Are you on the fence about setting up a new business? Be inspired by these successful business men and women. They wanted a better life. And so, they worked to make that life a reality. Hard work, perseverance and a clear vision helped them build successful businesses from nothing.

Instead of throwing in the towel and accepting defeat, they battled on. A lot of them struggled through poverty, dysfunctional family lives and lack of education. However, despite challenges, they endured. Some went on to build million and billion dollar businesses.

Observe their lives. What can you learn from them? There are valuable techniques buried in their stories. Adapt these tactics to propel your business growth.

  1. Mary Kay Ash

When Mary Kay Ash was just seven years old, her father was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Although her mother trained as a nurse she had to look for other work. She got a job managing a restaurant and worked 14 hours a day. Mary Kay had to quickly learn how to cook, clean and look after her sick father while her mother working. The responsibility of looking after the house fell on her young shoulders. She had no choice but to do jobs in the house that young children weren’t supposed to do.

She did well at school, but her parents couldn’t afford to send her to college.

She married at 17 and had three children. Mary Kay had a few jobs in sales, did well, but watched her male colleagues getting promotions while she didn’t. Fed up with being left at the bottom, she turned her previous experiences into a plan. Before long, Mary Kay started her own company, Beauty by Mary Kay, selling skin cream.

She was keen to give women an opportunity to branch out into business for themselves, selling Mary Kay cosmetics. It didn’t take long to recruit a host of women representatives. As a reward for their hard work, Mary Kay gave top performers pink Cadillacs, jewellery and holidays. This incentive encouraged women to aim high, which they did. As a result, the company grew dramatically.

“There are four kinds of people in this world: Those who make things happen. Those who watch things happen. Those who wonder what happened. Those who don’t know that anything happened.”

Mary Kay sold millions of copies of her book about her life.

Her knowledge in marketing and sales helped her build one of the largest cosmetic companies globally. She also helped thousands of women fulfil their dreams of having successful careers across the world.

Today, many women are still building successful businesses on the back of Mary Kay Cosmetics.

  1. Richard Branson

Not everyone is aware that Richard is dyslexic. Despite this shortcoming, he went on to achieve his goals. He started out in the 70s by opening a record shop in Oxford Street, London. It took off from there to become the largest independent label. Richard signed up the Rolling Stones, one of the biggest names in the music industry.

In 1984, Virgin Atlantic was born. Following that, Richard created $8 billion companies with eight sectors of the Virgin brand.

You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over. Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming. A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.

His entrepreneurship earned him a knighthood in 1999.

Added to his business skills Richard is also adventurous. He has ventured on a number of hot air balloons and kite-surfing across the English Channel. And did you know that he’s an avid tweeter and has more than 11.5 million followers on social media? He’s also the author of six books.

Richard lives with his wife and two young children on Necker Island.

The Virgin brand is worth $5.5 billion. However, Richard is not in control of all of them.

  1. Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel grew up in an orphanage after the death of her mother. The nuns at the orphanage taught her to sew.

She had a mini singing career before opening her first shop in 1910, selling hats.

Cocoa Chanel branched out to Deauville and Biarritz and sold the clothes she made. Her fame started from a dress she created out of an old jersey to keep warm one cold day. People loved the dress. As a result, she offered to make them their own.

She told author Paul Morand, “My fortune is built on that old jersey that I’d put on because it was cold in Deauville.”

In the 20s, Chanel No.5, the first designer name perfume came on the market. It brought her fame and recognition. Sales of the perfume made substantial profits for Coco Chanel.

Another one of Coco’s creations was the little black dress. She turned the colour black, associated with mourning,  into a fashionable evening wear. The little black dress is still trending today.

Although Coco Chanel died a decade ago, her company still generates sales every year totalling hundreds of millions.

  1. Bill Gates

Bill’s favorite hobby as a young boy was learning computer programming.  He used teletype terminal computers from his school and sat for hours developing programs.  Eventually, he mastered and perfected this skill. From then on his knowledge matured.

“If you give people tools, and they use their natural abilities and their curiosity, they will develop things in ways that will surprise you very much beyond what you might have expected.”

Bill’s major creation was the Microsoft Windows operating system. This is one of the most recognized systems today.

Bill donates vast sums of money to charities. In 2000, he established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has made donations of over $28 billion to the foundation. The foundation was founded to tackle poverty, provide more education and access to technology.

Bill Gates is worth more than $79 billion, making him the richest man alive.

  1. Walt Disney

Walt Disney’s determination made him one of the biggest entertainment mogul and entrepreneurs. During his youth, he tried to get a job as a newspaper cartoonist but couldn’t get one. This setback didn’t stop him from chasing after his dream, though.

His passion for drawing cartoon pictures took him down a route of working in an art studio creating adverts for magazines and newspapers.

The famous Micky Mouse cartoon character came about after he quit Universal Pictures. He wasn’t happy about the pay cut forced on him. Walt Disney had a life-changing idea. He visualized building a massive theme park like none that had ever existed.

