Business, Entrepreneurship
November 4, 2021
3 entrepreneurs who started small and built empires
3 entrepreneurs who started small and built empires

By Felicia Guthrie

There are lots of entrepreneurs who started small and built empires. You’re probably familiar with a handful of them, like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg. Today, I wanted to focus on a few entrepreneurs whose names may be a little less known, but whose businesses are major today.

Sara Blakely

The idea for a great business often comes from a personal need and that is the case for everyone on this list, including Sara Blakely. One day Sara was getting ready for a party but couldn’t find the right undergarment for her outfit, so she decided to cut the feet off her control top pantyhose. In her spare time from work and with only $5000 in savings, Sara began researching patents and manufacturers, began approaching investors, and began selling her first products, now known as SPANX, in the late ‘90’s. In 1999 she not only began distributing SPANX in Neiman Marcus, but she also made a whopping $4,000,000 in revenue in her first year alone. In 2000, THE Oprah Winfrey named SPANX her favourite product of the year and, unsurprisingly, the brand grew exponentially. We’re talking $10,000,000 in revenue.

Since its inception, SPANX has expanded to offer a range of undergarments including bras and underwear and it’s offered in a variety of avenues – from department stores, to online, and more. It’s also available in 50+ countries. Sara was even named the youngest self-made female billionaire at one point, crazy right? We love a girl boss.

Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo

Of course, we had to mention a few Canadians… Makeup artist and photographer Frank Toskan and salon owner Frank Angelo are the perfect examples of entrepreneurs who started small and built a hugely successful business. Now, you may not know these two by name, but you’ve probably heard of the business they started (it’s one of my personal favourites) – MAC Cosmetics.

MAC Cosmetics began when they became frustrated with how most cosmetic brands photographed. They began creating cosmetics in their very own kitchens and soon sold products out of the salon and straight to fellow professionals in their industries. Like Sara Blakely, at the time, their products were filling a gap in the market – there was a need for photogenic and professional colour cosmetics.

Through their offerings, word of mouth, and their work creds, they continued to grow and launched M·A·C from a counter in a Toronto department store in 1984. And they kept growing!

Now, they’re available at department store makeup counters, Sephora, and store locations in over 120 countries. They’ve worked and collaborated with massive entertainers and brands, like Mariah Carey, Rihanna, RuPaul, and even Barbie!

Although the brand is now owned by cosmetics giant Estée Lauder Companies, we love that this brand started small (and that it was started in Canada).

What does this mean for you?

It’s incredible that these entrepreneurs started small and built empires, but what does that mean for you? Well, all 3 of these entrepreneurs had several things in common so let’s focus on that for a minute…

Here are just a few of the things that they had in common:

  • Their businesses all began from a personal need and gap in the market.
  • They started side gigs from home.
  • Word of mouth did wonders for both brands.

Now, think about your business – or if you’re thinking of starting a side business think of that.

Are you filling a gap in the market? What sets you apart? Can you start in your spare time? Are you ready to put in the work? These are great questions to start thinking about because success doesn’t happen overnight and when you’re an entrepreneur, you have to wear a lot of hats. It’s no cakewalk.

Let’s also think about the last point above, always remember, your reputation is important, and people talk. If someone loves (or hates) your brand, you can bet they’re likely going to talk about it. If you’ve already started your small business, try taking a peek online. You won’t know what people are saying about your business to their friends in person, but if they’re talking about you online, you might be able to gain some insight. Check if you have any online reviews, look at your comments and messages on social media, or check out your customer emails. What are people saying? Whether it’s good or bad, you can approach it in such a way that it helps your brand grow.

All of these entrepreneurs are proof that with a great idea and hard work, you can start a business as a side gig straight from home and grow immensely from there!

Want to get your side hustle on? Set up a free 20-minute consultation with us and we’ll point you in the right direction to get started – or take things to the next level.

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