6 rags to riches
From Oprah Winfrey to Steve Jobs to J.K. Rowling, entrepreneurial success stories are the stuff from which American dreams are made. Much like these famous names, the six self-made millionaires we’re profiling have one thing in common: Thanks to hard work, determination and sound advice from mentors, friends and family, they’ve been able to build thriving businesses from the ground up.
The rise to the top can be bumpy. In fact, some of the entrepreneurs we talked to were homeless during the early years of their companies. That’s why they all agree that it’s important to help others in need. All, including Radio One’s Catherine L. Hughes and Life is good co-founder Bert ...view middle of the document...
“My mother tried her best to talk me out of the radio business because of that,” Hughes recalls. It’s for this reason that she advises young entrepreneurs to be wary about who they divulge their challenges to -- even family. “If I had listened [to my mother], I would be a government employee right now and there would be no Radio One."
Thirty-two years later, in addition to the radio company, Hughes’ empire includes her television network TV One and several interactive ventures, including NewsOne.com and HelloBeautiful.com. Her charitable efforts include serving as a board member and the main benefactor for the Piney Woods School, a boarding school located in Piney Woods, Miss., that serves students from financially strapped families.
Occupation: Co-Founder and CEO, Life is good
Advice to young entrepreneurs: "Try to shoot for a timeless business."
You’ve probably seen the beret-wearing, smiling face of “Jake,” the Life is good logo, on the company’s tee shirts and products. Co-founders Bert Jacobs and his brother, John Jacobs, 43, started peddling their tee shirts on the streets of Boston -- going door-to-door at college dorms and sleeping in their van to save money -- in 1989. It would take nearly six years, however, before their shirts finally caught on with consumers, thanks to “Jake.”
The logo, which is infused with optimism, was created after a conversation about how the world was slammed with constant negativity. It became an instant hit. Now, the New England-based company has revenues in excess of $100 million, and each year more of it goes toward their charity, Life is good Kids Foundation, which helps children overcome life-threatening challenges.
“In the beginning, we made every business mistake in the book,” says Bert. The brothers didn’t have a business plan or growth strategy -- a formula for disaster, if you go by what’s taught in business school. Bert credits part of their success to listening to their friends and customers as informal focus groups, rather than “experts.” He advises budding entrepreneurs to: “Try to shoot for a timeless business that will work through good times and bad.”
Occupation: Entrepreneur, business consultant and publisher, AliBrown.com
Advice to young entrepreneurs: "It's important you seek out other business owners for information, advice, support and resources."
Fed up with her dead-end job at a New York City ad agency, Brown decided to quit in 1998. Armed with her brother’s hand-me-down computer, she launched her first marketing agency, AKB Communications, from her kitchen table.
While having her own business was exciting, the uncertainty of self-employment had its challenges. Brown remembers all too well maxing out credit cards and draining her bank account to stay afloat in the early days. One night in particular, she tried to withdraw $20 from an ATM but was denied because her balance was only $18.56. Thirteen years...