We all love a good rags-to-riches story about successful people who worked through adversity. Whether they were challenged by learning disabilities, a bad family life, or a dangerous environment, these 4 entrepreneurs started with nothing. Today they’re at the top of the world.
Daymond John is the founder of apparel line FUBU and investor on the hit TV show Shark Tank. He’s a true definition of a modern-day renaissance man with a net worth of $300 million.
The fire of Daymond John’s entrepreneurial spirit was always stoked by a desire to run his own business. Even from a young age, Daymond came up with creative ways to make money, such as scraping the paint off pencils and customizing them with the names of the prettiest girls in his class.
As an adult, he waited tables at Red Lobster, where he gleaned some entrepreneurial guidance from the way they would generate revenue through appetizers and drinks.
Work didn’t follow him home, leaving him with time to focus on his real passion: an apparel business for young men that would also link Daymond John’s love of Hip-Hop. His mother—who Daymond lauds as his main inspiration—taught him to sew wool caps. He sold 80 of them at $10 apiece; when they sold out, he went back the next hour and got more material.
Daymond John’s mother recognized her son’s passion, so she mortgaged her home to raise six figures in startup capital. Daymond’s business launched in 1992 and grew in extreme popularity as rappers wore FUBU in their music videos.
Today Daymond John celebrates the power of leveraging a “broke mindset.” His book, The Power of Broke, details ways to get creative in the face of poverty like he once did.
Tai Lopez grew up in Long Beach, California with a less-than-optimal family life, raised by his mother and grandmother—his father was in prison off and on.
When he was six years old, Tai sold cherry tomatoes with his mother for a quarter a bag. Realizing that cherry tomatoes weren’t so popular, he decided to sell “lemonade with sugar.” When he started making ten times the amount he made with cherry tomatoes in the same amount of time, he recognized the power of product and demand and taking entrepreneurial risks.
Long Beach in the ‘80s was home to a lot of gang activity. Thankfully, Tai was very shy and turned to books to cope with his environment. Tai wanted to learn more about the idea of a good life, so he wrote to his grandfather, a successful scientist. Tai’s grandfather sent him a box of eleven books, hand-picked to fan the fires of Tai’s natural curiosity and spark a lifelong love of reading. Tai began to read thousands of books, and soon became filled with a desire to travel and meet people like those he read about in his books.
Tai set out to travel 51 countries and immerse himself in experiences like working at a leper colony in India and living among the Amish—where he learned to avoid procrastination by doing the hardest things first.
Broke from his travels, Tai moved back in with his mother, sleeping on the couch of her mobile home. In desperation, he opened the Yellow Pages to find a mentor. It just so happened that Mike Stainback, the owner of a local insurance firm, had been searching for an ambitious mentee at exactly the same time.
Tai moved on from the insurance firm to become a top-ranked social media influencer and internet celebrity when his famous video of him standing in his garage next to his Lamborghini—and a library of several thousand books went viral. A true testament to the love of books his grandfather sparked many years ago.
Tai Lopez associates his success with experience and a self-guided love of reading—he still immerses himself in one book every single day.
Ben Buckwalter is the founder of one of the fastest growing sales training schools in America—and a perfect example of getting to the top through hard work.
Ben grew up in a small Midwestern town surrounded by farmland; his inspiring story showcases not relying on a formal education to achieve success in life and earning big while overcoming the limiting beliefs of other people.
After years of struggling to find success in school because of his ADHD, Ben dropped out of college. On the last day of college, a professor told him that low test scores meant he would never get a well-paying job and he would struggle in life.
“I will never forget the feeling of hopelessness I felt when I heard those words,” says Ben Buckwalter. “At that moment, I decided that I didn’t need college or community support; I decided I would create my own path to success.”
Ben didn’t quite know where to turn, so he took a low paying summer job shoveling dirt at a garden center. In his desperation to get out of the summer heat, he took the next available job he found and moved on to selling insurance at a call center.
He continued to grow and educate himself and it was in his new role as an insurance salesman that Ben got an important crash-course on sales, cold calling, and most importantly, how to close a deal. Before long, he was the company’s top seller.
Ben left the company and used his experience and knowledge to successfully launch multiple businesses selling millions upon millions of dollars in programs and products, across multiple niches from the agrochemical market to digital marketing.
Today Ben Buckwalter is an award winning sales strategist and successful entrepreneur working with global brands to master their selling process. Ben has gone on to become one of the most sought-after coaches in the sales and marketing industry, where he teaches his students to shatter the glass ceiling of their own expectations.
When Ben looks back on his journey, he relates that this feeling of being “up against the wall” helping him find success, and he’s never let that inspiration go.
Lewis Howes is a shining example of how someone can overcome multiple challenges to find greatness in life. Howes grew up in Delaware, Ohio, the youngest of four siblings. He struggled for attention, he struggled with the way he looked, he struggled with reading comprehension, and he struggled to find friends.
Howes’ parents met and married when they were 19. They had both wanted to be professional opera singers. Instead, they ended up struggling financially as Howes’ father worked three jobs. Neither parent was living their dreams, and it showed through their stress and tension.
This stress impacted Howes and his siblings. One brother was jailed for selling drugs, while a sister struggled with alcoholism. Howes was placed in special education classes because of reading issues. The idea of public speaking put him into a cold sweat.
Miserable at home and at school, Howes turned to sports as a ticket out. But his path to success actually started when he made some friends at a Christian summer camp. These particular kids attended a boarding school in Saint Louis, and Howes was captivated by their positivity, energy, and creativity.
He petitioned his parents to go to this boarding school, where he excelled at football. He wasn’t the best at anything, but he was willing to sacrifice pain for playtime. He attributes this drive to his feelings of loneliness as a child—as if he had nothing to lose.
Howes made it to the bush league of Arena Football. Then his wrist broke in 2007. Penniless, he moved in with his sister, went through rehab, and entered a job market impacted by the 2008-2009 recession, with no job skills. Even worse, Howes felt like he had lost his identity.
Watching a handball game, Howes decided this could be his sport—but he needed money to get to New York and start training. He started spending hours every day on LinkedIn, learning the ins and outs of networking. He created a group for sports executives, which ballooned to 10,000 professionals in about a year.
People started telling Howes that his work on LinkedIn had helped them network their way into a job. Howes started speaking at events, opened a coaching business, and hosting live meetups. He also reached his goal of playing handball for the US Olympic Team.
Today Howes has a top-100 podcast, The School of Greatness. He’s been named by the White House as one of the top-100 entrepreneurs under 30. Above all, Howes is dedicated to saving people from unhappy careers, which leads to unhappy lives—strongly believing that if people do what they love, the world will be a better place.