40 Successful Entrepreneurs Reveal What They Wanted to Be When They Grew Up
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
For many, the path to their job is winding, with a lot of stops, starts and detours along the way. For others, they saw what they wanted in their mind early on and always stayed on one track.
Related: 6 Tips for Goal-Setting That, Trust Me, They Don't Teach You in College
No matter where we are today or how we got there, all of us at one time has a childhood aspiration that probably informs some of what we do today.
Read on for what some of the most innovative founders wanted to be when they grew up.
Name: Merrill Stubbs
Childhood dream: I really wanted to be a performer. I did a lot of acting and singing as a kid and teenager. I think I was pretty convinced for a while that was my destiny. But I don't think I had the backbone for the rejection that comes with that path. Ultimately when I was deciding between a conservatory as opposed to a liberal arts college, that's when I made that decision: to keep singing as something for fun rather than my career.
Read more about Stubbs: The Life-Changing Book That Helps This Entrepreneur Think Big
Name: Ryan Holmes
Childhood dream: I wanted to be a video game developer, but after high school, I decided to do the practical thing and study business in university. That turned out to be a mistake. I dropped out and opened a series of businesses, including a pizza joint, before finally getting back to what I originally loved, in a way, with Hootsuite.
Read more about Holmes: How Following His Heart Led This Entrepreneur to Start a Multi-Billion Dollar Company
Name: Julia Hartz
Childhood dream: I wanted to work in television, and I did! I studied broadcast journalism at Pepperdine University. After a short career in television with MTV and later on at FX Network, I found my true calling in Eventbrite.
Read more about Hartz: The Day This Eventbrite Co-Founder Learned When to Speak Up
Name: Tim Chen
Childhood dream: I grew up in Houston near NASA, and I thought I wanted to be an aerospace engineer because huge flying objects seemed really cool at the time.
Read more about Chen: Nerdwallet's Founder Shares the Worst Advice He Ever Got
Name: Daniella Yacobovsky
Childhood dream: I wanted to be a singer for a very long time. I used to beg my father to take me on Star Search. Ultimately, I did not go to Star Search, but I did do a lot of singing and art classes. I always loved tapping into my creative side, even though in school I ended up pursuing math and finance and that ended up being my initial post-college path.
Read more about Yacobovsky: This Co-Founder of BaubleBar's Secret for Inspiration? Always 'Keep Your Eyes Peeled.'
Name: Gavin Armstrong
Company: Lucky Iron Fish
Childhood dream: When I was little, I did want to be an entrepreneur. My uncle started his own company when I was in elementary school, and I always admired him for that. His company sold plumbing and washroom equipment. I went into work with him all the time; I swept the floors for nothing just to be in the office, loved the atmosphere and felt proud by association.
Name: Oliver Kharraz
Childhood dream: A doctor. My father was a doctor, his father, and his father before that. It was really passed down in my family. In a lot of ways the underlying value for this was that I've always been taught that talent breeds responsibility, and so being a doctor was a very direct way to live up to that responsibility.
Read more about Kharraz: This Founder Says to Succeed You Need to Question Everything
Name: Matt Ehrlichman
Childhood dream: I wanted to be a pro-basketball player, and then realized I wasn't going to be nearly as athletic enough. Luckily, for me, I got on the entrepreneur track very early. I started my first company at 14; I was selling sand dollars on the street.
Read more about Ehrlichman: How This Founder Uses His Competitiveness to Succeed in Business
Name: Jennie Ripps
Company: Owl's Brew
Childhood dream: I always wanted to make things and what that meant changed. I wanted to make bracelets and then I wanted to make lemonade. So I always wanted to be a maker but there was no profession that I was drawn towards. I was just more excited by the idea of trying to build and make things and that shifted with age.
Read more about Ripps: The One Thing This Entrepreneur Does Each Day to Stay Productive
Name: Angie Hicks
Company: Angie's List
Childhood dream: I loved math, so I actually wanted to be an actuary. Calculating life insurance and probability and stuff like that. It's a really exciting career, I know.
Name: Whitney Wolfe
Childhood dream: I was very artistic and never strong with numbers or science. I wanted to be an artist or a fashion designer. I wanted to be something that allowed for a lot of imagination.
Read more about Wolfe: The Founder of Bumble Reveals How the 'Question of Nine' Can Help You Stay Focused
Name: Kara Goldin
Childhood dream: I fluctuated between wanting to be a lawyer and a vet. I was always obsessed with animals. Someone once said to me, and I think it's true, that you can tell a lot about people's character by how they treat animals and how animals respond to them. I also thought about being a lawyer, because I always had to fight for what I wanted as the youngest of five kids.
