Entrepreneurs are people who start businesses based on new ideas. They forgo the security of a salaried job to take on their own endeavor, assuming all the risk in hopes of great rewards.
A serial entrepreneur takes on this challenge repeatedly. Once a particular business is established, they delegate the responsibility of running its operations and move on to other ventures. They may even sell their earlier businesses and reinvest the profits.
Successful serial entrepreneurs can experience windfall gains when they sell their companies or receive continuous profits once the business is established. On the other hand, if the business fails, they have nothing to show for their years of hard work.
Here, we list some of the most successful serial entrepreneurs.
- Serial entrepreneurs are people who can repeatedly turn creative ideas into successful business strategies.
- Serial entrepreneurs can make money by selling their successful businesses and reinvesting the profits in a new startup.
- Although returns can be high, serial entrepreneurs also assume the risk that the new business may fail.
- One of the most famous serial entrepreneurs is Elon Musk, an early investor in PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX, and the Boring Company.
- Another example is Oprah Winfrey, who leveraged her television success to found a multi-billion dollar media empire.
1. Andreas von Bechtolsheim
The co-founder of Sun Microsystems was instrumental in building the company—which he founded in 1982—into a billion-dollar business. In 1995, he left Sun and established Granite Systems, which manufactured network switches. It was sold to Cisco Systems for $220 million within a year.
Bechtolsheim launched a server technology company called Kealia in 2001, which was sold to Sun Microsystems in 2004, bringing him back to the Sun management team. Following that, he co-founded Arista Networks in 2005, a high-speed networking firm. He also co-founded HighBAR Ventures, a venture capital investment firm that has invested in many technology start-ups.
Bechtolsheim was one of the early investors in Google, investing $100,000 in 1998 before it was even established as a company.
2. Sir Richard Branson
The history of the business conglomerate Virgin Group dates back to 1970 when 20-year-old Richard Branson started a mail-order record business. The Virgin Group owns 40 companies, each controlled by different shareholders. His diversified set of businesses spans multiple products and services.
For every successful company under the Virgin brand, like Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Music, there are many other unsuccessful Virgin companies, like Virgin Cola, Virgin Brides, Virgin Vodka, and Virgin Clothing.
3. Rod Drury
Drury is a New Zealand-based serial entrepreneur in the technology space. In 1995, he established Glazier Systems, which focused on software development and consultancy services. He eventually sold it off in 1999 for $7 million. He then founded AfterMail, which was acquired by Quest Software for $15 million in 2006.
Drury went on to establish Xero in 2006, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company. He also co-founded a company called Pacific Fiber, which attempted to build an Internet cable connecting the United States with Australia and New Zealand, though it didn't succeed. In 2017, he sold $95 million worth of Xero shares, and he moved from the role of CEO to non-executive director in March 2018. As of 2021, he is also a general partner at Radar Ventures.
4. Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström
These billionaire Scandinavian entrepreneurs have numerous tech ventures to their names. The peer-to-peer file-sharing service called Kazaa was their brainchild, but the pair came into the limelight with Skype, the first prominent computer-to-computer voice and video calling service.
Friis and Zennstrom sold Skype to eBay, Inc. for $2.6 billion in 2005. In 2009, eBay, Inc. sold its majority share to an investor group, of which Friis and Zennstrom were members, who later sold the company to Microsoft in 2011 for $8.5 billion.
Today, Zennstrom is focused on Atomico, an investment consortium that has invested in over 90 technology companies. Janus Friis went on to found Starship Technologies in 2014.
5. Elon Musk
No list of serial entrepreneurs is complete without Elon Musk, the billionaire Tesla CEO and, at times, the richest person alive.
Musk's first try at entrepreneurship was a little-known company called Zip2, a searchable business directory that could be considered an online equivalent to the Yellow Pages. After founding Zip2 in 1995, the company was sold four years later to Compaq Computers for $307 million. It was later integrated into the AltaVista search engine.
Following the sale of Zip2, Musk moved on to found x.com, an online payments platform that later became known as PayPal. The company was ultimately sold to eBay for $1.5 billion.
After these early successes, Musk showed no sign of slowing down and went on to found or invest in companies like SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and The Boring Company. In 2022, he also purchased the social media platform, Twitter Inc.; now named X Corp.
6. Wayne Huizenga
This American business tycoon is credited with founding three multi-billion-dollar companies, all part of Fortune 500 companies. They include Waste Management, Inc., founded in 1968, with a single garbage truck; Blockbuster Video in 1987, which became a leading movie rental chain; and AutoNation in 1996, which became the largest automotive dealer in the U.S.
