When it comes to wealthy entrepreneurs, there are a lot of names you probably think of immediately, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson. However, there are plenty of millionaires out there that you likely haven’t heard of, which is a shame, because you can learn a lot from their stories.
Here are three great examples of millionaire entrepreneurs, as well as the lessons they can teach us:
1. Haruhisa Okamura, founder and CEO of Adways
Who is he: Founder and CEO of one of the largest Japanese tech companies. The company, which is focused on online advertising, recorded revenue of over $221 million in 2013.
The lesson to learn: Don’t let your lack of education slow you down or determine the possibilities you have in business or in life.
The story: Okamura dropped out of school when he was 16 to take a job as a salesman. He had trouble relating to his peers and making friends, so he decided that the workforce would be a better fit for him. In 2000, with the Internet craze sweeping the world, Okamura became fascinated by online companies and their IPOs.
In February 2001, he started Adways with only $10,000. Although he lost $5,000 of that money on a failed attempt to develop email-marketing software, he persevered. With a savvy equity-stake offer, he hired talented engineer Sanki Nishiguchi, who became the company’s CTO.
Beginning with an affiliate model, Adways grew quickly, especially after pivoting to focus on mobile technologies. In 2006 the company went public. Okamura was just 25 years old. The company now has offices around the world.
2. Josie Natori, founder and CEO of Natori Company
Who is she: Founder and CEO of a high-end women’s sleepwear company, which has expanded to include fragrances, eyewear and home décor. In 2011, the company recorded $150 million in retail sales.
The lesson to learn: Being an immigrant (or experiencing some other obstacle to entry) doesn’t have to be a barrier to success.
The story: Natori moved to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1964 to attend college in New York. She found the country to be a complete 180-degree difference in every single way -- the weather, the food and even the humor was a culture shock. Despite her homesickness, she finished her degree in economics and went to work for Bache & Company. She moved to Merrill Lynch in 1971, but felt called to entrepreneurship and longed to build her own company.
In 1974, after becoming a U.S. citizen, Natori and her husband explored the different ways she could pursue this desire. Her chance came in 1977, when she presented a nightgown she had created to a buyer at Bloomingdales and wound up translating that opportunity into work as a designer. Natori went on to grow the company to almost 400 employees. She distributes to high-end department stores such as Saks, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, and recently opened her first U.S. boutique in New York City.
3. Heidi Ganahl, founder of Camp Bow Wow, and motivational speaker
Who is she: The founder of doggie-daycare chain Camp Bow Wow and a powerful motivational speaker.
The lesson to learn: Just because your dream has a detour doesn’t mean you’ve the end of the road.
The story: Ganahl and her husband, Bion Flammang, came up with the idea to start a doggie-daycare company together after struggling to find care for their own dogs when they traveled. In 1994, tragedy struck, and Flammang was killed in a plane crash. Although the dream had to be put on hold for the next several years as Ganahl adjusted to life as a single mother raising their children, she never gave up.
In December 2000, Ganahl turned her lifelong passion for dogs into the first Camp Bow Wow in Denver. When her second location opened in 2002, a client suggested she might want to consider franchising. After being featured on AOL, the business took off. Franchises now exist throughout the U.S. and Canada (including the original Denver location, which Heidi sold to focus on the overall business), and the company is worth more than $80 million.
Have a great business idea of your own? There’s no reason you can’t join this list someday! As the stories of Okamura, Natori and Ganahl teach us, If you’re willing to work hard and take action, anything is possible.