Top 7 Failures Which Led To Success

With the hype over “overnight successes” (which are anything but) and get rich schemes, constantly flooding our email inbox as well as popping up on many websites we visit, it is easy to forget that the road to success is often more challenging that it first appears and failures are inevitable. As I read through the hundreds of questions I get asked to answer on Quora every week I see a strong pattern of people who want to go from €0 to €1000 a day within an exceptionally short span. Even though I wouldn’t believe anyone would be giving out the correct answer to this question, for free at least, people keep asking.


The road to success is paved by many failures along the way. A failure could be as small as making a PR gaffe and as big as closing down a company. All successful entrepreneurs have had failures along their career and I would like to share with you the top list of failures which led to success for them.


7. Thomas Edison


Without Mr. Edison’s great invention you would not be reading this blog post, you wouldn’t be able to drive your car at night and you probably would not be able to fly at night either. He invented the electrical light bulb, which changed the world when it was invented. As an inventor, Thomas Edison had a long history of failures, in fact it is said that he tried over 9,000 times to successfully build the light bulb. When asked about his many failures he simply stated that he succeeded at finding “definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work”. If you use the lessons learnt from each of your failures you will be one step closer to success.


6. Tim Ferriss


He is better known for his best selling book, The 4-Hour Workweek, but he also owns a successful blog, is a popular public speaker and an investor. Tim Ferriss is an example of what many people want to achieve in their business goals. Just like all the other entrepreneurs in this list, Ferriss had many failures before his big break. Thousands of readers might have missed out on the book completely if the 26 publishers he went to got their way. Such a big blow would damage the motivation of any successful entrepreneur, let alone one who is just starting out.


5. Steve Jobs


Of course this entrepreneur needs no introduction. Not only is he the co-founder of Apple but he is also the founder of Pixar and NeXT as well as a former board member of the Walt Disney company. Steve Jobs’ success in business is indeed impressive and his failures are just as unbelievable. He was fired from Apple, the company he co-founded, but he did not let that end his entrepreneurial goals. In a later interview Jobs would state that “getting fired from Apple was the greatest thing that could have happened to me”. This is because his startup energy started flowing again and this is when he created Pixar, the animations company. Jobs eventually returned to Apply where his creativity led to the creation and massive success of the iPod, iPhone and iPad amongst other inventions.


4. Fred Smith


Whilst it is understandable that you might not know about Fred Smith, chances are that you used his services at least once in the past month. He is the founder of Fedex, the first overnight courier service in the US. Smith’s story is a excellent example of how failures lead to success. His many challenges included raising enough capital to start the company, managing the company as it made loss after loss and succeeding at getting more funding to rescue it. His story also shows how there is no ideal age to start a business, since his idea first came to him whilst attending Yale University. After reading about the concept of Fedex for a term paper, Smith’s economic professor concluded, “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C’, the idea must be feasible.”


3. Oprah Winfrey


She has touched the hearts and minds of the 42 million viewers who watched her along the 25 seasons of her show. Oprah Winfrey is well known for having succeeded at conquering daytime television in what is one of the fiercest competitive markets. Her biggest failures would lead her to her biggest success. Before she started her show, Winfrey was a news reporter at WJZ-TV in Baltimore. A producer informed her that she was being fired from the gig as she got too emotionally invested in the stories and that made her “unfit for television news”.


2. J. K. Rowling


The author or the hugely successful Harry Potter series did not have a magical adventure which led her to where she is today. Whilst she always dreamt of being a writer she was discouraged by many publishers. Rowling would use her alter ego, Robert Galbraith, to pitch novels to publishers which deemed them failures. She even pitched the Harry Potter story which also got rejected at first. Ironically one publisher also recommended she take up a writing course. This is not to say that improving oneself is not important, but sometimes finding the right audience is more important. Today over 400 million Harry Potter books were sold globally making J. K. Rowling the first woman writer to become a billionaire. She posted some of her rejection letters to inspire other authors.


1. Walt Disney


It is hard to image a world today without Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the many princesses who live in the Disney castles around the world. From a business perspective Walt Disney is a prime example of a successful entrepreneur. Not only did he start and built a very profitable empire, but this empire continued to expand even after he retired and passed away. Yet, Mr. Disney was not always celebrated for his skills. His biggest failures came whilst working at the Kansas City Star newspaper during his high school days, where he was fired for lack of creativity. In a final twist the Walt Disney company would later buy ABC who also owned the Kansas City Star.

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10 thoughts on “Top 7 Failures Which Led To Success

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