The Most Famous Entrepreneurs And How They Built Their Wealth

There have been many entrepreneurs who started with nothing and wound up making millions. Some people think the idea of entrepreneurship is fantastical notion — nothing more than a “get rich quick” scheme. However, that is not the case.

Many people, from Bill Gates to Kanye West, got rich not because they have multiple college degrees or wound up working for companies that paid well. These people made their own way thanks to unconventional thinking and methods. Here are some of the best and most innovative people who became rich because they had the right idea at just the right time.

Oprah Winfrey Built An Empire

Oprah Winfrey attends the premiere of OWN's
Rachel Luna/Getty Images
Rachel Luna/Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey is easily one of the richest Americans on the planet, with a net worth of more than $3 billion. However, she grew up in extremely impoverished conditions, with a single mother who worked as a maid. Oprah also suffered horrific abuse and learned to overcome it by achieving her own dreams.

Oprah Winfrey started her career on black radio stations, and moved up the entertainment ranks to become one of the most famous talk show hosts America has ever seen. She started her own magazine, charity foundation, and cable television channel. This is a woman for whom the “rags to riches” American dream really did come true.

Walt Disney Redefined Entertainment

Film producer and cartoonist Walt Disney with a toy Donald Duck
© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Walt Disney started out trying to work as a newspaper cartoonist, but could never secure a steady job doing so. Instead, he designed advertisements for cartoons via an art studio. Those cartoon advertisements were his bread and butter, as he worked for newspapers and magazines.

Walt Disney’s animation career would not come until much later. He designed the aforementioned advertisements at first, and then got to the point where that was not enough. Work on commercials followed, and Walt Disney went on to form his own animation outfit. Classics such as Cinderella, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, and others would not exist without Walt Disney’s animation.

J.K. Rowling Was Broke Before Harry Potter

J.K Rowling attends the UK Premiere of
Samir Hussein/WireImage
Samir Hussein/WireImage

J.K. Rowling is, of course, the brilliant woman from whose mind the Harry Potter series came from. The books, merchandise, and movie franchise that she created has her at a net worth of about $1 billion. Prior to the Potter series, though, Rowling was flat broke.

As a single mother living on public assistance in Great Britain, Rowling sat down in a coffee shop and began writing one day. That is the day her life changed, as she came up with a universe so unique and full of magic that it captivated people the world over.

John Paul DeJoria Is The Man Behind Paul Mitchell

John Paul DeJoria attends the 2018 Baby2Baby Gala
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

John Paul DeJoria may not be on the list of household names like some others here, but he is certainly one of the most successful entrepreneurs ever. DeJoria is the mastermind behind the Paul Mitchell Systems line of hair products, and is currently making an estimated $900 million per year. However, he did not start out that wealthy.

DeJoria was the child of immigrants, and spent some of his childhood in a foster home. He once joined a street gang as well. Then, he began selling his own line of hair products door to door. At the time, he was living in his car. But the rest, as they say, is history.

Sarah Breedlove, Better Known As Madam C.J. Walker

Madam C.J. Walker (Sarah Breedlove)
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Madam C.J. Walker’s birth name was Sarah Breedlove. She was the first black woman in America to become a millionaire all on her own. She was born in 1867, a descendant of slaves, and therefore she obviously did not have an easy life.

However, Madam C.J. Walker tapped into something no one else had ever considered: beauty products specifically designed for black women. She paved the way for specialized products to exist.

Steve Jobs Is An Icon

 Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds a new mini iPod
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Steve Jobs was, of course, the revolutionary co-founder of Apple. He did not start out rich, though, like most of the people on this list. Jobs was forced to drop out of college due to his family’s financial situation, but kept auditing classes on an unofficial basis. During this time, Jobs lived off the kindness of the people at the Hare Krishna Temple, where he ate for free. He also collected cans and bottles for spare change.

Then, Jobs and Steve Wozniak, a friend he had known his whole life, founded Apple. When he died, Steve Jobs was estimated to be worth more than $8 billion.

Marc Andreessen Changed The Internet

Entrepreneur Marc Andreessen speaks onstage
Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch
Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Marc Andreessen helped pave the way to the internet as we know it. He studied computer science at the University of Illinois. Because of his fascination with the workings of the internet, which was just becoming a mainstream phenomenon in the 1990s, Andreesen founded one of the original web browsers, Mosaic. He was also the co-founder of Netscape Navigator, which another early internet browser, albeit not as old as Mosaic.