Huizenga had owned three sports franchises: the Miami Dolphins, Florida Marlins, and Florida Panthers. He also had a hand in founding six successful NYSE-listed companies. Huizenga passed away on March 22, 2018, at the age of 80.
7. Josh Kopelman
Kopelman started his entrepreneurial spree while at Wharton. In 1992, he established Infonautics Corp., which successfully went public in 1996. In the next few years, he founded several online businesses, including Half.com for used books and music gadgets and TurnTide—an anti-spam system. Half.com was acquired by eBay less than a year after it started, and TurnTide was purchased by Symantec Corp. within six months.
Kopelman is currently the managing director of First Round Capital, which has been funding Internet companies for the last 20 years. In 2018, he was ranked the third top venture capitalist by the New York Times.
Running multiple businesses doesn't always increase your odds of success, and may end up causing more problems in the long run. Sometimes a single business can require all of an entrepreneur's attention.
8. Michael Rubin
Michael Rubin is an established Internet and sports serial entrepreneur. Even before he went to college, Rubin acquired a chain of five ski shops in his hometown of Lafayette Hill, Pa. He later established KPR Sports, a sports equipment company that hit $50 million in revenue by 1995. His 1998 venture, Global Sports, which was later called GSI Commerce (a billion-dollar e-commerce venture), was purchased by eBay for $2.4 billion.
Later, eBay sold three consumer divisions back to Rubin, who merged them together to form the present-day Kynetic. It includes Fanatics, Inc., (sports merchandise seller), Rue La La (flash sale site), and ShopRunner (member-based service portal dedicated to online shoppers). He later sold ShopRunner to FedEx in 2020. Rubin has also invested in the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and the New Jersey Devils hockey team.
9. The Samwer Brothers
Entrepreneurship isn't just about unique ideas; it's also about borrowing the best practices and executing them. Based in Germany, The Samwer brothers—Alexander, Marc, and Oliver—established Alando, a local equivalent of eBay. It was eventually sold to eBay in 1999 for $50 million.
The Samwer Brothers' next venture, Jamba!, was founded in 2000. It offered SMS mobile content, including ringtones, online gaming, online dating, and insurance services for mobile phones. Jamba! was sold to VeriSign in 2004 for $270 million. In 2007, they founded Rocket Internet SE, which served as a parent company used to replicate successful global businesses in local markets. It is now successfully involved in funding startups for various Internet companies, including Bluenest, Home24, Spotcap, and Payflow.
The Samwers were also early investors in Facebook (now Meta) in 2008.
10. Oprah Winfrey
This famous American philanthropist, media leader, and entrepreneur, best known for her award-winning talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” started her career as a local TV anchor. In 1986, she established Harpo Productions, Inc., which owned the rights to the “The Oprah Winfrey Show” from 1988 onward, establishing the foundation of her entrepreneurial ventures. She is the third woman to own her own studio.
She co-founded Oxygen, a cable station, and launched the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) in 2008. She publishes the O, The Oprah Magazine, and has authored several books.
What Are Some Characteristics of a Serial Entrepreneur?
According to Inc. Magazine, successful serial entrepreneurs are characterized by a strong sense of optimism and high pain threshold. These qualities may be necessary due to the high risk and long hours of launching an early-stage company when success is far from certain. They are also characterized by self-reliance, a desire to keep innovating, and an understanding that money isn't everything.
What Are Some Businesses Founded by a Serial Entrepreneur?
Some famous companies launched by serial entrepreneurs have included Alibaba, Virgin Galactic, Tesla, and Apple. In many cases, these are companies where the founders leveraged the success of earlier businesses to help jump-start later ventures.
Who Is a Famous Serial Entrepreneur?
Arguably the most famous serial entrepreneur was Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple who was pushed out in 1985. After leaving Apple, he founded NeXT Computers and became the chairman of Pixar. Following the success of Pixar's Toy Story, Jobs was brought back to Apple in 1997, where he helped revive the struggling company and jump started the smartphone revolution.
The Bottom Line
Entrepreneurial ventures can offer huge financial gains but require dedication, time, energy, the vision to succeed, and the courage to fail. Serial entrepreneurs work their way from one business to another, not merely sitting back and reaping the rewards of their past successes, but banking on their experience to start new ventures. Many of them have established themselves in a diversified set of businesses, and their successes, as well as their failures, provide important lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs.