Inspirational Startup Stories, Part I

startup storiesIt’s no secret that inspirational narratives motivate us to reflect on our own circumstances and improve our own personal situation. Harvard Business Review reports that inspiration has a psychological effect that acts as a springboard for creativity and progress towards goals. With this in mind, I collected a few compelling entrepreneurial stories that will hopefully boost your productivity today!

Olivia Lum

Born in Malaysia, Lum was the adoptive child of an illiterate widow. Her guardian gambled away their life savings when Lum was young, sentencing her to an impoverished upbringing, where she was raised in the equivalent of a “leaky shack without running water.” She ended up supporting herself and her family through tutoring and sales jobs. After graduating from college with a degree in Chemistry, she started her corporate career at a pharmaceutical company. Only a few years later she quit her job and sold her condo and car to invest in her own water filter and treatment startup. In the beginning, Lum even personally delivered the company’s water filters and chemicals via motorcycle. Nearly 20 years later, her company, Hyflux has propelled her to the top. Forbes puts her net worth at $460mm.

Jan Koum

Born and raised in the Ukraine, Koum is a self taught coder. He immigrated with his mother to California when he was 16 to escape anti-semitism and government oppression. He worked at a grocery store and collected food stamps while learning to code from manuals he bought from a used book store. He later made his way to Yahoo as an infrastructure engineer and met his friend and future cofounder Brian Acton. Over a decade later, Koum and Acton incorporated WhatsApp in 2009 and sold it to Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion, inking the deal in the very same building Koum once collected food stamps in.

Ma Yun

Born in Hangzhou, China, Yun was raised by a nearly destitute family during the rise of communist China. Yun failed his college entrance exams two times before finally getting accepted to his city’s worst university. During his college career, he applied to and was rejected from Harvard university ten times. After college it was extremely difficult for him to find employment. At one point Yun even took a job as a teacher to make ends meet with a whopping  $12 a month salary. A plethora of jobs and two failed ventures later, Yun was down, but not out. When he finally made his first trip to America in 1995, he learned about the internet and computers, which gave him the idea for an online marketplace for China. He co-founded the resultant company in 1999 with his partner, Peng Lei. Fifteen years and several investment rounds later, the company went public with the largest offering in the NYSE history: a $150 billion IPO. This made Ma Yun a.k.a. Jack Ma, the richest man in China. The company he founded was Alibaba.

Please leave a comment with requests for specific founders you would like to see included in the next edition of Inspirational Startup Stories!

Edward Zeiden

Edward Zeiden

Domain enthusiast and entrepreneur, Edward Zeiden, has been in the tech industry for several years. After co-founding the startup, NameLayer (subsequently acquired by Techstars) he pursued a career in