Richard Branson is an experienced kitesurfer, holding some world records in the category.
Soichiro Honda was born in a hamlet near the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan, and had a simple rural upbringing. Despite of him having no formal training in machine workmanship, he went to Tokyo to work as an apprentice in a garage at age 15. From here the story starts, Honda goes on to file more than 100 patents, maintains steadfastness despite of his workshop being bombed in World War 2, destroyed by earthquakes or paucity of raw materials and labor to making an iconic brand nowadays called as the “King of the Road”, Honda!
Honda’s ingenuity and presence of mind has spun many stories of amazing products made, and overwhelmingly accepted in the market. Once during the 40’s, due to scarcity of fuel and material, he had designed a small engine to fit on a conventional bicycle for transport, and to promote his idea he wrote to 18000 cycle shops over Japan, from whom 5000 responded. He called his motorized bicycle engine “The Super Cub”, and it was an instant hit. Honda had his hand on the nerve of the nation, knew what was needed and snatched opportunity from the jaws of defeat.
As he once said Success is 99% failure, it is true that determination and dedication to a goal will take you places.
Elon Musk is a man wearing many hats, and quite spectacularly so. He founded Paypal (something that you or I encounter often while shopping online), created a category of electric cars which people thought would be impossible to do with Tesla, started a space exploration and logistics company SpaceX, owns and operates the largest supplier of household solar utilities in the United States, and all of this before he was 40 years of age.
Musk was known to be rather odd because of his quirky yet deterministic approach to life. He was bullied in school, (was pushed down a flight of stairs and still has difficulty in breathing because of that), taught himself how to code at 10 years of age (before Youtube tutorials or Codeacademy), bought and converted a 10 bed dorm at UMass into a nightclub, dropped out of a Applied Physics PhD program at Stanford in the first 2 days to pursue his entrepreneurial dream and the most spectacular- nearly bankrupted himself to get Tesla and Space off the ground (pun intended).
Perhaps what is to be learn from Elon Musk is that even though you may be gifted, but the world can be a cold and cruel place at times. The lesson is to keep going forward, and believe in your gut.
P.S. It is said that Elon Musk came up with the idea for SolarCity, a multi-million dollar company while at the Burning Man in Nevada, a notoriously radical art and music festival.