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14 Failed Businesses from Successful Entrepreneurs
Daniela Pylypczak-Wasylyszyn Jan 20, 2015
When you look at some of the most successful companies out there, most of us do not bother to look at the story behind the success. More often than not, these companies and the entrepreneurs that founded them, have at least one great “failure” under their belts. As the saying goes, “some of the best success stories often begin with failure.” Below, we take a look at some of the biggest business blunders made by wildly successful entrepreneurs.
Nick Woodman’s Funbug
Prior to creating GoPro, Nick Woodman started Funbug in 1999. The company was a gaming and marketing platform that gave users chances to win cash prizes. After accumulating more than $3.9 million in funding from investors, the company shut its doors in 2001 after failing to attract users. The flop later become known as one of the biggest busts during the dot-com era.
Richard Branson’s Parakeet and Christmas Tree Businesses
Richard Branson, the now famous founder of Virgin Group, first began his entrepreneurial career in 1966. In his teens, Branson attempted to breed and sell budgerigars (parakeets), but when the birds began multiplying quicker than he could sell them, he scrapped the business. Next, Branson decided to grow and sell Christmas trees. Sadly that business also failed after his rabbits ate his product.
Bill Gates’ Traf-o-Data
Prior to the creation of Microsoft (MSFT ), 16-year old Bill Gates alongside Paul Allen and Paul Gilbert set out to make their mark … in the traffic industry. The three partners created Traf-O-Data, a company whose objective was to read the raw data from roadway traffic counters and create reports for traffic engineers. Unfortunately, when the partners tried to present their software on their newly created microcomputer, the machine “didn’t work” and the company eventually disintegrated after the State of Washington started to provide free traffic processing services to cities.
Be sure to also check out the Top 10 Tech Stocks That Pay a Dividend.
Henry Ford’s Detroit Automobile Company
In the late 1890s, Henry Ford left his job at the Edison Illuminating Company to start the Detroit Automobile Company. Prominent businessman William H. Murphy backed Ford’s idea, having high hopes for the company. The prototype Ford presented to investors, however, had too many flaws, and after Ford spent more than a year trying to refine the design, stockholders of the company became impatient and dissolved the company in 1901.
Sir James Dyson’s 5,127 Vacuum Cleaner Prototypes
Before revolutionizing the bag-less vacuum, Sir James Dyson spent 15 years perfecting his product. In the end, Dyson created more than 5,127 vacuum prototypes before launching his first product, the “G-Force.” Unfortunately, no vacuum company in the UK wanted to distribute his product. He did have some success selling it in Japan, but eventually Dyson formed his own manufacturing company, which didn’t breakthrough in the UK market for several years.
Henry J. Heinz’s Horseradish
Though most American’s think of Heinz as their favorite ketchup maker, Henry J. Heinz actually started his business selling bottled horseradish. The condiment was popular during the late 1800s, and customers quickly flocked to Heinz’s horseradish for its high quality. During the Panic of 1873, economic hardships fell on Heinz, and he was forced to file bankruptcy after he could no longer pay his creditors or employees.
Did you know Warren Buffett owns half of Heinz? Learn more in The Complete History of Warren Buffett.
Walt Disney’s Laugh-O-Gram Studio
Before the creation of the Walt Disney Company (DIS ), 20-year old Walt Disney launched his first company, called Laugh-O-Gram Films, Inc. Needless to say, the company had barely any capital to start its first major project for Pictorial Clubs, which was comprised of six animated shorts. Almost immediately after the contract between the two, Pictorial Clubs went bankrupt. This incident, combined with mounting debt piles, forced Disney to close the doors on his first company.
Be sure to also check out 7 Things Most Investors Don’t Know About The Walt Disney Company.
Colonel Harland Sanders’ Gas Lamp Manufacturing Firm
Prior to becoming the king of fried chicken, Colonel Harland Sanders attempted a number of career paths, including a ferry boat entrepreneur, a tire salesman, and a gas station operator. One of his worst ventures, however, came after he met an inventor who had found a way to run natural gas lamps on gas from carbide. Sanders bought the rights to the patent and attempted to start a manufacturing company, but the business quickly failed.
Akio Morita’s Rice Cooker
In Sony’s (SNE ) early days, co-founder Akio Morita and his partner Masaru Ibuka attempted to produce and sell electronically powered rice cookers. The electronic rice cooker was made by merely interlocking aluminum electrodes, connected at the bottom of a wooden tub. Given the primitive design, the product burnt more rice than it cooked. Ultimately, the failed project sold fewer than 100 units to the public.
Evan Williams’ Odeo
Former Twitter CEO Evan Williams started his internet career early, launching several successful products including Pyra Labs and Blogger (Williams invented the term “blogger”). In 2004, however, Williams co-founded a podcasting company called Odeo. But when members of Odeo’s board, which included Twitter co-Founder Jack Dorsey, began to focus their time and resources to developing Twitter, Odeo closed its doors. To learn more about the social media industry, check out this piece from ETFdb.com.
Rowland Hussey Macy’s Dry Goods Stores
Before becoming one of the most popular names in retail, Rowland Hussey Macy’s first attempt at retail failed miserably. Between 1843 and 1855, Macy opened four dry goods stores, including the original Macy’s store in downtown Haverhill, Massachusetts. Every one of the four stores failed due to poor consumer demand and lackluster sales totals.
See also Dow 30 CEOs: Everything You Need to Know.
Steve Jobs’ Lisa
Though Steve Jobs was known for being one of the most revolutionary figures in tech, some of his earlier ideas turned out to be unsuccessful, the most notable being the Apple Lisa. During the 1980s, Jobs worked to develop the first personal computer to offer a graphical user interface for individual business users. Though Lisa was by far one of Apple’s (AAPL ) biggest technical achievement, it was ultimately a sales failure (the computer had a price tag of $10,000). The blunder eventually led to Steve Jobs getting fired from the company in 1985.
To learn more about Apple’s product launches, be sure to check out this piece which highlights how Apple Stock reacted to product launches.
Milton Hershey’s First & Second Candy Shops
After apprenticing with a master confectioner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Milton Hershey borrowed $150 from his aunt to set up his own candy shop in Philadelphia. Hershey spent five years trying to make the shop a success. But after failing to build the business, Hershey tried opening a candy shop in Chicago and later in New York City. Both companies failed once again, forcing Hershey to return to Lancaster in 1883. A little more than 10 years later, however, the Hershey Co. (HSY ) was founded.
Soichiro Honda’s Tōkai Seiki
In 1937, Soichiro Honda founded Tōkai Seiki, a company that produced piston rings for Toyota Motor Company. During World War II, a U.S. attack destroyed the company’s Yamashita plant. In an effort to scrounge up what money he could, Honda sold the salvageable remains of Tōkai Seiki to Toyota. Later, the proceeds from the sale were used to create the Honda Technical Research Institute in 1946, which later became Honda Motors (HMC ).
Be sure to also check out our Dividend.com Guide to Analyzing Transportation Stocks.
The Bottom Line
Considering the names on this list, it is safe to say that these successful entrepreneurs most certainly learned from their earlier business blunders, turning failures into success stories.
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