Failure is just the first draft of success.

Don’t believe that? Then you may be judging yourself and others too harshly. Because while we love stories of runaway success, the reality is that most of the biggest success stories started out as failures.

Maybe not epic failures. And maybe those failures aren’t what successful people focus on. But the failures do happen. A lot. I mean, an awful lot. There’s actually a very apt saying about this: Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.

Still not convinced? Then take a look at these ten examples of billion-dollar companies and personal brands that were once labeled as losers. We’ll start with the fellow who failed 5,127 times.

  1. James Dyson, creator of the Dyson vacuum.

5,127. That’s how many prototypes of a vacuum Mr. Dyson had to create before he finally got it right.

As Dyson explains in this video,“The failure is the starting point.”

Dyson’s vacuum company is now worth 4.5 billion dollars. But given the backbone it must have taken to keep the faith through 5,127 prototypes, I’d say he’s earned it.

  1. Post-it Notes.

You probably use a Post-it Note almost every day. So use it as a reminder that just because something fails in one context does not mean it can’t succeed in another. Even if that success takes a decade.

The glue that makes Post-it Notes work was supposed to be strong. Instead, it was weak. Still, a few people at 3M thought they could use it for something else. The glue kept kicking around at 3M for nearly a decade, through several failed launches. Finally, the company decided to give away samples to see if they could kick-start its use.

The samples worked. 90% of the companies who received them re-ordered.

Post-it Notes now generate about $1 billion in sales annually.

  1. Airbnb.

Airbnb may be a household name now, but there was a time when it was bringing in a mere $200 of revenue per week.

Nobody was using it. Nobody wanted to invest in it. And the rejection letters the founders were getting did not inspire hope.

Still, the Founders persevered. To shake off some debt, they launched a side project making politically themed cereal boxes (shown below) that brought in more than $30,000 and some valuable media exposure.

They also decided to try something that was against Silicon Valley dogma: To do things that didn’t necessarily scale. Namely, to fix the photographs on some of their listings. So they flew out to a cluster of listings in New York, hired a photographer, and radically improved the quality of the photographs for those listings. For free.

The result? Revenue doubled… as in it went from $200 to $400 per week. But the Founders had been given a golden breadcrumb, and they let it lead them to the next one. And the next one. And the next one.

In 2017, Airbnb employed 3,100 people and had a revenue of 2.6 billion.

  1. Reddit

Ever heard the saying, “Fake it to make it”?

That ought to be Reddit’s tagline.

You see, the company had the same problem as every other newly-launched website: No one knew about it.

Even worse, it was a community-style website… but there was no community.

So the Founders faked one. Moral questionability of this aside, they simply created a slew of user accounts and started having Reddit-style conversations between the fake accounts.

This gave them the activity they so badly needed, and attracted real users in droves. But it also let them shape the conversations on their site from the get-go. Reddit’s unique culture was defined by those early (if fake) interactions.

Reddit is now worth approximately $6 billion dollars.

  1. Oprah Winfrey.

The queen of TV was fired from her first job in television. Her boss told her she was “too emotional” and “not right for TV.”

Oprah, of course, now has her own television network, a show with one of the highest ratings in history, an avid fan base, a magazine, and too many other projects and accolades to list.

Oh yeah – and she is a billionaire, and certainly a billion-dollar brand. Forbes puts her net worth around 2.7 billion.

  1. JK Rowling.

Incredibly, the story of Harry Potter almost never got to press. Twelve publishers turned the first book down. The 13th publisher would have done so, too, had the daughter of its CEO not begged her father to please publish the book.

So a little girl’s wish was granted. And clearly, that little girl knew how to pick a winner. The Harry Potter series has sold more than 400 million copies, filled nearly a million movie theaters, and has quite possibly made J.K. Rowling a billionaire, though some sources to be a bit less.

If you have time, it’s worth watching Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard. It is specifically about failure, and the very precious gifts it can give.

  1. Henry Ford.

Third try’s the charm. It took Henry Ford three runs at building a car for the masses before he finally debuted the Model A in 1904.

His problem? Not getting a prototype ready for market fast enough for his investors.

Ford’s first attempt at launching a car company failed when his investors felt he wasn’t making progress fast enough, and so they bailed on him. Then he failed a second time after talking one of those same investors into funding him once more.

Yet again, Ford didn’t produce results fast enough. So the investor brought in a manager to speed things up. Ford and the manager didn’t work together well at all, and Ford walked off the job.

Finally, Ford found an investor that believed in him enough to give him the time and freedom to do what he needed to do. The patience paid off. Ford Motor Company became a household name, transformed American culture, and sold enough cars to make Ford – and his patient investor – a billionaire many, many times over.

Ford’s estimated net worth at the time of his death in 1947 was $188-199 billion dollars.

Caption: Henry Ford is one of most successful businessmen ever, yet even he had a few epic failures. The Edsel is probably the best-known.

Bonus: Half a billion… but still pretty good.

Alan G. Lafley, CEO of Proctor and Gamble for 12 years.

Mr. Lafley is widely recognized as one of the most successful CEOs in modern business. And yet, he too had a few gaffes.

Namely, a new brand of bleach called Vibrant. The product was supposed to be tested “under the radar” in Portland, Maine, but P&G’s competitor Clorox got wind of it anyway.

Clorox crushed the product test by giving every single household in Portland enough free bleach for several months. They even delivered the bottles to peoples’ front doors. Suddenly, nobody in Portland has any use whatsoever for any more bleach. P&G’s product test failed.

But P&G didn’t give up. They took what they had learned creating Vibrant, and a few years later introduced Tide with Bleach. At the peak of its profitability, Tide With Bleach “was more than a half-billion-dollar business.”

Back to you

Got a story of a project or a small business that was initially a failure, then turned into a wild success? Tell us about it in the comments – even if it didn’t make a billion dollars (yet).