His idea – Disney World – turned into a theme park. All types of people and parents from all over the world bring their children to visit this wonderful park.

All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. It’s kind of fun to do the impossible. The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.

  1. Chris Gardner

Chris Gardner’s youth was traumatic. His violent stepfather caused a separation between him and his mother. Consequently, Chris was forced to live in various foster homes. When he grew up, he joined the navy and served in the US Corps for four years.

After many career failures, he started his own company, Gardner Rich & Co. in 1987 with an investment of $10,000. Although this business had a small start (he ran it from a small apartment), it eventually grew and Chris became well-known because of it.

“Walk that walk and go forward all the time. Don’t just talk that talk, walk it and go forward. Also, the walk didn’t have to be long strides; baby steps counted too. Go forward.”

He owned most of the stakes, but sold Gardner Rich stakes in 2006 for several million dollars. Afterwards, he established ‘Christopher Gardner International Holdings’ with branches in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Chris became a famous stockbroker. He is worth $60 million dollars. Most of his riches came from profits he made from selling the stakes of Gardner Rich  & Co.

  1. Henry Ford

Henry Ford’s interest in machinery started when he was 12. By the age of 15, he constructed his first steam engine. At 16, he started an apprenticeship in machinist in Detroit. Three years later he finished the course.

He had a number of projects going on at the same time. Henry worked in a factory, repaired his father’s farm equipment, operated and repaired steam engines.

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success. You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do. Don’t find fault, find a remedy.

A few years later, after marrying and raising a family, he became an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company.  After receiving a promotion and pay increase, he had enough money to experiment with internal combustion engines. This was his personal project.

Henry had an interest in horseless carriages. He built the Ford Quadricycle, his first model, in 1896. Thomas Edison was the first person to see his automobile plans. He encouraged Henry to develop it and build a better model.

In 1903 he successfully established the Ford Motor Company. He added the Model T in 1908. He was the creator of cheap automobile produced by highly skilled workers.

What was fascinating about Henry Ford was his ability to transform the automobile into an innovation. He was always eager to learn and took on jobs with prior knowledge. Ford vehicles are still popular today.

Henry’s net worth is around $199 billion. He died in 1947.

  1. Mark Zuckerberg

Mark was an intelligent young boy. He attended Harvard, one of the top universities.

While at university, Mark created Facemash, a website he used to show illegal photos. This offended some of the students. Nevertheless, it became the most widespread web page in the university’s network.

He was told to shut down the site. Even so, his rebellious nature kicked in. Mark encouraged the students to create personal profiles and network with their friends within the campus. Along with four of his friends, they started Facebook.

Facebook blew up significantly. It became popular in other schools and colleges. From then on it developed into a public service.

I think a simple rule of business is, if you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of progress

When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place. So, what we view our role as, is giving people that power.

The thing that we are trying to do at Facebook, is just help people connect and communicate more efficiently.

These days Facebook has more than seven hundred million users.

Mark has had proposals to sell Facebook for multi-billion dollar amounts. However, he refuses to sell.

  1. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah’s childhood was laced with excessive poverty, sexual abuse by family members, and having to work hard as a housemaid. Her mother was a teenager. She had no money to give Oprah a decent life.

Oprah pushed for her breakthrough. She performed a gig at a local black radio station. This led to her working her way up the ladder. From there she expanded to most prominent radio stations.

Turn your wounds into wisdom. The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams. Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure. Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.

In due course, Oprah appeared on television. Fortunately for her, she met Robert Ebert. He encouraged her to accept and sign a deal that sealed the start of fresh new beginnings.

She started the successful Oprah Winfrey Show. This popular show made her a famous household name.

  1. Alan Sugar

Alan Sugar came from a poor background. His entrepreneurship started at school. He worked for a greengrocer to earn pocket-money. When he was 16 he sold car aerials and electronics.

The entrepreneurial instinct is in you. You can’t learn it, you can’t buy it, you can’t put it in a bottle. It’s just there and it comes out.

At 21, Alan started his own business, Amstrad. It was set up as an export-import and wholesale company. He added consumer electronics to the product line. He later developed a manufacturing unit which produced high-quality car stereos and  televisions. They developed advanced methods which were used to cut costs.

Alan sold Amstrad to BskyB (one of his biggest clients for many years) for £125 million in 2007.

His taste for new business ventures went on. And he founded Amsair Executive Aviation, Amsreen and Viglen. These businesses are still being run by his sons.

He’s been in The Apprentice, a BBC reality show since 2005. In the show, he fires one candidate every week until there is only one left. The winner either works in his company or wins a partnership with him.

His estimated worth is £1.15 billion and he’s the 95th richest person in the UK.

In conclusion, life is about stepping out of your safe boat and into the water. You may get your feet wet. But it’s better to try to succeed than not try at all.