Business Technology

The 5 accidental entrepreneurs who built global businesses

6 min read

07 November 2014

Former editor

Some successful businesses are started by entrepreneurs with inspirational drive and determination, while others begin life purely by chance and accident.

Having something you love turn into a successful business is the stuff dreams are made of, and is a track that many try and fail to achieve. For these ‘accidental entrepreneurs’ it was very much a case of tripping head first into the business world.

Jamal Edwards

SBTV

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As chronicled in an advert for Google, Edwards’ SBTV empire began when he got a video camera and started filming his friends doing freestyle raps. After uploading the videos to YouTube and getting some initial traction, Edwards was successful in featuring many up and coming ‘underground’ artists.

The newly created SB.TV channel then diversified into lifestyle coverage and events picking up more viewers and a larger team as it went. Before he knew it Edwards had launched a record label and the Google advert featuring the entrepreneur had become the second most watched video advertisement on YouTube UK in 2011.

Now still only 24, Edwards is a multi-millionaire, has friends across the music, entertainment and business industries and owns one of the most popular channels on YouTube. Not bad considering it all started with a handycam on a London council estate.

Gavin Free

The Slow Mo Guys

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Wildly successful based on the premise that everything looks better in slow motion, The Slow Mo Guys is another offering that has leveraged the power of YouTube to reach a global audience.

Back in 2006, Free joined a production house using digital high-speed cameras to film slow motion and got exposure to the craft by working on films such as Hot Fuzz. It was through trying to get a US work visa that led Free and his friend Daniel Gruchy to set up The Slow Mo Guys. Overnight success arrived for the duo’s selection of slow motion films featuring anything from smashing TVs to getting hit in the head by a football.

After being named with winner of YouTube’s On The Rise programme in 2011, The Slow Mo Guys channel began raking it in by offering ad slots on its increasingly popular videos. The business, if you can call it that, was recently plastered across the Old Street roundabout – one of the most prime pieces of advertising real estate in the capital.

Steve Wozniak

Apple

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Everybody knows the story of Apple, and how Steve Jobs and Wozniak created the first Apple computer while holed up in a California garage. However, while Jobs had visions of grandeur, Wozniak was more than happy to see out the rest of his life as an engineer.

It was largely Wozniak’s technical knowledge that made the first Apple product possible, but it was Jobs, and his ability to design and market products, that enabled Apple to more than stand the test of time.

“I wanted to show off my design techniques – and help the world get to this big, revolutionary point,” Wozniak has been quoted as saying. It was therefore no surprise when he ended full-time employment at Apple in 1987, 12 years after the company was founded. Not that Wozniak is loosing any sleep over that though, he’s still a sizeable shareholder in Apple.

Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook

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For someone who has created one of the most iconic and fast-growing technology businesses in recent years, it may be unfair to call Facebook CEO and founder Zuckerberg an ‘accidental entrepreneur’.

However, when you consider that the Harvard University undergrad built the first Facebook (then called Facemash) as a ‘hot or not’ rating system for students at the university, it’s clear that business was not foremost in his mind. Despite being shut down by Harvard authorities days later, a re-launched version quickly took off – and the rest is history.

While there is probably little doubt that Zuckerberg’s programming skills would have brought him fame and fortune, his founding of Facebook can definitely be called an accident.

Sophia Amoruso

Nasty Gal

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Another entrepreneur who used the power of the internet to magnify a small operation into the big time, Amoruso has built a fashion empire since setting up nearly a decade ago.

Amorous launched an eBay store from her San Francisco home in 2006, specialising in selling old pieces of clothing. She sourced items to sell from secondhand clothing shops. Two years later, the operation which had began to just bring in a little extra cash, was big enough to move from its eBay location to its own URL.

Nasty Gal has now raised $49 million of venture capital funding, has launched a lifestyle magazine and recruited to its executive team individuals from the likes of ASOS. From up-sellling vintage clothing to unsuspecting punters, Amoruso may have been fortunate but she’s riding high now.

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