Have you ever failed so terribly that you didn’t want to get out of bed? Sometimes everything falls apart at the same time leaving you unsure of what to do next. But if you’re currently banging your head against the wall in frustration, just know that the famous failures on this list had some bumps in the road too. And if they could figure stuff out, turn their lives around, and go on to become some of the greatest successes in history, so can you.
Start selling online now with ShopifyStart your free trial
10 Famous Failures That’ll Inspire You to Try One More Time
1. Sara Blakely
Billionaire Sara Blakely was encouraged to fail by her father growing up. Every week during supper her father would ask, “What have you failed at this week?” So while she’s one of the famous failures, she never let her failure stand in her way. Because to Sara Blakely, failure just meant that you were trying.
While selling fax machines, Blakely realized that the undergarment she needed didn’t exist. So, she cut out holes at the feet of her pantyhose, which sparked the idea for a new product. She ended up shopping her idea to several manufacturers – who thought her idea was crazy. They refused to create her product. But Blakely kept searching until one day her luck changed. A manufacturer who’d rejected her had told the idea to his daughters, who told him that he had to create that product. That product resulted in her building a successful retail brand called Spanx.
The real lesson in this famous failure is to look at failure as something that forces you to keep trying.
2. Walt Disney
You can’t think about Disney without thinking about the magic it brings into the world. But sometimes creating even the most magical things has its setbacks. Walt Disney was one of the world’s most famous failures. According to The Wisdom of Oz, when Disney was only 22 years old he was fired from his job at a newspaper by an editor who said he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
After getting fired, he acquired Laugh-O-Gram, his first animation studio, which eventually went bankrupt. With only $40 in his pocket, he set out to Los Angeles only to realize that Hollywood didn’t have any animation studios. This eventually led to the creation of Mickey Mouse and the rest is history. Today, The Walt Disney Company is worth $95.79 billion and has won countless awards. Despite his death in 1966, Walt Disney’s legacy continues to live on.
This famous failure teaches us that despite the failures you experience in life, your creation can continue to be a roaring success long after you’re gone.
3. Jeff Bezos
He may be the world’s richest man today, but Jeff Bezos has said that he’s also made “‘billions of dollars of failures.”’ Prior to building Amazon, he built a company called zShops, which eventually sparked the idea for Amazon Marketplace. But even at Amazon, he’s created countless failed products (remember the Fire phone?). However, Bezos’ believes in creating a culture at Amazon that embraces failure. He doesn’t believe in creating the same products as everyone else. And so being innovative has led to some failure.
Today, Jeff Bezos’ is worth $150 billion. Amazon continues to grow into an even bigger and more popular ecommerce website. It’s arguably the biggest online store in the world with AliBaba fighting for the top spot. In 2017, Amazon made $177.9 billion in revenue.
The moral of the story in this famous failure is that innovation will lead to failure. Anyone can create the same products their competitors create. However, to really gain a competitive edge on someone you need to put a different spin on existing products in the market. To be different enough to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
4. Steve Jobs
Believe it or not, getting fired has sparked some of the greatest successes in history. The most famous failure is Steve Jobs getting fired from the company he created after an altercation with his board of directors at Apple. Jobs said that the firing helped him enter a creative period resulting in the acquisition of animation studio Pixar.
In 1997, Jobs was hired back at Apple. He’d go on to invent some of the greatest technologies at the company such as the iPod, Macbook, iPad, power adapter, and of course the iPhone. And Pixar was acquired by Disney for $7.4 billion in 2006. When Jobs died in 2011, his net worth was an estimated $10.2 billion. Not too shabby for a guy who was fired from his own company.
His famous failure teaches you that sometimes painful setbacks help you learn new skills, get new experiences, and begin a different chapter in life. And it also shows you that just because you move towards another direction, it doesn’t mean you can’t go back.
5. J.K. Rowling
It’s hard to believe but J.K. Rowling, the author and creator of Harry Potter, has enough failures under her belt to make it onto this list of famous failures. Before Harry Potter was ever published, Rowling was on welfare while unemployed and divorced. It was during this time that she jotted down the idea of Harry Potter on a napkin. But she needed to bring her idea to life. So she wrote her first Harry Potter book. And it was rejected by 12 publishers.
Despite the rejections, J.K. Rowling went on to publish that book and six more after that. She’s the ninth best-selling fiction author, selling over 500 million copies of her books. The entire Harry Potter franchise alone is worth $25 billion. Her books have been turned into movies. Her characters have been added to merchandise. Today, her net worth is believed to be around $650 million.
