From an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy to envy the lives of Silicon Valley’s best and brightest tech entrepreneurs. Their meteoric ascents to wealth and fame are nothing short of a modern-day fairy tale story, each year revealing new phases of their power.
Like a fairy tale, however, there are certain lessons to be learned from these tech titan’s personal battles. For most if not all of the following individuals, success has come on the heels of numerous failures — and dauntless perseverance. Take a quick read of the following entrepreneur’s career paths to remind yourself that more is always possible.
Fans of this tech icon know about his previous ownership of Blogger, current ownership of Medium and the indisputable success of social media and microblogging site, Twitter. His journey to owning Twitter, however, was not always filled with proud and shining moments.
Williams grew up on a humble soybean and corn farm in Clarks, Nebraska and eventually attended the University of Nebraska, but dropped out after a year and a half. Despite not completing his education, Williams was able to take what he learned and transfer his coding skills to jobs he would hold at O’Reilly Media, Hewlett-Packard and Intel.
Williams and Meg Hourihan founded Pyra Labs, which eventually became Blogger, and sold the blogging platform to Google in 2003 when he was 35. After creating the defunct podcast platform Odeo in 2004, he worked for Google for two years before leaving and doing the work that created Twitter, which he co-founded with Biz Stone, Noah Glass and Jack Dorsey. Although Williams isn’t considered a programming genius by any means, he was able to create a small and seemingly nonsensical idea into a social media phenomenon used all over the world today.
If being a dropout is any indication of success, Steve Ballmer’s leaving the MBA program at Stanford should not have been a real surprise. However, Ballmer was still able to push through an impressive amount of education, including graduating valedictorian in high school and magna cum laude from Harvard University.
A descendant of Swiss immigrants, he joined Microsoft CEO founder Bill Gates in 1980, a decision that has helped build his near US$30 billion net worth and made him the 22nd richest person in the world. He started with a US$50,000 salary and held several leadership positions within Microsoft before becoming its CEO in 2000. After making several sports-related investments, Ballmer retired from Microsoft and became the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers in 2017.
As the founder of the home automation, security and energy company Vivint, Todd Pedersen has come a long way from selling pest control services and products and burglar alarms door-to-door in Arizona.
He grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho and joined forces with high school friend Keith Nellesen while he was a student and Brigham Young University to form Vivint. Although his company has been noted for its innovation, what helps him earn a lasting good tech reputation is the way he treats his employees. At Vivint’s corporate headquarters in Provo, Utah, employees enjoy a first class restaurant, a free medical clinic, basketball court and weight room. The company campus is like a home away from home.
Michael P. Gregoire
As CEO of US$4.5 billion global software company, CA Technologies, Mike Gregoire has helped drive the application economy and one that is essential to innovating business. He survived one of the nastiest tech takeovers in history when Oracle took control of PeopleSoft in 2004. When he later sold Taleo to Oracle, he had to let go of hostilities to do what was right for the company. Regardless of the bitter memories of the PeopleSoft takeover, Gregoire understood that driving the success of the company rested on being able to make the best choice for the company and its people.
When he sold Taleo, Mike built a life with his wife and children in Lake Tahoe and the Valley area, where he loves mountain biking. He decided to move to the East Coast and take the helm at CA Technologies in 2013 because he saw the company had the power to truly change the technology landscape with the number of patents that it owns.
Each of these entrepreneurs started out with little more than what seemed like a good idea. However, as their prosperity can now attest, a dream mixed with relentless determination is all it takes to get started on the road to innovation. Take a leaf from their book and remember to keep fighting for the life you want.
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