In 1999, Andreessen sold Netscape Navigator to AOL for $4.2 billion dollars. After that, he partnered with one of his Netscape employees, Ben Horowitz, and started the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

Jeff Bezos Changed Retail Forever

: CEO of Amazon and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos speaks during an event
Osman Orsal/Getty Images
Osman Orsal/Getty Images

Jeff Bezos is, of course, the founder of online retail giant Amazon. He studied computer science in college, and before he even reached the age of 30, Bezos was already a senior vice president at D.E. Shaw. In 1994, Bezos’ career at D.E. Shaw was over. He had his sights set on bigger and better things, namely starting Amazon.

After making Amazon such a successful retail giant that it literally threatens the existence of brick and mortar retail stores as we know them, Bezos also bought the Washington Post and revitalized it. While spending $250 million on a paper that was floundering at the time, it brought Bezos a voice, and he was smart enough to know there is no price tag high enough to make influence obsolete.

Thank Sara Blakely For Your Spanx

Sara Blakely on stage
Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This is a woman who founded something many people rely on daily: Spanx. If you are uninitiated into the Spanx cult, here’s a rundown: it’s shapewear designed to have an instantly slimming effect, along with the benefit of hiding bulges and wrinkles under one’s clothes. Blakely’s product has earned her quite the following, especially in this looks and weight-obsessed society, but her original goals were rather different.

Sara Blakely wanted to be a lawyer. However, academic performance meant no law school would accept her. Blakely found herself selling fax machines door to door. However, when someone else on this list, Oprah Winfrey, named Sarah Blakely’s Spanx as one of her favorite things, Blakely’s life changed forever.

Before Becoming Mayor Of NYC, Michael Bloomberg Accomplished Many Things

former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Before he was mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg accomplished many things. He got his MBA from Harvard in 1966, and then made his way to New York, where he joined Salomon Brothers, becoming a partner in the firm in 1972. After that, Bloomberg branched out on his own.

Bloomberg changed Wall Street forever when he started Bloomberg Terminals, which was a firm that gave Wall Street traders access to the personal finances of big players on Wall Street. By then, Bloomberg had been in business on Wall Street since 1981, and in 2002 he entered the wold of politics, which would have him serve multiple terms as the mayor of New York City.

The Charitable Bill Gates

Bill Gates speaks during 2019 New Economy Forum
Hou Yu/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images
Hou Yu/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

Almost anyone reading this has heard of Bill Gates. After all, if you own, have owned, or have used a Windows personal computer, Bill Gates has impacted your life in some way. Gates and co-founder Paul Allen started Microsoft in 1975, which revolutionized the world in terms of the average citizen having computer access.

Bill Gates is also enormously wealthy. His net worth is estimated to be more than $79 billion. He and his wife Melinda are also great philanthropists, having donated more than $36 billion to various charitable causes.

Arianna Huffington Sold The Huffington Post For $315 Million

Arianna Huffington attends Beautycon Festival Los Angeles 2019
John Sciulli/Getty Images for Beautycon
John Sciulli/Getty Images for Beautycon

Arianna Huffington is a Greek immigrant who was once quite conservative, which likely comes as a surprise, considering the fact that the progressive online magazine The Huffington Post is what made her so rich. Born Arianna Stasinopoúlou, she married Ronald Huffington, who was President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Defense, Ronald Huffington. They got a divorce in 1997.

Arianna Huffington co-founded The Huffington Post as she became less and less conservative. The website was her counter punch to the popular right-wing website the Drudge Report. Once a staunch conservative, Arianna Huffington is now one of the most progressive voices out there. She sold The Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million dollars.

Elon Musk Became A Millionaire Before He Turned 30

Elon Musk stands in front of the newly unveiled all-electric battery-powered Tesla's Cybertruck
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Elon Musk is an entrepreneur who immigrated from South Africa. He is most famous for founding the luxury electric car company Tesla. Prior to that endeavor, Musk was the founder of Zip2, an online guide to urban city activity. Musk also founded X.com, which would later become the money exchange giant we now know as Paypal. He was a millionaire before his 30th birthday.

Musk is now known for his penchant for developing unusual ideas that are sure to change the world. Some of them work and some of them don’t, but he has definitely made his mark on the world and will likely continue to do so.

