Without a doubt films about entrepreneurs and their struggles are always a treat to enjoy. Entrepreneurs’ stories of perseverance and overcoming obstacles is something to marvel at. While films like The Founder, Moneyball, and The Social Network tell great stories about some remarkable entrepreneurs, oftentimes the stories of said person is often left out. Instead, entrepreneurial films generally focus their narratives on the companies’ startup and what followed. There’s no question that these startup stories are inspiring, however, a human element is lost while telling these business stories. In this article, I will be focusing on telling the stories of some of the most lucrative entrepreneurs to have ever walked the globe before they started their companies.
Born in White Plains, New York to a psychiatrist and dentist, Mark Zuckerberg found success at an early age. In school, he excelled in classes, surpassing expectations no matter the subject. After two years of public high school, Zuckerberg transferred to a private academy in Phillips Exeter. There, he won prizes in a multitude of subjects, math, astronomy, physics as well as classical studies, and was also the captain of the fencing team. According to Zuckerberg himself, he could read and write in French, Hebrew, Latin, and ancient Greek.
Once admitted to Harvard, he was already labeled as a programming prodigy by professors and fellow classmates. At Harvard, Zuckerberg studied psychology and computer science, which he later used his know-how to develop a program titled “CourseMatch”. CourseMatch allowed users to make class scheduling decisions based on what their friend group was doing in order to better form study groups. This wouldn’t be the only program Zuckerberg developed while in school, he also programmed “Facemash”. Facemash can be looked at as an early beta into what Facebook unofficially became. Using photos from classmates, users were able to select the best-looking person from a choice of pictures. While the site only lasted a weekend before Harvard shut it down, it wasn’t the last program he developed while in school. In the following semester in 2004, Zuckerberg launched “Thefacebook.”
Growing up in Mayport, Florida and San Diego, California in a military household, Billy Beane found athletic success early on. Labeled as a wonderchild that excelled at any sport he tried, Beane quickly outclassed other students in baseball, football, and basketball while attending Mt. Carmel High School in San Diego. Scouts were enthralled with Beane’s potential talent—a talent that could find success in the NFL or MLB—had scouts lining up at his doorstep.
Ultimately, Beane retired from football to avoid injury to further pursue his baseball aspirations. Retired from football or not, Stanford University attempted to recruit Beane on a dual baseball-football scholarship, which Beane turned down. In the 1980 MLB draft, Billy Beane was chosen by The New York Mets with the 23rd overall selection. Beane signed with the Mets for a contract of $125,000, which is equivalent to $392,619 today. Unfortunately for Beane, his baseball career was labeled as a disappointment. Beane was never able to recapture that early magic he once had and bounced around from club to club. 10 years after he was drafted, Beane retired in 1990 opting for a front-office career.
Now with Oakland, Beane was assigned the role of an advance scout. Finding success as a scout, three years later The Oakland A’s promoted Beane to assistant General Manager. In 1997, Beane was named General Manager of the A’s. As GM, Beane continued the mission of the previous GM who was crafting the A’s as one of the most cost-effective teams in baseball. While other clubs have lucrative payrolls to play with, Oakland is another story. In order to find success, a GM had to be creative and look outside of baseball norms. Beane knew this and his actions upon reading the work of baseball statistician, Bill James, reassured Beane that he could accomplish something no one else in baseball sought possible.
Raised in Oak Park, Illinois to Czech-American Parents, Ray Croc was advantageous even as a child. An entrepreneur at heart, Kroc took opportunities whenever he saw fit. In World War I at the age of 15, Kroc lied about his age in order to enlist as a Red Cross ambulance driver alongside Walt Disney. Post-war throughout the depression, Kroc sought success in a variety of roles. After relocating to Florida, Kroc sold paper cups to pay the bills. When that avenue began to fail, Kroc pivoted to real estate while occasionally playing piano for bands.
When World War II ended, Kroc found himself as a milkshake mixer salesman for equipment manufacturer Prince Castle. While Prince Castle was in a stable enough position, their line of products was considered overpriced. Most customers instead turned to the lower-priced products provided by the Hamilton Beach company. Despite this, two brothers out of San Bernardino, California in Richard and Maurice McDonald purchased eight mixers from Kroc for their small restaurant, McDonald’s. Dumbfounded on how two brothers who only operate a small business could offer such a purchase, Kroc went to visit them in 1954. A year later, Kroc opened his own McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois, the ninth expansion from the original McDonald’s brothers chain.
Born in Tel Aviv, to physicians Israel, Adam Neumann’s startup career is unlike many that came before him. Upon his parent’s divorce at an early age, Neumann moved to America with his mother for her medical residency. Education was lost to him at an early age, dyslexic Neumann was unable to read nor write until he was in the third grade. After four years in the U.S., Neumann and his family relocated once more back to Israel. There, Neumann had a handle on his education and later graduated from the Israeli Naval Academy. Neumann served the Israeli Navy for five years until he was discharged at the rank of lieutenant. Post-graduation from his military obligations, Neumann sought more and attended Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College in New York.
For Neumann, founding WeWork wasn’t as straightforward of a path as it is for many entrepreneurs. Instead, Neumann founded a children’s clothing company called Krawlers. There, Neumann began working on his later venture titled Green Desk in 2008, a shared-workspace business. Shortly after Green Desk’s inception, it was sold, and using the funds acquired by that sale along with a $15 million investment from a New York real estate developer, Neumann, and Miguel Mckelvey founded WeWork in 2010. While Neuuman’s actions upon founding WeWork are still discussed to this day and the fate of the company is under scrutiny, Neumann was able to acquire a valuation of over several billion.
There is no one way to found a company. No matter one’s background, being able to lift yourself above the odds and achieving success is a thing to marvel at. Oftentimes, success comes where we least expect it. In the case of Ray Krog and Billy Beane, each of them required pivoting, and quick thinking to find their niche. In Beane’s case, he was destined early on to be an athletic star and upon tumbling down a lackluster career, he found a way to find success in an alternative route.
There’s a stigma behind entrepreneurship and founding companies that one has to be young in order to do so. Neumann, Kroc, and Beane were all older than your standard technology whiz kid and despite their methods, they ultimately did find success. While some of their practices in Neumann’s and Kroc’s case should be discouraged, they never let their age get in the way. Entrepreneurship can come at any time, you just have to be on the lookout for it.
What are some other true stories that inspired entrepreneur films? Let us know down in the comments.
This article originally published on GREY Journal.