Name: Bea Fischel-Bock
Childhood dream: I'm pretty much obsessed with animals, so I thought I was going to be a vet until I saw my dog after surgery and realized there was blood involved. Once I got clarity on the fact that being a vet didn't just mean meeting cute dogs and cats, I shifted my attention to my passion for design.
Read more about Fischel-Bock: This Founder Shares Why In Order To Learn Fast, You Need to Fail Fast
Name: Daniel Lubetzky
Childhood dream: In all seriousness, I wanted to be a magician with special powers that would cause enemies to become friends. I didn't like to see people fighting.
Read more about Lubetzky: How a 9-Year-Old Taught This Super Successful Entrepreneur About Taking Risks
Name: John Zimmer
Childhood dream: A doughnut man. That was the first thing I told my parents. I used to go to Dunkin' Donuts, and I told them that I wanted to be a doughnut man. That was a person that was making the doughnuts. I used to talk to the people that were making them and so just my love of doughnuts made me want to make them too. This is when I was 5.
Read more about Zimmer: Lyft Co-Founder John Zimmer: 'You Should Never Veer Off the Path of Your Own Values'
Name: Jen Rubio
Childhood dream: I thought I was going to be a lawyer, at least until I got to college. I liked to argue. That was what appealed to me.
Read more about Rubio: Use This Founder's Top Tip To Make Your Meetings Work For You
Name: David Bladow
Childhood dream: An NBA basketball player. I wanted to be a basketball player and entrepreneur. I'm 5 feet 9 inches tall, but I was better suited for the latter. I always wanted to work for myself, even when I didn't know what I was going to be. My grandfather, dad, mom and stepdad are all entrepreneurs. I've never known anything else, none of them never had bosses. I grew up with that mentality.
Read more about Bladow: This Founder Has 3 Simple Tips to Achieve Maximum Productivity
Name: Carrie Dorr
Company: Pure Barre
Childhood dream: I wanted to be Janet Jackson's choreographer and one of her backup dancers. I started dancing when I was 3. I taught dance and fitness classes through law school and after I graduated, my second chapter, I wanted to save every woman and child on the planet who needed help. Two very different desires that ended up crossing paths later in life.
Read more about Dorr: This Founder Shares How to Tailor Your Schedule to Fit Your Brain
Name: Bastian Lehmann
Childhood dream: I always wanted to be a movie director. Stanley Kubrick is my absolute favorite. I think what a director does, and how you give life to an idea is related to building a company. I want to be the guy that makes things work out.
Read more about Lehmann: This Founder Shares the One Trait He Looks for in Every Hire
Name: Randi Zuckerberg
Company: Zuckerberg Media
Childhood dream: For a while, I wanted to be a mermaid, but apparently that was not a tangible goal. I really wanted to sing on Broadway. That was my big goal my entire life. I eventually gave it up to go into something reasonable, like technology and entrepreneurship.
Read more about Zuckerberg: Why Everyone Can Use Randi Zuckerberg's Number One Focus Tip
Name: Heidi Zak
Childhood dream: I wanted to be a broadcast journalist. I looked up to Katie Couric when she was at the Today Show. I think she was just really knowledgeable and came across as very friendly -- something about her that was really real. I liked that about her.
Read more about Zak: What This Founder Learned at a Farmstand Helped Her Bra Startup
Name: Alex Friedman
Childhood dream: I wanted to be a cartoonist. I spent a lot of time as a kid doing arts and crafts. I loved to draw, and I started buying books that were all about being a cartoonist 101 and about drawing comics. Eventually, I created my own series of characters and made my own comic book. .
Read more about Friedman: How You Can Use Your Computer Password to Make Your Aspirations a Reality
Name: Katrina Lake
Company: Stitch Fix
Childhood dream: I wanted to be a doctor. I was pre-med at school, and I even took the MCAT. My ultimate decision was that I didn't love the work environment in a hospital. It just didn't feel like me, like this is where I want to spend the rest of my life.
Luis von Ahn
Name: Luis von Ahn
Childhood dream: At first my mother was very concerned because I wanted to be a fire truck, not a firefighter. Then I wanted to be a policeman, a doctor, an astronomer and then I settled on professor, which I ended up being for the first part of my career.
Name: Scott Harrison
Childhood dream: I grew up with a mother who was incredibly sick, so I wanted to be a doctor to help people like her.
Bruce Poon Tip
Name: Bruce Poon Tip
Company: G Adventures
Childhood dream: I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I had three companies before I turned 15, won a gold medal in entrepreneurship in my province in Canada at the age of 14. I had my first business at 11.
