• Innovation Feature

    Innovation and Inspiration: Inside the Minds of America’s Wealthiest Entrepreneurs

    It is easy to look at the accomplishments of famous entrepreneurs and conclude that their level of success is simply unattainable. Of course, reaching a 10-figure income is extremely unlikely for most in the business world, but can we still learn anything about life and success from those at the top of the socioeconomic ladder? A close look at the recently published Forbes 400 offers a definitive answer. There is much to learn from America’s wealthiest. 

    Looking beyond the obvious shared traits—a work ethic and commitment to their industries and fields—there are broader insights the rest of us can act upon. Even if we never make the Forbes 400, these insights can help each of us take our career to the next level.

    Innovate First, Succeed Second 

    Today’s technology entrepreneurs strive to succeed, without question, but their first love is innovation, not the wealth and fame it can bring. Need proof? Just take a quick look at how self-made billionaires spend their precious time.

    Peter Thiel, PayPal cofounder, is chairman of Palantir Technologies, a big data consultancy he helped fund and launch. Thiel also remains an active investor whose track record is enviable. Remember, he was famously an early investor in Facebook, not to mention Airbnb. The 46-year-old billionaire doesn’t stop with his own enterprises and investments. He is on a mission to drive innovation by changing mindsets about technology. “That’s what dominates our culture . . . this deep, deep, distrust, dislike of technology in all forms,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

    Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey is another relentless innovator. Back in 2009, well before Twitter’s successful public offering, he had already turned to his next game-changer: the startup Square. Launched to transform today’s mobile payment systems, Square has had a rocky time of late (reports say it lost $100 million in 2013), but it is still valued at $5 billion.

    Dorsey’s take? Struggles are part of the life cycle of a startup. Where does he see it going? His ambitions are hardly modest. He sees Square growing into a product that resonates with every person on Earth. In other words: innovation first, success second.

    Inspiration + Perspiration Trumps Funding 

    All too often, we equate entrepreneurship with the need to secure investors and funding for technology start-ups, yet several members of the Forbes 400 boot-strapped it at first.

    GoPro’s Nick Woodman built his first camera with his mother’s sewing machine and a drill. A passionate surfer, he wanted a waterproof way to capture riding waves as never before. He sold his first GoPro out of a van. Fast-forward 12 years: GoPro is leading the wearable device revolution and went public this summer, turning Woodman into a billionaire.

    Let’s not forget Under Armour. While playing on the University of Maryland’s football team in 1995, Kevin Plank realized that the shirts he and his teammates wore under their pads and jerseys didn’t absorb sweat. Postgraduation, Plank designed a stay-dry shirt, maxing out his credit cards at $40,000 to get Under Armour off the ground. Today, it’s the industry standard, worn by countless professional and amateur athletes. Inspiration and perspiration—in this case literally—came first for Plank. Just as they did for many on the Forbes 400.

    The Bigger the Personality, the Better 

    Modesty has its place, but when you consider how the larger-than-life personalities of some Forbes 400 members have helped them succeed, maybe we all need to learn to put on more of a show?

    Few can teach us more about putting on a show than Donald Trump. He turned his appropriate last name into a global luxury brand. But casinos, golf courses, and high-rise luxury condos weren’t enough.

    Trump is a pop culture icon. He is the star of the breakthrough reality show The Apprentice, and his less-than-serious forays into presidential politics generate real buzz, from The Wall Street Journal to People, all making the Trump name more famous while expanding his empire.

    Richard Branson, a truly self-made billionaire, also cuts quite the figure, but with his own particular style. His stunts both build Virgin and his personal brand—from breaking boating and hot-air balloon records to humanitarian pledges to give away half his wealth. Plus there is his ambitious, world-changing business projects, such as space tourism pioneer Virgin Galactic. Can Branson make space travel a part of our everyday lives? Perhaps. But even if another company does it first, Branson—and Virgin—will be remembered as pioneers.

    Last but surely not least, Oprah Winfrey went from a local Chicago talk-show host to the first African American female billionaire. “On my own I will just create, and if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, I’ll create something else,” she told Forbes. “I don’t have any limitations on what I think I could do or be.”

    Ambition does not get any bigger or bolder than Oprah’s. It takes a large personality to pull it off, without question. But Oprah’s vision also demands putting innovation first and success second—money alone will not make it happen. Oprah has the inspiration, backed by perspiration, to put it all together to succeed, or try again and again.

    It’s these attitudes and traits that make Oprah Winfrey, Peter Thiel, Jack Dorsey, Donald Trump, Richard Branson, and others models for us all. Learn about types of careers that will inspire you.



    Did you find this article interesting? If so, share it!



    If you are considering pursuing higher education, we invite you to find out more about Kaplan University’s programs and explore our undergraduate and graduate degree offerings.

    Kaplan University cannot guarantee employment or career advancement. National long-term projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

    Back to Articles

Request Information

  • (optional)
  • Step 1 of 2

Articles and Blogs


  • Transfer Credit
  • Paying For School
  • Kaplan Commitment