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7 Start up stories from top entrepreneurs – get inspired to start your own business

By Will Stevens - August 28, 2015

Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard’s first real business was a magazine called The Student and the publication was to be a springboard for the brand which made him famous. He began advertising cut-price records in the magazine and soon the first company named Virgin was born. Within years, he’d open a shop on London’s Oxford Street and the profits from that enabled him to launch a record label.


What small business owners can learn:

Have an audience that’s interested in what you do makes marketing your business much easier. Invest time in content marketing, email marketing and social media marketing so you’ll be able to reach an audience that is interested in what you do.

Jimmy Wales

Believe it or not, Wikipedia wasn’t Jimmy Wales’ first attempt at an online encyclopaedia. He first launched Nupedia, which existed from 2000 until 2003. The overall aim was the same – to create an online encyclopaedia. However, all of Nupedia’s articles had to be peer reviewed before they were approved. In three years, only 25 articles completed the review process. After Nupedia closed, Wales launched Wikipedia, which allows anyone to edit its articles. Within days, Wikipedia had published more articles than Nupedia ever did.


What small business owners can learn:

Just because an idea doesn’t work first time around, it doesn’t mean it was a bad idea. You may only have to change one element to become successful.

James Dyson

The vacuum cleaner which bears his name wasn’t James Dyson’s first invention, though it is by far his most successful. But it wasn’t just a superior design that put him ahead of the pack. Dyson’s belief that his product was better than other vacuum cleaners was crucial, especially in the early days when no existing manufacturer or distributor would carry his product. Now, Dyson is one of the world’s leading vacuum cleaner brands.

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What small business owners can learn:

Sometimes, nobody but you will believe in your business. That doesn’t mean your idea is wrong, but it does mean you have to champion your cause because no one else will do it for you.

Peter Jones

One of Peter Jones’ first steps into business was building and selling PCs under his own brand. After that, inspired by the Tom Cruise Film Cocktail, he opened a bar. He sold it at a loss of £200,000. After that, his computer business folded and he moved back in with his parents.

But Jones wasn’t to be deterred – he founded Phones International Group in 1998 and within two years the company had a turnover of £44 million.


What small business owners can learn:

Just because one idea doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean you should give up. Many successful entrepreneurs have launched businesses that, for whatever reason, didn’t work out. Don’t give up if your first idea doesn’t come to fruition – the key to business success is perseverance.

James Caan

James Caan could have walked out of school and into a job with his dad’s business, but he decided that wasn’t the life for him. Instead, Caan launched his own recruitment business. His first office was so small, the door couldn’t be opened without it hitting his desk. But he persevered and eventually the company that started in that small Pall Mall office was sold for £93 million.

Pall Mall where James Caan started out

Pall Mall where James Caan started out

What small business owners can learn:

Running a business is a passion and if you’ve got that passion, you can’t ignore it. If you want to start your own online business but aren’t sure where to start, check out this guide.

Martha Lane Fox

Only a handful of businesses weathered the dot com bubble and Lastminute.com was one of them. Founded by Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman, the company was one of the first major players in the online travel market. It floated on the stock exchange at the height of the internet boom and in 2005 it was sold for £577 million. Since then, Martha has championed a range of causes relating to human rights issues.


What small business owners can learn:

There is no right or wrong time to start a business. Lastminute.com launched at a time when many online companies were receiving huge valuations having achieved very little in the way of profit. But the market environment at the time of launch wasn’t why Lastminute.com succeeded – the fact it weathered the dot com crash shows that. A good idea and a committed owner will help a business succeed regardless of the economic climate.

Mary Perkins

Mary Perkins may not be a household name, but she’s the cofounder of one of Britain’s best known high street chains – Specsavers. From its beginnings in Guernsey, the company grew to be the largest privately-owned opticians in the world. Before that, she’d already established another chain of opticians which was sold for £2 million in 1980. All of this after studying optometry at university.


What small business owners can learn:

It’s often easiest to start a business in a field you’re already familiar with. Why? Because you won’t have to get to grips with a new topic at the same time as learning how to run a business. By sticking with something you know, launching your first business will be less of a leap into the unknown.