Name: Ayah Bdeir
Childhood dream: I wanted to be an architect. I was good at math and science, and I also liked art and design. I felt like architecture was kind of a combo. I didn't become an architect for the silliest reason. My mom said, "Well your oldest sister is already an architect, we don't need two architects in the family."And I was like OK, then I'll become an engineer. It was a very quick pivot, but now I'm happy that I did engineering.
Name: Wendy Williams
Company: The Wendy Williams Show and the Hunter Foundation
Childhood dream: I wanted to be a newscaster or radio personality. I grew up in New York tri-state area, and so I had the best influences with our New York broadcasters.
Read more about Williams: Media Mogul Wendy Williams on Why She's So Happy She Ignored the Worst Advice She Ever Received
Dr. Katie Rodan
Name: Dr. Katie Rodan
Company: Rodan + Fields
Childhood dream: I always wanted to be in business for myself and recognized this ambition at a young age, starting with Girl Scouts. One year, our troop sold so many cookies we won a trip to Disneyland. Instead of riding the rides, I spent the day outside the ticket booth selling each individual ticket. My parents couldn't believe it when I came home with a pocket full of money. A couple of years later, around age 13, I started a small business creating and selling purses and beaded necklaces to a retail shop. In a few years, I made enough money to buy myself a car. These early experiences rewarded me for being resourceful and fueled my fire to seek an entrepreneurial path.
Read more about Dr. Katie Rodan: Want to Build a Billion-Dollar Business? Here Are 2 Simple Ideas That Helped These Two Skincare Heavyweights.
Alexa von Tobel
Name: Alexa von Tobel
Childhood dream: I used to think the coolest people ever were CEOs of companies. I used to think they were all rock stars, and people who invented and created and ran corporations. I was always fascinated by that as I got older.
Read more about Tobel: This Entrepreneur Shares Her Surprising Secret to Fighting Decision Fatigue
Company: Tamara Mellon
Childhood dream: I always wanted to be in the fashion business, or a psychologist. While it's obvious which one I ended up in, I still love being an armchair therapist with my girlfriends.
Read more about Mellon: Jimmy Choo's Co-Founder Explains Why There Are No Small Jobs
Childhood dream: I wanted to be three things: a singer, but I can't sing, so that didn't work out; an actress -- I would rope my friends into performing plays with me; and fashion designer, and I've gotten close to that. When I look back they had a common theme in that I always loved storytelling.
Read more about Fulop: Use This Founder's Simple Email Strategy to Keep Burnout at Bay
Childhood dream: Definitely not a CEO. It wasn't even a consideration. Both of my parents are physicians, both of my grandfathers are physicians, and I always aspired to be a surgeon like my father.
Read more about Tolia: This Successful Entrepreneur Shares How You Can Build A High-Performing Company While Staying True to Your Values
Company: Rent the Runway
Childhood dream: I still want to be all the things today that I wanted to be as a kid: a singer in a Motown band, a Knicks city dancer or a Broadway star. Careers have many chapters, so who knows?
Read more about Hyman: Rent the Runway's Jennifer Hyman Shares Her Worst Advice Ever: 'Shut Up and Act Sweet'
Childhood dream: A writer and an editor. It never changed.
Read more about Barberich: Why Your Done List is Just as Important as Your To-Do List
Childhood dream: I wanted to be a teacher, but then towards the end of second grade I decided I already learned everything, so I probably should be a professor instead.
Company: Forefront Venture Partners
Childhood dream: I had no idea what I was going to be. I just wanted to see what was outside the little town where I grew up. It was two miles long and two blocks wide -- not very big -- and everybody knew everybody.
Read more about Corcoran: Shark Tank's Barbara Corcoran Explains Why You Must Make Time in Your Schedule For Fun
Company: Walker & Company
Childhood dream: I wanted to work on Wall Street or play basketball. They were the easiest ways to get wealthy, as far as I saw it. With basketball, I figured that wasn't going to work out. I got to do the Wall Street thing but that didn't work out either. I fell into something [with this business] that I'm pretty passionate about.
Childhood dream: In third grade I built a model stadium called Payal's Palace of Arts, complete with an ice skating rink and dance performance space. While I didn't have a clear sense for what I wanted to be when I grew up, I think in retrospect that the clues foreshadowed a future combining creativity with my passion for being active.
Read more about Kadakia: This Successful Entrepreneur Explains Why You Can't Succeed Unless You Invest in Yourself
Childhood dream: I guess you could say that design had always played a big role in my life. When I was 14 I started my first business creating handmade scarves that I sold at shops and markets throughout Perth, and I never forgot the freedom and excitement of being able to build a business. That was one of the driving forces that led me to launch what would evolve to be Canva.
Rad more about Perkins: She Was Told 'No' 100 Times. Now This 30-Year-Old Female Founder Runs a $1 Billion Business.