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It’s safe to say that Oprah Winfrey is one of the most famous people in the world. She’s the host of a successful TV show (and network), a philanthropist, a producer and an actress. But she is perhaps most well-known for her huge success as an entrepreneur, having been dubbed one of the richest women in the 21st century and the first African-American billionaire.
However, Winfrey was not always the queen of the world she is today. She was born to a single mother in a poor community in Mississippi, and lived in extreme poverty for the first part of her life. By the time she came of age, she struggled to keep afloat and go to school.
But Winfrey was determined to beat the odds, and by high school she got her first gig as a radio host. From then on, she worked hard -- really hard. At age 32, she became a millionaire when her talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, went national. Years later, she is the owner of the cable network OWN, as well as The Oprah Magazine and Oprah.com.
"I don't think of myself as a poor, deprived and ghetto girl who made good. I think of myself as somebody who from an early age knew I was responsible for myself and I had to make good."
- Oprah Winfrey
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While certainly not one of the richest people in history, Milton Hershey will forever be remembered for his delicious chocolate. Although not exactly a rags-to-riches kind of story, Hershey experienced many struggles on his quest to create The Hershey Chocolate Company.
Growing up in a rural community in Pennsylvania, Hershey helped his parents on the family farm. It was there that he developed his love and value of hard work and grew to understand the concept of taking massive action.
At 14, Hershey began working with a candymaker in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. During the course of his employment, he studied and practiced how to make confections, and by 18 he ventured into the business on his own.
With nothing but the knowledge he gained during his time in Lancaster, Hershey built his first-ever confectionery business. The venture operated for a short six years before going bankrupt. In the following few years, he went on to start two other confectionery businesses, both of which also failed.
Hopeless, without money, and disowned by his family, Hershey attempted one more desperate venture: The Lancaster Caramel Company. It was his first huge success. Shortly thereafter, he shifted his focus from caramel to chocolate, and The Hershey Company was born.
Hershey’s story demonstrates that even in the face of numerous failures, we shouldn’t give up. With persistence and the drive to succeed, one can achieve anything.
"One must have a reasonable optimism. It is the force that makes the world go."
- Milton Hershey
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Perhaps lesser-known than the above entrepreneurs is Nick Woodman, owner of the fastest-growing camera company in America (GoPro) and one of the youngest billionaires in the world. Much like the Hershey and Winfrey, Woodman also encountered his fair share of business mishaps as a young entrepreneur.
During the online frenzy of the early 2000s, Woodman tried his luck and built two online startups. His first venture was the e-commerce site EmpowerAll.com, which never turned a profit. His second was an online marketing company called FunBug, which was shut down in 2001 due to technical issues.
After losing $4 million on his business ventures, Woodman told Forbes,
"I mean, nobody likes to fail, but the worst thing was I lost my investors’ money, and these were people that believed in this young guy that was passionate about this idea… you start to question: are my ideas really good?"After the failure of FunBug, Woodman decided to take a long break. When he finally launched GoPro, he worked as hard as he could to avoid losing another business. He dedicated himself fully to succeeding -- and he did.
Woodman's story tells us that age and failure are not strikes against entrepreneurs who are committed to success. Many young people are hesitant to pursue their business ideas because they believe youth is a handicap -- but it doesn’t have to be.
Three very different people with one simple (and profound) story to tell: in business, nothing comes easily. Chasing success is like running through a dark, narrow tunnel. You’ll get exhausted from running and overwhelmed by the darkness, but if you’re persistent, eventually you’ll see a beam of light in the distance and realize which direction will lead you to success -- just like Winfrey, Hershey, and Woodman did.