7 Entrepreneurs Whose Perseverance Will Inspire You

Everyone knows that perseverance is important. You’ve probably heard the quote “If at first you don’t succeed, try again” or seen the commercial that talks about falling down 7 times and standing up 8. The lesson, of course, is that few people achieve anything great without first overcoming a few obstacles.

Preaching about the importance of perseverance is easy. Actually experiencing failure and continuing on undeterred; now that’s tough. But the 7 stories below prove that it can be done. These famous entrepreneurs exemplified perseverance. Maybe one of them will inspire you to overcome whatever obstacle is currently standing in your way.

Milton Hershey

Milton Hershey had a long path to the top of the chocolate industry. Hershey dropped out of school in the 4th grade and took an apprenticeship with a printer, only to be fired. He then became an apprentice to a candy-maker in Lancaster, PA. After studying the business for 4 years, Hershey started three unsuccessful candy companies in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York.

Hershey was not about to give up, so he moved back to Lancaster and began the Lancaster Caramel Company. His unique caramel recipe, which he had come across during his earlier travels, was a huge success. Hershey, who was always looking ahead, believed that chocolate products had a much greater future than caramel. He sold the Lancaster Caramel Company for $1 million in 1900 (nearly $25 million in 2008 dollars) and started the Hershey Company, which brought milk chocolate -- previously a Swiss delicacy -- to the masses.

Not only did Hershey overcome failure and accomplish his goals, but he also managed to do it close to home. Hershey created hundreds of jobs for Pennsylvanians. He also used some of his money to build houses, churches, and schools, cementing his status as a legend in the Keystone State.

Persistence is key. But it also helps if you have a solid business plan from the beginning. If you need assistance with your business plan, contact a Growthink business plan writer today.

Steve Jobs

You always hear about a “long road to the top,” but perseverance isn’t limited to the early stages of a person’s career. Oftentimes, failure can occur after a long period of success.

Steve Jobs achieved great success at a young age. When he was 20 years old, Jobs started Apple in his parents’ garage, and within a decade the company blossomed into a $2 billion empire. However, at age 30, Apple’s Board of Directors decided to take the business in a different direction, and Jobs was fired from the company he created. Jobs found himself unemployed, but treated it as a freedom rather than a curse. In fact, he later said that getting fired from Apple was the best thing to ever happen to him, because it allowed him to think more creatively and re-experience the joys of starting a company.

Jobs went on to found NeXT, a software company, and Pixar, the company that produces animated movies such as Finding Nemo. NeXT was subsequently purchased by Apple. Not only did Jobs go back to his former company, but he helped launch Apple’s current resurgence in popularity. Jobs claims that his career success and his strong relationship with his family are both results of his termination from Apple.

Are you building the next Pixar or Apple?  Get expert business planning advice from a Growthink business plan consultant.

Simon Cowell

Nowadays, Simon Cowell is a pop icon and a very wealthy man. But early in life, Cowell faced his fair share of struggles. At age 15, Cowell dropped out of school and bounced around jobs. He eventually landed a job in the mail room of EMI Music Publishing. Cowell worked his way up to the A&R department, and then went on to form his own publishing company, E&S Music.

Unfortunately, E&S folded in its first year. Cowell ended up with a lot of debt, and was forced to move back in with his parents. But he never gave up on his dream of working in the music industry, and eventually landed a job with a small company called Fanfare Records. He worked there for 8 years and helped the company become a very successful label. From there, Cowell spent years signing talent and working behind-the-scenes before launching the “American Idol” and “X-Factor” franchises that made him famous.

Even though he is rich and successful, Cowell continues to work on new projects. This kind of dedication no doubt helped him overcome his early roadblocks.

Thomas Edison

When he was a young boy, Thomas Edison’s parents pulled him out of school after teachers called him “stupid” and “unteachable.” Edison spent his teenage years working and being fired from various jobs, culminating in his termination from a telegraph company at age 21. Despite these setbacks, Edison never deterred from his true passion, inventing. Throughout his career, Edison obtained 1,093 patents. And while many of these inventions -- such as the light bulb, stock printer, phonograph and alkaline battery -- were groundbreaking, even more of them were unsuccessful. Edison is famous for saying that genius is “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

One of Edison’s greatest stories of perseverance occurred after he was already wildly successful. After inventing the light bulb, Edison began a quest to find an inexpensive light bulb filament. At the time, ore was mined in the Midwest, and shipping costs were incredibly high. To combat this, Edison opened his own ore-mining plant in Ogdensburg, New Jersey. For roughly a decade, Edison devoted all his time and money to the plant. He also obtained 47 patents for inventions designed to make the plant run more smoothly. And after all of that, Edison’s project still failed thanks to the low quality ore on the East Coast. 