Larry Page Changed The Way We Search

 Larry Page speaks during the Fortune Global Forum
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Fortune
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Fortune

Larry Page was born with a leg-up in the tech industry. His parents were both computer scientists, and Page would go on to co-found the globe’s most trusted search engine, Google, along with his partner Sergey Brin. The two started learning to generate revenue from the way people search topics online. Google also owns the popular video site YouTube, and Brin and Page rebranded the larger company as Alphabet.

Larry Page was the CEO of Alphabet, now a huge conglomerate, until December of 2019.

Lifestyle Icon Martha Stewart Built Her Company From The Ground Up

Martha Stewart attends HBO's
Roy Rochlin/WireImage
Roy Rochlin/WireImage

Martha Stewart has been a household name since the 1990s. She began as stockbroker, but then founded her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and became a lifestyle icon for women in America and around the world. Stewart has been on a parade of television shows, lifestyle magazines, and other media promoting her unique brand. She is also a prolific author of many books.

In 2004, Stewart was convicted of insider trading and sentenced to five months in federal prison because of it. However, she came back from the scandal, though it did cause her to resign from the company she had built from the ground up.

Peter Thiel, Co-Founder Of PayPal

Peter Thiel, Partner, Founders Fund, speaks at the New York Times DealBook conference
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Peter Thiel is a German immigrant who co-founded Paypal with the aforementioned Elon Musk. He also runs a hedge fund called Clarion Capital. In 2002, Paypal was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion. This was a deal that made Thiel $55 million. After that, Thiel invested $500,000 in Facebook, which turned out to be a very lucrative investment.

After the Facebook investment, Thiel founded Palantir, which is an outfit that does data analysis on an expert level. One of Palantir’s biggest clients is none other than the United States government, which is a contract that makes Thiel millions.

Mark Zuckerberg Revolutionized Communication

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks about the new Facebook News feature
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Everyone knows who Mark Zuckerberg is. The founder of what is now arguably the most widely used social media site ever, Zuckerberg is perhaps one of the youngest rich internet guys in the world. Born in 1984, Zuckerberg is just 35 years old.

Facebook was founded first as a social networking site exclusively for college students. At its inception, no one without a .edu email address could make an account. It then moved forward, making sites like MySpace obsolete. Today, Zuckerberg dominates the social media world, even with so many social media giants out there. From Reddit to Twitter, Facebook dominates them all, and Zuckerberg is easily one of the youngest people to rank as one of the richest in the world.

Jay-Z Built An Empire

ay Z and Beyonce Knowles-Carter attends
Dave J Hogan/Getty Images
Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Jay-Z, born Sean Carter, is easily one of the world’s richest and most influential rappers. He is married to Beyoncé Knowles, the former frontwoman for the band Destiny’s Child and now an R&B superstar in her own right. One of the things Jay-Z is famous for these days is his social justice work.

Ever since Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during the national anthem at NFL football games to protest police brutality, the social justice community and the National Football League have been at odds. Now, Jay-Z may be poised to make a deal with the league regarding social justice initiatives, and despite his political differences with many team owners, he just might be on the way to owning some teams himself, which would make him the league’s only African-American team owner.

The Mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto

A lady passes in front of a Bitcoin exchange shop
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This is perhaps the most unique entrepreneur on the list. Satoshi Nakamoto is the creator of the newly booming cryptocurrency Bitcoin. However, no one knows who he/she/they is. There is even speculation that the pen name could belong to multiple people.

Craig Wright, a computer scientist from Australia, has been speculated to be the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, but he disappeared shortly after Gavin Andresen, a chief scientist at Bitcoin, became convinced that he was the man. Whoever the creator of Bitcoin is, though, is an absolute genius at both entrepreneurship and maintaining anonymity. No wonder they’re so rich.

Daymond John Founded FUBU

daymond john
Image via Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Image via Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

This is the man who founded FUBU, the urban hip-hop clothing line that is geared toward the black community. Now known as “for us, by us,” FUBU is a leading influencer in the push for black Americans to buy from black businesses.

One fun fact that many people may not know is that FUBU’s slogan was not originally “for us, by us.” That interpretation of the acronym came later, as the original name was “Four Urban Brothers United.” Daymond sneakily put his products in nationally-televised GAP ads, and that happened to be his big break. The rest, as they say, is history.