When I started my first business, I envisioned an empire. I wanted to build my very own Virgin empire. Just like Richard Branson, I wanted different businesses under Demeter brand. It was a classic dream I think a lot of entrepreneurs have (I recall Tony Hsieh mentioning it in his book). Well, it didn’t quite end that way.
I ended up selling my company for a tiny sum and the Demeter brand died. My grandiose vision for Demeter never came to fruition. There was no Demeter company with twenty companies within its umbrella. There was a mourning period after the sale, which may sound silly, but I went through a lot of personal growth with Demeter. The mourning ended when I realized I hadn’t actually failed.
I realized that many of the entrepreneurs I look up to aren’t on their first companies. In fact, their first few companies might have been complete flops or minor successes. There are very few entrepreneurs whose first companies are their last. Jeff Bezos is one that comes to mind.
If you’re starting your first company, with a similar dream of multiple businesses under one roof, my goal isn’t to squash your dream. I’m writing this to remind you that success often doesn’t happen on the first try. Famous entrepreneurs, with large companies, often failed many times before reaching the pinnacle of their fields. Here are a few examples to remind you to keep going strong, even when things get tough.
Aaron Levie – The CEO of Box wasn’t always an enterprise software leader. He started out like many of us. In a bedroom, with a computer, and big idea. One of his early businesses was called Zizap, the “fastest search engine on the internet.” Clearly it wasn’t, but it was just one of the many small businesses Aaron started on his way to Box.com. Which is now worth over $2 billion.
Mark Zuckerberg – Zuckerberg is most famously known for being the founder of Facebook. But in high school, Zuckerberg created a music player called Synapse Media Player, under the company name Intelligent Media Group. The player used machine learning to understand listeners’ habits. Might the music and social networking world be different if SMP had become a huge hit?
Max Levchin – A key member of the PayPal mafia, Levchin has gone on to great entrepreneurial success. He’s been a part of Slide, Yelp, Glow, and Affirm, as well as serving on the board of directors for Yahoo, Yelp, and Evernote. But prior to all this success, in college he started two little known companies, NetMeridian Software and SponsorNet New Media.
Elon Musk – It’s probably unfair to add Elon Musk to this list, none of us can possibly duplicate his career. But the Tesla Motors founder has built many companies in his career. He might be most known for his involvement with PayPal (his X.com merged with PayPal before it was really Paypal). But did you know Musk started a company called Zip2, which was a “city guide” for the newspaper publishing industry? Did you know it was sold to Compaq for more than $300 million?
Mark Cuban – Cuban might be most famous as a reality TV show star or the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Before his more mainstream success, he was the co-founder of Broadcast.com, which is what turned him into a billionaire. But long before that venture, he had several smaller ventures, including a bar, disco lessons, and a chain letter. Cuban made his first million by selling Microsolutions to CompuServe for $6 million in 1990.
All I can say, is good luck to you with your business venture. Work hard and treat people right. If you fail or have minor success, that’s ok. Because if your current company doesn’t become what you dream it can be, there is always another company to build down the road.