Lessons from famous failures

Bill Gates

Yes, that is right, the richest and most charitable man in the world was a failure. His first company was Traf-O-Data. Catchy name right? Its product was a device that could read raw data from traffic counters and create reports for traffic engineers, with the goal of optimizing traffic and ending road congestion. When they first tried to sell this super niche processing service, their first demo failed because the machine just “didn’t work,” in Gates own word.

Even though Traf-O-Data was far from a success, Gates’ partner Paul Allen says that it was “seminal in preparing” them for Microsoft’s first product launch a couple of years later. Even if you end up going a completely different direction, use your past failures to help you reach your next success.


I would bet that you have one or more of Sir James Dyson’s products in your home. Now a worldwide success, his bag-less vacuum took him over 15 years to make. In that time, he created 5127 vacuum prototypes, during which he lost a considerable amount of money. He is now seen as one of the best inventors of our time, and even earned knighthood for his services to business.

Dyson is a modern day Thomas Edison on the lessons of failure. As an inventor he was used to failure, though many inventors don’t call it failing. Those of us unaccustomed to failing on an inventor’s scale can learn from their mindset. The way in which you view your failed attempts will decide whether or not you’re going to succeed.

Walt Disney

The Disney that we know today is an entertainment giant. Holding the rights to some of the biggest properties, including some of my personal favorites, such as the Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars franchises. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. During the early years, Walt Disney experienced a wide range of difficulties. His first animation studio went under, he couldn’t pay his rent, and things looked bleak. Even after the huge success of Snow White, he still experienced financial failure with some of his earlier movies.

Even though he lost tons of money, all of his movies are considered masterpieces. Financially he may have failed, but perhaps making money was not his definition of success. You may need to change how you measure your own success so you don’t quit before you do something great.