But as it turned out, one of the aforementioned 47 inventions (a newly-designed crushing machine) revolutionized the cement industry and earned Edison back nearly all of the money he lost. In addition, Henry Ford would later credit Edison’s Ogdensburg project as the main inspiration for his Model T Ford assembly line, and many believe that Edison paved the way for modern-day industrial laboratories. Edison’s foray into ore-mining proves that dedication and commitment can pay off even in a losing venture.


Are you starting a new business?  Get expert strategic advice from Growthink's professional business plan consultants


George Steinbrenner

Before “The Boss” assumed ownership of the New York Yankees, he owned a basketball franchise called the Cleveland Pipers. The Pipers were part of the American Basketball League, and in 1960, under Steinbrenner’s helm, the franchise went bankrupt.

When he eventually took over the Yankees, Steinbrenner’s struggles didn’t end. Most baseball fans will remember the team’s drought in the 1980s and early 1990s. As the team suffered, Steinbrenner was often criticized for his executive decisions, which included questionable trades and frequent changes to the Manager position. Though his methods were controversial, Steinbrenner stuck to his guns, and it paid off. The Yankees made an impressive six World Series appearances from 1996-2003, and remain Major League Baseball’s most profitable team year after year.

Steinbrenner is known for his shrewd business tactics, but he’s also not afraid to put his money where his mouth is. The Yankees have the highest payroll in baseball, and they’ve been in contention every year since the mid-90s. Even when the Cleveland Pipers went bankrupt, Steinbrenner offered to pay back the team’s investors, a promise he eventually made good on.

Steinbrenner has been quoted as saying, "I never wanted anybody to say ‘I went down a path with George Steinbrenner and lost money.’"

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, is currently the second-richest female entertainer on the planet, behind Oprah. However, when Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in 1995, it was rejected by twelve different publishers. Even Bloomsbury, the small publishing house that finally purchased Rowling’s manuscript, told the author to “get a day job.”

At the time when Rowling was writing the original Harry Potter book, her life was a self-described mess. She was going through a divorce and living in a tiny flat with her daughter. Rowling was surviving on government subsidies, and her mother had just passed away from multiple sclerosis. J.K. turned these negatives into a positive by devoting most of her free time to the Harry Potter series. She also drew from her bad personal experiences when writing. The result is a brand name currently worth nearly $15 billion.


What about you? Are you starting a new business?  If you need help with your business plan, contact Growthink's professional business plan writers


Walt Disney

As a young man, Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star Newspaper because his boss thought he lacked creativity. He went on to form an animation company called Laugh-O-Gram Films in 1921. Using his natural salesmanship abilities, Disney was able to raise $15,000 for the company ($181,000 in 2008 dollars). However, he made a deal with a New York distributor, and when the distributor went out of business, Disney was forced to shut Laugh-O-Gram down. He could barely pay his rent and even resorted to eating dog food.

Broke but not defeated, Disney spent his last few dollars on a train ticket to Hollywood. Unfortunately his troubles were not over. In 1926, Disney created a cartoon character named Oswald the Rabbit. When he attempted to negotiate a better deal with Universal Studios -- the cartoon’s distributor -- Disney discovered that Universal had secretly patented the Oswald character. Universal then hired Disney’s artists away from him, and continued the cartoon without Disney’s input (and without paying him).

As if that wasn’t enough, Disney also struggled to release some of his now-classic films. He was told Mickey Mouse would fail because the mouse would “terrify women.” Distributors rejected The Three Little Pigs, saying it needed more characters. Pinocchio was shut down during production and Disney had to rewrite the entire storyline. Other films, like Bambi, Pollyanna and Fantasia, were misunderstood by audiences at the time of their release, only to become favorites later on.

Disney’s greatest example of perseverance occurred when he tried to make the book Mary Poppins into a film. In 1944, at the suggestion of his daughter, Disney decided to adapt the Pamela Travers novel into a screenplay. However, Travers had absolutely no interest in selling Mary Poppins to Hollywood. To win her over, Disney visited Travers at her England home repeatedly for the next 16 years. After more than a decade-and-a-half of persuasion, Travers was overcome by Disney’s charm and vision for the film, and finally gave him permission to bring Mary Poppins to the big screen. The result is a timeless classic.

In a fitting twist of fate, The Disney Company went on to purchase ABC in 1996. At the time, ABC was owner of the Kansas City Star, meaning the newspaper that once fired Disney had become part of the empire he created. And all thanks to his creativity (and a lot of perseverance).


Are you starting a business, or looking to grow your business?

The first step to success is to create your business plan.

