From Dud to Stud: 5 Successful Entrepreneurs Whose First Businesses Failed

1. Bill Gates and Traf-O-Data

You don’t get this lit without tasting defeat somewhere along the lines

Bill Gates wasn’t always a multi-billionaire; he had much humbler beginnings. Ever heard of Traf-O-Data? No? That’s what we thought. For a little background, the platform was meant to process traffic tapes, eliminating very tedious manual labor for government entities. With a name as great as Traf-O-Data you’d think the company would be destined for success. However, Gates didn’t have much success, and things couldn’t have started too much worse at the old Traf-O-Data either:

“ when the guy from the County that Seattle’s in came to see it, it didn’t work ” — Bill Gates

But, as with any failure, Traf-O-Data was pivotal to the success of a little venture Gates and Paul Allen would embark on later down the line:

“ [Traf-O-Data] was seminal in preparing us to make Microsoft’s first product a couple of years later ” — Paul Allen

Oh by the way, Microsoft currently does about $85 billion in revenue. Not too shabby.


2. Nick Woodman and EmpowerAll, FunBug

Nothing like grabbing some tube with one of Nick Woodman’s GoPros

Nick Woodman gives us a lot of mileage here; he failed pretty hard not once, but twice before striking gold with GoPro. EmpowerAll aimed to sell cheap electronics to young people. No one else was doing it at the time, so it seemed novel enough. Then Woodman realized the reason no one was doing it was because it was impossible to sell that electronics that cheap, so they went belly-up. Woodman’s next attempt was FunBug, which was a platform for earning cash prizes for competing in sweepstakes. He ended up blowing $4 million in investor’s money trying to get things to work, and left feeling pretty defeated. So, as any good entreprenuer would do, he went on a head-clearing surfing trip and came away with the idea for the GoPro. And after all that…

“ I still drink a couple of Red Bulls every day. ” — Nick Woodman

… So takeaways from Nick Woodman are 1) Grab some board and hit the tube, 2) Make a billion dollars, and 3) Keep on throwing back that sweet, sweet Red Bull. Love it.


3. Reid Hoffman and SocialNet.com

How I assume Reid Hoffman looked while building Social Net

Before Reid Hoffman was connecting business networks with Linkedin, he was trying to connect star-crossed lovers across ethernet cables at SocialNet.com. The platform ended up being way before its time, and Hoffman ended up kindling a lot less romance than he would have liked. But, he gained some invaluable experience from the project, and left with a simple revelation:

“ One of the things I learned from that whole experience, was that you should focus on one domain that really matters to people and just do that really well ” — Reid Hoffman

I don’t think many people, let alone Hoffman, are mourning the SocialNet failure too much, as Linkedin was recently bought for $26 Billion by another guy on this by the name of Bill Gates. You may have heard of him.


4. Mark Zuckerberg and Wirehog

I can only assume this is what lies underneath the hood over at Facebook HQ

If you haven’t noticed yet, most of the ideas on this list have incredible names, with Wirehog coming in as one of the best of all time. As for it’s actually purpose, Wirehog was a p2p file sharing platform the Facebook boys were working on around the same time as the social network. Unfortunately, when the realized things weren’t going to work out due to potential legal issues, they nixed the platform, and the name went down with it:

“ We put a bullet in that thing. ” — Sean Parker

So the main takeaways from this one should be that 1) Great names don’t translate to equally great success, and 2) You should name your next startup Wirehog, because its totally available.


5. Larry Page and Half the #$%@ Google Has Tried

Nope nope nope get your friend circles away from me Google+

I want to end on this one because I think it’s really interesting that a company as big as Google has and will continue to take risks in an attempt to create innovation. We’ll even ignore the current train-wreck that is Google+ for argument’s sake. Remember Google Wave, Google Audio Ads, or Google SearchWiki? Neither do we, and there’s a reason for that. They were monumental failures no one used. But that’s the beauty of the environment Larry Page has fostered at Google; celebrate failures, and use them to grow and create things better than the ever were before. Take Google for example, which is now the worlds foremost authority on literally everything. Not a bad thing to have your name on if you ask me.


I’ll leave you guys with this quote, from the final guy on our list, Larry Page:

“ Lots of companies don’t succeed over time. What do they fundamentally do wrong? They usually miss the future. ”— Larry Page

Don’t let yourself be afraid of failure, or afraid of what the future holds, embrace change and learn from your shortcomings to built the next big thing. That’s what we’re trying to do over at hatchli, and we’ve learned more than we ever would have thought just by throwing ourselves out there. So what are you waiting for? Get going on your first big idea, and learn all you can so your second and third are even better. If you need a place to start, check us out at hatchli.io and we’ll get you going down the right path! Cheers, and happy making!

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