They say that success is a whole meal cooked with the premium ingredient of an idea stirred with talent and hard work, and lastly sprinkled with opportunity, and luck. Without one, it would not taste just as good because it needs to be a complete combination. That goes the same for entrepreneurship. Even if you have the talent and the hard work, it does not automatically mean that you will succeed. And even if you happen to have opportunity and luck, what makes a business truly successful is consistency through hard work. Even a premium idea wouldn’t get you as far as you would without all the other things.
Of course there are the success stories of entrepreneurs backed by family wealth which might evidently lack hard work and arguably talent and that’s a reality. But that doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones who can be on top of this game.
There are the chosen few who managed to collect all of these ingredients and make a name for themselves in a world dominated by the powerful and the wealthy. And these people and their stories on how they started from scratch and built a successful business help inspire people to try their own luck. And just maybe, they would land the same future.
Atoms Shoes, founded by Sidra Qasim and Waqas Ali
I first read this brand’s story on a facebook post by Humans of New York. As I read along their 11-part story, I became so engrossed, amazed, and inspired by their story. It was a story that persevered through all the odds and for most especially like me, this was a story that helped me realize that I could face all the challenges in front of me. Just like them, I can make through all of it.
Atoms founder Sidra Qasim and her husband Waqas Ali shared the years of struggle before they came to this point of success. Sidra lived under a conservative Pakistani household where young girls like her were taught only one thing and that is to find and keep a husband. She endured constant pressure from her family to find a husband after she graduated from high school but she had bigger dreams. That was the time she met her husband Waqas Ali who was one of her aunt’s students.
After graduating in a college with only 15 female students, she and Waqas decided to venture on their own. Waqas invited her to become his business partner for a Social Media Art company but the situation did not favor them. Soon, they had to shift to a new business when they met a group of local craftsmen who made leather shoes.
They named their collection Hometown shoes, launched their website, and received their first order. It was a moment of celebration only to find out that the shipping cost would practically lose them their first sale. But they didn’t mind and continued with the work. And while they were happy to see their business finally gain momentum, they still faced the reality that they weren’t making enough to survive.
Another problem was that Qasim’s mother pressured her into marrying and so they did but after that, there was no time to rest. They applied to an accelerator program in San Francisco which helps start-up businesses. But things didn’t go as planned and they found themselves in a slump among the many start-up businesses. They were the only business who didn’t raise any money.
What made matters even worse for them was that during the formal Demo day, no one wore the shoes they sold them even though they were actual formal footwear. So in search of the best footwear, they found a line of casual shoes ideal for everyday wear. And that was how Atom was built.
Qasim said, “We researched the highest quality materials, and we put all of our findings into a document called ‘Ideal, Everyday Shoe.’ Then we gave all our notes to a talented designer. Together we built a prototype, and we called them ‘Atoms,’ because we’d gone to the atomic level in search of quality.”
Now, Atoms shoes is one of the most recommended brands of comfortable sneakers. It’s simple yet stylish, innovative, and made precisely to fit your feet.
You can check out their whole story on Instagram or on their website.
Gravity Payments, founded by Dan Price
You might probably be familiar with this guy who made headlines by setting a $70,000 minimum wage for all his 120 employees and cutting his million-dollar salary. He is the modern Robin Hood who stole from himself to help the working class, an idea that wasn’t really popular in the business industry. He was the first one to dare. And this story really struck me.
Dan Price was a 16-year-old back when he saw how bar owners were swindled by big financial companies with every credit card swipe. With the idea to help these owners, he and his brother Lucas Price set out to build their own system which offered better service without cutting a big chunk of the owners’ profits. And in four years, the company grew rapidly until the Great Recession.
When they were hit, they were almost erased into existence but they managed to get by. And ever since then, he kept a cap on wages with the intention of saving the company even when the economy and the company recovered.
Looking at his story at this point, you might think that there was nothing really impressive beyond the fact that he was a teen entrepreneur. But what inspired me the most was the step he did after a conversation he had in 2011.
It was with an entry-level Gravity employee and a 32-year-old phone tech named Jason Haley. He was in a sour mood at the time when Price approached him. Dan asked him what was bothering him and he answered, “You’re ripping me off.”
Haley was earning $35,000 at that time and Price told him that he was being paid based on market rates and he had no intention of ripping him off. But Haley just responded saying, “I know your intentions are bad. You brag about how financially disciplined you are, but that just translates into me not making enough money to lead a decent life.”
This prompted Dan to reevaluate his choices and decisions. Then he came to a conclusion that everything Haley said was right and it became a turning point for him. He set on to fight the income inequality, focusing on his employees rather than profits. He handed out 20 percent raises annually and just recently, he announced that over the course of three years, he will phase in a $70,000 minimum wage.
And that one decision to make his labor force more important and acknowledge their work earned him the “best boss” moniker. While it did not spread like waves in the business sector, it sparked an important conversation on how much worker’s salary should be.
In an interview, Price said, “Most people live paycheck to paycheck,” he says. “So how come I need 10 years of living expenses set aside and you don’t? That doesn’t make any sense. Having to depend on modest pay is not a bad thing. It will help me stay focused.”
These stories are not made to tell the narrative that with a bit of hard work and talent, we could be anything we want because that’s not how life always is. But what we can take away from these stories is that success is about growing and adapting to changes.
We can’t all be millionaire business owners, but we can use these to inspire us to be a better version of ourselves tomorrow.