The greatest lesson in this famous failure is to execute on your ideas. Lots of people scribble ideas into journals or napkins but they never do anything about it. Rowling did something about it.
6. Sir James Dyson
Sir James Dyson is one of the greatest inventors this generation. And as an inventor, he wanted to create a vacuum design that didn’t require bags, which was something no one even considered doing at the time. It took 5,126 vacuum designs until he finally created a vacuum that worked. He tried selling his vacuum to manufacturers… and was rejected.
Famous failures like this one show that the secret to success is constant creation. By constantly creating different designs, you inch closer to creating something truly innovative, valuable, and needed in the marketplace. The more you experiment, the more you’ll grow.
7. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey may be one of the biggest sensations today. However, she had a pretty rocky starts. With a rough childhood that resulted in a teen pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage, Oprah learned to persevere at a young age. She eventually landed a television gig in Baltimore where a producer told her that she was “unfit for television news.”
However, that same producer went on to offer her a role on another television show called People Are Talking. That show ended up becoming a huge success. This eventually led to Oprah become the host of her own show, which aired for 25 years. And today, she owns her own television network called OWN. Her net worth is estimated at $4 billion, putting her on the list of the top 500 richest people in the world.
Famous failures like Oprah’s teach you that it doesn’t matter where you start. As long as you work hard and don’t give up, you can continue to achieve bigger successes.
8. Nick Woodman
In 1997, Nick Woodman realized he wanted to become an entrepreneur. However, despite his first attempts with businesses like EmpowerAll, which sold electronics, and FunBug, which was a gaming and marketing platform. But he didn’t achieve any real success with these businesses. So he did what most entrepreneurs do. He pursued his passions. He loved surfing and traveling, so he decided to embark on a surfing tour. This tour helped him realize that there wasn’t anything on the market that allowed him to take surfing videos while he surfed. And GoPro was born.
Today, Woodman has an estimated net worth of $990 million. He’s sold over 30 million of his cameras worldwide. He credits his success with GoPro to his two earlier failed ventures as it reminded him that he needed to work even harder to make it a success.
This famous failure shows that inspiration can strike at anytime. If you’re destined to achieve greatness, it’ll come to you when you’re not thinking about it. It also shows that the greatest successes come from solving problems no one has thought to solve before.
9. Vera Wang
Vera Wang’s earlier career started out like many others. She worked a full-time job at someone else’s company. She spent 15 years working her way up at Vogue. However, after repeatedly getting rejected for the Editor in Chief position, she realized that her career at Vogue just wouldn’t go any further. This led to her becoming a fashion designer and building a name for herself in the wedding gown industry.
Today, Vera Wang dresses have been worn by countless celebrities like Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Mariah Carey, Kaley Cuoco, Jennifer Lopez, Hilary Duff, and more. Her company makes more than $343.8 million in revenue each year and employs nearly 200 people. Her net worth is estimated to be $420 million.
Famous failures like Vera Wang’s teach you two core lessons. First, that you can build up a wealth of knowledge while working a 9 to 5 job that you can apply to your future business. And second, that you need to know when to pivot. By realizing she wasn’t going to get the Editor in Chief role, she opened up the possibility of taking on an opportunity much greater than Vogue could ever offer.
10. Sophia Amoruso
Failure doesn’t only happen before you achieve success, it happens throughout your career. Sophia Amoruso is no stranger to public failure. Her online store Nasty Gal started out as an eBay store. Despite her roaring success on eBay, her account was eventually suspended, leading her to the creation of her own online store.
Nasty Gal became one of the fastest growing online stores, growing to over $100 million in revenue and employing over 350 people. Unfortunately, not all famous failures have happy endings. In Amoruso’s case, her business declared bankruptcy in 2016. Netflix even created an entire series loosely based on her life called Girl Boss which was canceled after one season (her failure was apparently contagious). However, despite all these failures, Amoruso is still only 34 years old so a comeback can still be underway. (And don’t worry: With an estimated net worth north of $10 million, she still has a roof over her head.)
Famous failures like Amoruso’s show that the balance of success and failure are the ultimate entrepreneurial journey. There’ll be waves of failure throughout the span of your career. And when it happens, all you can do is learn from it and move forward.
Start selling online now with ShopifyStart your free trial
The biggest lesson these famous failures show is that everyone experiences failure. Whether you’re currently experiencing some major setbacks or on track to skyrocketing success, your journey will be filled with ups and downs along the way. By repositioning how you view failure, you’ll find it easier to overcome obstacles to achieve even greater success.
What’s been your biggest failure so far? How did you overcome it?