What were famous entrepreneurs like as children?

We all know that our childhood shapes our later lives in many different ways. So what was unique about the childhoods of some of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs that helped them to succeed?

Richard Branson

Growing up the eldest of three children, Richard Branson was often found running some hare-brained scheme or another to change the world, or make lots of money. It started off with growing Christmas trees and breeding budgies before he left school at 16 after launching Student magazine.

His mum, Eve, says that she always knew that they were going to have their hands full with him, right from when he was a toddler. “You were clearly someone who liked to do things his own way and on your own terms,” she wrote in a letter to him.

“On a few such occasions we would say things like, ‘Oh don’t be ridiculous, Ricky! That’s never going to work.’ More often than not, however, your father and I instead opted to give you plenty of scope to learn by your mistakes and so left you to get on with your Christmas tree growing, bird breeding and all the other weird and wonderful enterprises you came up with. Almost without exception they all ended in some form of a disaster with us picking up the pieces – literally and metaphorically – but we’d soldier on and just kept hoping that one day the lessons learned would help you in life.”

Richard Branson stars microphone speech

Richard’s parents weren’t the only ones to be left hoping that he would learn from his many varied experiences in life, though. On his last day at school, his headmaster Robert Drayson, told him that he would either end up in prison or become a millionaire.

Eve added: “We too shared some very serious misgivings about what the future might have in store for you.

“As we now know, of course, we needn’t have worried. What we saw as being a pig-headed little boy who was utterly determined to do his own thing, turned out to be nothing more than the growing pains of a budding entrepreneur. If only we had been able to recognise that at the time, we might have had a lot fewer sleepless nights!”

Sara Blakely 

It’s no surprise that from a young age Spanx founder Sara Blakely was taking risks. The entrepreneur built her now world-famous brand after she took a chance on an idea that came to her when she cut the feet off some pantyhose to create underwear suitable for wearing under tight trousers. She says that when she told her friends and family what she was working on “they looked horrified”.  That didn’t put her off, though – and the reason why could lie in her childhood.

Each night at dinner, Sara and her brother were invited by their father to share their failures from the day. Instead of being disappointed, angry or upset, he would celebrate their attempts.

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“What it did was reframe my definition of failure,” Sara told Business Insider. “Failure for me became not trying versus the outcome.

“My dad would encourage me any time something didn’t go the way I expected it to, or maybe I got embarrassed by a situation, to write down where the hidden gifts were and what I got out of it. I started realising that in everything there was some amazing nugget that I wouldn’t have wanted to pass up.”

Mark Zuckerberg

The Facebook founder grew up watching his parents run his father’s dental office – his mother worked as the office manager, despite being a licensed psychiatrist herself. Dr Edward Zuckerberg (Mark's dad) said in a radio interview in 2011 that he thinks that helped to influence Mark’s future.

“My kids all grew up around the office and were all exposed to computers,” he explained. “There are advantages to being exposed to computers early on. That certainly enriched Mark’s interest in technology.”

Dr Zuckerberg said that while his own computer science background was limited, he was always “technologically oriented in the office” and “always had the latest high-tech toys”. Specifically during the interview, he mentioned an early Atari 800, which came with a disk for programming. 

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“I thought Mark might be interested,” Dr Zuckerberg said. “And I imparted that knowledge to him. From there it took off.”

Dr Zuckerberg and his wife were keen to make sure that they supported their children in “their strengths and support the development of the things they’re passionate about”.

He said that Mark was “a good student” and had “a special affinity for math and sciences”, but that he was also a “very quiet guy” who “doesn’t like to boast about his accomplishments”. 

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