Businesswoman giving a presentation.
Many entrepreneurs build their companies from the ground up. Below are seven examples of self-made entrepreneurs. — Getty Images/Cecilie_Arcurs

When you’re building a business, it’s easy to compare yourself to those more successful. These seven successful entrepreneurs started with very little and built lucrative, widely known businesses through persistence and hard work.

Howard Schultz

Howard Schultz is known for building the global brand Starbucks, but he actually started as an employee of the company. He joined the Seattle-based company in 1982 as the director of retail operations and marketing.

In 1983, Schultz took a trip to Italy and discovered there were 1,500 coffeehouses in Milan. He imagined starting a national coffee chain in the U.S., and quit Starbucks to start his own company. In 1987, Schultz bought the original Starbucks and began growing the global empire we know today.

[Read more: Buying a Business vs. Starting a Business]

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren was working as a sales assistant at Brooks Brothers when he got the idea for his clothing company. He started to wonder if men were interested in branching out into more colorful, bolder ties.

In 1967, Lauren launched his business selling ties and grossed $500,000 in sales the first year. The next year, he launched Polo and built his company into a successful global empire.

Sophia Amoruso

Sophia Amoruso got her start by rummaging through the racks at second-hand stores. She then began selling her vintage clothing finds on eBay. She utilized her network on the social media site MySpace to promote her online store.

Although Amoruso admits she had no real strategy, she was willing to take a chance and pursue something she was passionate about. This led to her becoming founder of fashion company, Nasty Gal and Girlboss Media.

Daymond John

You’d probably recognize Daymond John as one of the investors on Shark Tank, but he’s also the founder of the brand FUBU. He started in his clothing line using sewing machines at his mother’s house in Queens, New York.

FUBU grew into a global brand, and John went on to invest in dozens of other companies. He’s also the author of four books and owns a coworking space in Manhattan.

Daymond John started his clothing line FUBU from his mother's house in Queens, New York.

Sam Walton

Sam Walton opened his first store with almost nothing to his name. He purchased a Ben Franklin franchise in Newport, Arkansas, using a $25,000 loan from his father-in-law.

Walton ran the business with his younger brother and successfully grew the franchise to own 15 different stores. But the company that managed the franchise chain was unwilling to expand into rural areas, which prompted Walton to start his own business

Walton opened his first Walmart store, and it quickly became a success. Today, Walmart is the largest retailer in the country.

Kevin Plank

Kevin Plank started the company Under Armour with his personal savings and five different credit cards. Within a year of starting the company, he was broke and in tons of credit card debt.

His big break came when he sold his clothing to Georgia Tech for $17,000. His product began to take off and was used by NFL teams and picked up by major retailers. Today, Under Armour is a billion-dollar brand.

Sara Blakely

When Sara Blakely founded Spanx, she was selling fax machines door-to-door. She used $5,000 of her savings to start the company and bootstrapped her way to success. To this day, she’s never taken on any funding and owns 100% of the company.

She cautions new entrepreneurs not to look to friends and family to validate their business idea, saying this “can stop a lot of multi-million dollar ideas in their tracks in the beginning.”

[Read more: How Experts Chose Their Business Funding Strategy]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published April 15, 2020