7 Failure stories of successful people that you didn't know about, and what it really means to fail before succeeding.

Some of the most successful people we hear about in the news are in most cases big time failures. But we rarely hear these stories in the media because failure, is just not as attractive and news worthy as success. It is not something that people generally want to hear about, so there’s little to no media coverage for the people who failed.

I personally love reading famous failure stories because it gives me the opportunity to learn, and also it lets me know that I am not the only one making mistakes pursuing a dream. Let’s take a look at some of the failed businesses and projects that you might not have heard of from successful entrepreneurs.

Bill Gates – Entrepreneur (Microsoft)

“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” 

We all know Bill Gates and what he has accomplished with Microsoft, but did you know that prior to Microsoft he had a company called Traf-O-Data which went nowhere? Although that project was a failure, it was the knowledge and experience he acquired working there that paved the way for him to successfully launched Microsoft.

Sir Richard Branson – Entrepreneur (Virgin Atlantic)

“Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.”

Okay so you’ve probably heard of Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Records, and Virgin Mobile, but have you ever heard of Virgin Cola, Virgin Brides, Virgin Car, or Virgin Vodka? Well, most people haven’t either. These were some of Sir Richard Branson’s previous failed attempt before succeeding with the Virgin brand.

Sara Blakely – Entrepreneur (Spanx)

“My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mind-set at an early age that failure is not the outcome, failure is not trying. Don’t be afraid to fail.”

Originally, Sara wanted to be an attorney right up until she failed the LSAT test; she reconsidered and became an entrepreneur launching Spanx in the year 2000. According to Forbes, she is now worth over $1.1 billion dollars.

Thomas Edison – Inventor

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas Edison is one of my personal favourites and possibly the most inspiring one yet. It was reported that Mr Edison had tried more than 1,000 experiments before he succeeded in creating the first light bulb. Now, I think you would agree that this guy could have easily become one of the most failed inventors in the world but instead, with a strong dedication and ability to learn from his past, he was able to create some of the most important inventions of our time.

J K Rowling – Author (Harry Potter)

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than I was and began diverting all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”

J K Rowling was fired from the London office of “Amnesty International” because she kept writing stories on the computer on company time.

J K Rowling also sent her manuscript (Harry Potter) to twelve different publishers and got rejected by each one before she finally struck a deal with Bloomsbury, the publishing company. After each rejection, she recalled losing confidence in her work but she never gave up, she kept working hard and continued to pursue her dreams.

Sir James Dyson – Entrepreneur (Dyson)

“If you want to do something different, you’re going to come up against a lot of naysayers.”

James burned through his savings of 15 years and tested about 5,126 prototypes before succeeding with his vacuum cleaner. The Dyson brand became the best-selling bagless vacuum in the United States worth over 4.5 billion dollars (Forbes).

Walt Disney – Entrepreneur (Disney World)

All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

This one is almost too funny. Walt Disney, the guy who gave us the most imaginary place in the world (Disney World), apparently didn’t have enough imagination for this one newspaper editor, so they fired him for lacking imagination.  They said he had no good ideas.

The Pattern

I am not quite sure if you can see it, but there seems to be a pattern here. Every single entrepreneur mentioned have failed miserably in their lifetime. I mean, it even seems like they only succeeded because they failed so many times before.

Could failure really be the reason they succeeded?

My only conclusion to that is: Success comes from conducting experiments, with experiments come failures; and failures are just raw data for you to collect and analyse. These data are the key which will allow you to make better informed decisions on your next experiment. So you see, with each failure you become a better decision maker. And the more you decide on what’s right, the closer you are to succeeding. This is the process you must go through until you’ve got a working formula.

Final thoughts: No matter what you do in life you can only succeed by duplicating a “working formula.” No one gets a free pass. So if you want to be successful, you have to start experimenting.