12 Millennial Entrepreneurs Who Started with Nothing—and Made a Fortune
Don't be discouraged if you have nothing right now. These millennial entrepreneurs started with nearly zilch and made it to the top.
Understand your mistakes
Jake and Caroline Danehy founded Fair Harbor, a company that makes swimwear made out of recycled plastic bottles, at the ages of 20 and 17, while studying at Colgate University. The brother and sister duo pitched the idea in a Shark Tank competition put together by their university, and won a $20,000 grant. That’s not to say it was smooth sailing from there. “Everyone will try to warn you of how many mistakes you’ll make, but you don’t actually realize it until you experience each one for yourself,” Jake says. “Just keep going and learn from your mistakes.” So you messed up, maybe big-time—it happens. Here’s how to come out of this experience a wiser, more compassionate person.
Find a mentor
Gerard Adams is the millennial entrepreneur. He co-founded Elite Daily, an online news platform that sold for $50 million dollars in 2015. After the company sold, Adams, now 33 years old, found himself in a low and unsure of what to do next. Adams returned to his home in Newark, New Jersey, and saw that his own community needed help. Thus, he founded Fownders, a digital and in-classroom learning platform for entrepreneurs. Adams thanks his mentor, Tony Robbins, for much of his success. “Find a good mentor and get started,” he says. “We wouldn’t be anywhere as far as we are today without good mentorship.” Through Fownders, Adams provides mentorship to aspiring entrepreneurs. Follow these networking rules to land your dream job.
Try new things
Cashmere Nicole was a struggling single mother, juggling her nine-to-five job and family life and battling breast cancer when she started her side business, Beauty Bakerie, a cruelty-free cosmetics and beauty brand. Started in her kitchen, the brand is currently sold in over 100 countries worldwide. “You can only find the things you’re most passionate about by exploring, by trying things,” says Nicole, who is 33 years old. “If we aren’t trying, we aren’t giving ourselves the best shot at finding that one thing that you’ll enjoy doing. Pray on it and go for it.” Older generations, please stop blaming these specific things on millennials.
Adam Lyons dropped out of high school but managed to talk his way into Temple University. After graduation, he worked for a bit in London, before returning to the states and founding The Zebra, a car and property insurance comparison search engine. “I always say, to succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to be a little bit crazy, but in a productive way,” he says. “Specifically, you have to be crazy-focused, crazy-driven, and crazy-dedicated when starting a business or you’ll flat-out fail. There’s no room for half-baked work ethic.” Six years ago, Lyons was unemployed and living in his friend’s basement. Now, the 30-year-old is on Inc. and Forbes 30 Under 30 lists. Check out the winning attributes all successful people have in common.
Believe in your product
At the age of 22, Ilse Valfré, went from a nursery school teacher in San Diego to owner of Valfré, a Los Angeles-based fashion, accessories, and art business. A small blogger turned fashion designer, Valfré used her personal illustrations and drawings from her tumblr blog and began creating tote bags and T-shirts. Valfré, now 30 years old, believed in her designs and her followers did too. “Never give up on your passions, if you try hard enough anything can come to life!” she says.
“The journey of entrepreneurship is one of faith and endurance”
Tamar Lucien had just $250 left to her name when she started MentalHappy. Inspired by her own struggles with anxiety and depression, she wanted to create a business and movement that helps people overcome their own sadness, anxiety, and depression, which is done through MentalHappy’s signature “Cheerbox” filled with happiness tools, including a journal and a gratitude jar. Lucien, now 33, knows all too well how easy it is to forget about your own happiness when focused on work. “Take care of yourself and try to have some fun during those uncertain times,” she says. “You don’t have to overwork yourself. Learn to take walks, find a hobby, read, play small games, or volunteer. Working harder in times of high stress is a recipe for disaster so learn to relax more.” Millennials have different needs than prior generations–these are industries they have “killed.”
There are no shortcuts
Growing up in poverty, Christopher Gray thought earning a college degree was out of the question. That is until he won $1.3 million in scholarships. Gray graduated from college and made it his mission to help others find scholarship money, which is why he founded Scholly, a mobile and web app that finds students scholarship money for college and graduate school. Gray, 26 years old, knows it takes a ton of hard work to be a successful entrepreneur. “There are no shortcuts to success. Persistence is key,” he says.
Don’t give up
Nadia Boujarwah, now 32, was working in investment banking when she grew frustrated with the limited fashion options for plus-size women. Boujarwah, herself a size 14, quit her job and founded Dia&Co, a subscription styling service for women sizes 14 to 32. Starting the company wasn’t easy though. Boujarwah faced many challenges in the company’s early days, which is why she believes “resilience is among the most important traits for entrepreneurship, and passion bolsters resilience,” she says. “We really had to dig deep to keep going, and I’m not sure we would’ve succeeded if we hadn’t been so passionate about the mission we were on.”
Never stop learning
At the age of 14, Cherie Tan began freelancing as a web designer and developer. Today, at 24, Tan runs a fully remote digital marketing and design company at Mogul Tech International. Once you’ve “made it,” it’s easy to stop being interested in learning new techniques, but Tan’s advice would be to never stop learning. “The end of college days is the start of a new incredible journey, one that requires you to constantly be on your toes and up to date with the rapid pace of technology developments in this world,” she says. “But don’t forget to also indulge in learning from the past: historical texts and books, figures, and monumental moments that changed the world.”
Ignore the naysayers
Former athlete, Matt Hyder, 25, knows all too well the achy muscles that come after a tough workout, which is why he founded Recoup Fitness, a company the offers muscle recovery tools, like the Recoup Cold Roller. Starting the business in his parent’s basement, Hyder never let the no’s stop him. “Do not let outside voices influence your decision to do something,” he says. “I was told my other businesses were going to fail. They were right, but I looked at it as part of the process until I find the right business to create.” Learn the advantages of hiring a venture capitalist, interview with David Kezerashvili.
It’s not easy
Charlie Siciak and Sam Nebel, now both 29 years old, met their freshman year at Florida State University. The boys ran into each other one day in their fraternity’s bathroom and happened to both be carrying giant bags of baby wipes. Two years after graduating the duo set out to create the “king of all wipes.” Founded in 2014, Goodwipes offers a variety of body wipes for men and women on the go. Siciak and Nebel have spent thousands of hours dedicated to growing Goodwipes. “My experience for the formula for greatest results is more time spent on Goodwipes (doing the right things) equals greater fulfillment and a more impactful business,” says Nebel. “What you get out is what you put in.” Find out which college major could make you a billionaire.
Follow your passion, but stay grounded
Vicky Popat was working as a teacher when she came up with the idea for PlantOGram with the help of her husband. They’d always had a passion for growing exotic fruit trees and noticed a gaping hole in the industry gifting industry. As newlyweds working 40-60 plus hours a week, the couple had very little time to spend together. They decided to quit their jobs and open PlantOGram, an online store for more than 200 types of rare and exotic fruit trees as gifts, together. “Follow your passion but keep your feet firmly grounded and make sure you are constantly watching all the numbers,” she advises. “Your passion will not serve anyone if you cannot pay the bills and keep the lights on and the doors open.” Don’t bet the house on just one thing; figure out a couple things you can do. Here are some quick ways to earn extra cash.
Next up, check out the surprising ways these people have found their dream careers.