Steve Strauss Headshot.pngPeople start their own businesses for all sorts of reasons – money, boredom, fear, freedom, inspiration – you name it. But whatever the reason, one thing all entrepreneurs have in common is that they want to succeed - to create a business that grows.


A common fear people have is they look at the entrepreneurial success stories of folks like Richard Branson (Virgin) or Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and they somehow think they started out successful.


Nothing could be further from the truth.


Indeed, what gets lost sometimes is that every business starts small, very small. And then, somehow, be it sheer force of will, good luck, a great idea, timing, or a combination, some entrepreneurs break away from the pack and end up growing very big ventures. It happens all the time.




Consider Howard Schultz and Starbucks. Of course, these days Starbucks is ubiquitous, a behemoth, but it sure wasn’t when Schultz first happened upon it. In 1979, Schultz was an employee of a Swedish coffee maker company. One of his customers was a small coffee bean company with a few shops located in and around Seattle called Starbucks. Schultz loved the potential of the little company, so much in fact, that within a year he got himself hired as Starbucks Director of Marketing.


It was on a buying trip in Milan, Italy when Howard Schultz had the epiphany that changed both his life – and how you drink coffee. Schultz noticed that dripped espresso bars were everywhere, and served as de-facto community spots. Upon his return, he tried to get the owners of Starbucks to buy into this vision for the company (at the time, Starbucks only sold beans and machines, not drip coffee). 




Schultz’s vision was so clear, and overwhelming, that he eventually bought the fledgling company from the owners and, as they say, the rest is history. But the overall point is important – Howard Schultz started out as an employee whose vision created a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.


47375852_l.jpgRay Kroc’s story is similar. Ray was a milkshake mixer salesman in his mid-50’s when he called on two brothers, customers of his whose diner blew him away. The single restaurant they ran was unlike anything Ray had ever seen before – clean, fast, efficient, and profitable. He had to be part of it.


Like Howard Schultz, Ray had a giant vision for a business that was not his. And like Schultz, he didn’t let that stop him. And he too got himself hired by the then-owners, he too was thwarted, and yes, he too eventually bought out the owners. The parallels are eerie.


McDonald’s also became ubiquitous after Ray Kroc entered the scene.


Or consider the story of Amadeo Pietro Giannini. In 1904, Giannini started a small bank called the Bank of Italy, located in San Francisco. The bank served the needs of the immigrant community that was often ignored. Giannini got his big break in 1906 when, after the San Francisco earthquake leveled most of the city, he got his customers’ deposits out of his building and saved them from the fire that engulfed the city. Covering two barrels with a few planks, he set up shop on Market Street and began to lend money to residents looking to rebuild their beloved city.


And that, my friends, is how Bank of America started.


So, bravo to you, my entrepreneurial friend, even if all you have is a big idea. History proves, when combined with a big heart, a big work ethic, and a drive to succeed, it’s a compelling combination that often leads to huge entrepreneurial success.


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.


Web: or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

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