A very quick look at 10 billionaires who have succeeded through their own hard work and smarts, with or without a small amount of luck or a window of opportunity.
1. Evan Spiegel
When Snap went public last year, Evan Spiegel became the youngest CEO around at age 27. He had cofounded Snapchat, the social media platform with disappearing messages. Snapchat was used by some 170 million (mostly young) people.
Now worth $2.8 billion, Spiegel feels that life is about more than making money: “[It] is really about having an impact on the world, changing the way that people experience the world, changing the way that you experience the world.”
2. John Collison
At 26, this Harvard dropout lays claim to becoming the world’s youngest billionaire. In Ireland, at age 19, he and his brother founded Stripe, a company that builds software that allows business websites and apps to instantly connect with credit card and banking systems so they can receive payments.
Today the $9.2-billion San Francisco-based company employs 750 and boasts customers such as Lyft and Facebook.
3. Adam Neumann
Adam Neumann is the cofounder and CEO of WeWork, the communal work space giant. The $21-billion company rents offices in 40 cities worldwide, providing shared workspaces, technology startup communities, and services for entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups and all sizes of business, with unique touches such as arcade and beer-keg rooms, and wave pools.
Says Neumann: “WeWork was, and still is, a company that’s making its best efforts to create a world where people make a life and not just a living,”
4. Elizabeth Holmes
OK, we include the founder of Theranos, a blood-testing company, as a cautionary tale about how fast you can fall from grace. In 2015, Forbes hailed Elizabeth Holmes “as the world’s youngest self-made woman billionaire, worth an estimated $4.5 billion.”
But the year after, when Holmes faced allegations that she faked results and was investigated by several federal agencies, Forbes revised the estimate of her worth “to zero.” Despite the Theranos debacle, the young woman is said to be scouring Silicon Valley for capital to fund a new startup.
5. Stewart Butterfield
The 40-something Canadian cofounded Flickr—sold to Yahoo for $25 million in 2005—and then cofounded Slack, the work messaging platform, in 2013. Today, the $5.1-billion company employs more than 1,000 people worldwide, catering to more than 8 million daily active users from 500,000 organizations.
Butterfield recalls trying to explain what Slack does to someone at a dinner: “I was 90 seconds into my explanation . . . He wasn’t registering at all. And someone leaned across the table and said it replaces email inside your company, and he went ‘Oh, OK.’”
6. Michael Lee-Chin
Immigrating from Jamaica to Canada in 1970, Michael Lee-Chin became a financial advisor after struggling to find work as a civil engineer. He quickly moved up the ranks in the financial world as a shrewd investor, modelling his strategy on Warren Buffett’s “buy and hold” philosophy.
Today he chairs mutual funds company AIC, controlling $6 billion in assets, and has major holdings in Portland Holdings and National Commercial Bank (in Jamaica). As a major philanthropist, he has donated tens of millions to hospitals, universities and museums.
7. Oprah Winfrey
Born on a Mississippi farm and a survivor of sexual abuse, Oprah Winfrey went on to helm her daytime talk show, winning multiple Emmys and a huge, devoted following. She leveraged her show to found a media and business empire, and is now worth $3.1 billion.
Winfrey claims that the key to success is to figure out what you are truly meant to do: “Everybody has a calling. And your real job in life is to figure out as soon as possible what that is, who you were meant to be, and to begin to honor that in the best way possible for yourself.”
8. Shane Smith
Shane Smith co-founded Vice more than two decades ago, as a counterculture magazine in Montreal. With his finger on the millennial pulse, he was able to attract major investment and partnership deals that helped expand Vice Media into a multi-platform content mill. It has 3,000 employees spread across a cable network, more than a dozen websites, two shows on HBO, an ad agency, a film studio, a record label and a bar in London.
9. Nathan Blecharczyk
Worth $3.8 billion, Nathan Blecharczyk cofounded Airbnb, in 2008. The peer-to-peer room and home rental company has survived home trashings and even a decomposing corpse to offer 3 million listings worldwide, catering to more than 200 million guests.
Earlier this year, Blecharczyk, the company’s chief strategy officer, announced the Airbnb Plus program, in which homes are physically inspected to make sure they meet certain criteria, such as cleanliness.
10. Mark Zuckerberg
As a 19-year-old Harvard student, in 2004, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, so students could match names with faces in class. As the social media platform’s fortune and reach expanded, so did Zuckerberg’s—he’s worth about $68 billion.
That said, he’s had a tough year or so, with a sudden plummet in stock prices and testifying before Congress after his company shared user data with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.