Click here to download Growthink's free business plan template




Denny K Miu says

Thanks for a great article. I absolutely agree that perseverance and graceful recovery from profound failures are the key to success. The following is a writeup of my own experience in dusting off and start over again. http://www.lovemytool.com/blog/2007/10/riding-a-bike.html
Posted at 5:58 pm
Beverly Martin says

I found your article very inspiring. However, I was wondering if you could share some African American, and Hispanic stories of perserverence and success. I look forward to your next issue.
Posted at 8:38 pm
Rafael Kemish A. says

It is amazing how much a humang being can do, we all are afraid of our faith most of the time, and we have every reason to, we can surely not control our destiny, but we can try, and try, and try until we bring our dreams to life. Thanks!
Posted at 9:20 pm
TomZ says

Denny - Thanks. I really enjoyed your article as well.

Beverly - Thank you, too. We'll hopefully have many more stories like these in the future, featuring people of all backgrounds. Keep checking back.
Posted at 3:05 pm
odipo says

Most times we quite just when success is about to hatch. The stories are very inspiring. However what is the statitics on the propotion of people who've stayed on and failed all the same?
Posted at 12:46 pm
Stephanie Peacock says

Wow lovely stuff there! Can I share your artical? Thank you Stephanie
Posted at 12:00 pm
TomZ says

odipo - I couldn't find that specific statistic. However, depending on who you believe, 50-80% of new businesses fail, so a lot of entrepreneurs have to endure multiple failures. This is exactly why we stress the importance of business plans, so you can minimize the number of setbacks.


Stephanie - Thank you. Of course you can share, go for it.

Posted at 1:24 pm
WB says

I'm sure I'll be called a bigot for saying this, even though I'm not. I'm just curious why everything, including a simple article on perseverance, has to turn into a "race" competition. With all due respect to Beverly, why does it matter what race ANYONE is with regard to telling of their perseverance and successes? Is it fair to non-African Americans and non-Hispanics to ask the editor to specifically seek out stories focusing on a particular race? It seems even stories meant to inspire must now be measured under the microscope of "political correctness." Very sad. This was a great article meant to inspire. Job well done. Let's leave it at that.
Posted at 9:55 pm
ola says

Growthink as just ignited the dumb fire that was in me as i have just read from the life of great entrepreneurs that have made great impact with the negative circumstance that surrounded their existence. I am greatly amazed with their life's and hopes
Posted at 1:41 pm
kikixiang says

really useful passage. thank you
Posted at 9:00 am
albert diroberto says

Great words! Adding to this from the world of pro sports; Perfect, massive practice increases scoring success. Record MLB home run hitter Mark McGuire, hit over 5,000 home runs in batting practice to achieve 70 home runs in a pro baseball season (according to his coach on Larry King). Pro hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” In a typical hockey game, the team's top scorer, only gets 3-5 shots in the game. The greatest NBA basketball player of all time Michael Jordan, was cut from his high school basketball team (where is this coach today?), and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots on his way to creating an awesome career. Michael Jordan said his secret was that he was able to overcome the obstacle FEAR by believing FEAR was really False Evidence Appearing Real. In sports the team that takes the most shots on goal usually wins the game. Also, the team that puts the most focus on the goal, will score. This happens in the last minutes of play more often than not. When you get that shot, the chance to score, be ready to the max. Al Diroberto Pro Hockey Coach
Posted at 3:36 pm
TheInfoPreneur says

Hey Tom why was my name not on this list! Ha ha only kidding great post, Simon Cowell is a great role model, especially as he actually lost his fortune when he was 30 only to go and build it all again! Good post, great site, well worth a re-tweet
Posted at 11:09 pm
Squirrelers says

Excellent article - worth reading and thinking about. Its often times not the natural talent, but the persistence and determination that some people have that either opens doors or helps them take advantage of opportunities as they work toward their dreams.
Posted at 5:22 pm
Stan Pontiere says

To persevere in the face of abject failure is perhaps the greatest character trait that we can develop. We can never let failure be an option-consider it just a challenge and learn from it and then take action again and massive action equals massive results. While fear of failure and fear of success can kill our deepest dreams, my greatest fear is that of mediocrity and I will settle for nothing less than excellence in my life.
Posted at 3:49 pm
alea says

very inspiring. thanks. ps: maybe you could add some african americans to the list.thanks again. deuces alea
Posted at 3:31 pm
Brood says

did they speak to a Growthink consultant?
Posted at 1:57 pm
N jolly says

I find this very captivating...maks my teachings very inspiring.
Posted at 1:25 pm
Vietnam Tours says

Vietnam tour, vietnam holidays, vietnam hotels, vietnam travel, vietnam resorts, hanoi hotel, halong tour, hue hotel, mui ne resort . Vietnam Tours
Posted at 10:16 am
Coursework Help says

Julie Roehm, Wal-Mart's top marketer, is leading a group of top US advertisers including Microsoft and Masterfoods, in trying to set up an ebay-style online auction system for TV airtime. Regards, Custom Coursework
Posted at 11:23 am

Get a Free Consultation
with a Growthink Expert

Click Here