5 May 2021

4 Founders Who Epically Failed Before They Succeeded

Startup, Entrepreneur, Best Startup Business, New Startups, Founder

Failure is essential to success, yet society has conditioned us to believe that failing is inherently negative – an experience that we are to simultaneously avoid and fear. But the pain of failure provides the unique opportunity for reflection and re-evaluation, often igniting a determined force of perseverance. In fact, countless successful entrepreneurs have themselves experienced rejection during their journey to success. Here are the stories of four epically successful failures.

Sara Blakely, Founder of Spanx

This self-made billionaire failed the LSAT (law school admission) twice, before selling fax machines door to door for 7 years. During this time she also applied to get a job at Disney World playing Goofy but was turned down. Determined to push ahead, Blakely spent as much time as possible figuring out her strengths. She then took $5,000 of her savings to launch prototypes for what was to become her shapewear company, Spanx. Behind every incident of failure is an opportunity or lesson — or, as Blakely puts it, “a chance to build your character.” Spanx wouldn’t have existed if she didn’t fail the LSAT, forcing her to reassess her life, and find her entrepreneurial spirit. Moreover, Blakely’s self-belief means she owns 100% of the private company, which started with $5,000 and now is valued in the billions.

James Watt and Martin Dickie, Co-Founders of BrewDog

In 2009, BrewDog founders James and Martin asked Dragon’s Den for a £100,000 investment in exchange for 20% of their company’s profits. The Dragons rejected the pair, only for BrewDog to go on to become a company valued by Forbes at around £1.6 billion ($2 billion), which means the initial investment of £100,000 alone would be worth a cool £360 million today. James recalls their then-perceived failure as “a huge kick in the teeth for us at the time…that stinging rejection st aill burns today”.

Startup, Venture Capital, Entrepreneur, Dyson, Huffington Post

Image via Brewdog.com.

Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder of The Huffington Post

Arianna Huffington is the author of 13 books and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, a news outlet among the most globally recognized brand names in the world of online publications. Yet, Huffington is no stranger to failure; her second book was rejected 36 different times before finally being accepted for publication, and the initial critical reception to The Huffington Post was overwhelmingly negative, with many stating that the publication lacked quality and potential. In an interview with CNN Business, Huffington stated her belief that failure often provides fertile ground for success: “You can recognise very often that out of these projects that may not have succeeded themselves, other successes are built”. 

Sir James Dyson, Founder of Dyson

Dyson dedicated 15 years to designing and developing the iconic bagless Dyson vacuum cleaner that would eventually go on to become a best-selling household appliances brand, synonymous with innovation and efficiency. Whilst creating the original vacuum cleaner, Dyson went through 5,126 unsuccessful prototypes and the vast majority of his life’s savings. His 5127th prototype proved a success, and now Dyson has an estimated net worth of more than £20 billion ($28.6 billion).

Header Image, Sara Blakely via Forbes.

Success Stories