Four self-made millionaires echo the same advice for success: Just get started

Four self-made millionaires echo the same advice for success: Just get started

Shawn Tsao, co-founder of food-delivery app Caviar.

It may not be easy to build a successful business from scratch — but it’s proven to be possible.

Throughout my time working at CNBC, I’ve chatted with different entrepreneurs, from people who started successful side hustles to the founders of global unicorn companies. Ultimately, I’ve found that it all comes down to beliefs — what one chooses to believe.

These people chose to believe in themselves. They knew it wouldn’t be easy, but they also knew it was possible. With that faith, they went on to risk and sacrifice almost everything for a dream.

The world may see them as inspirational figures, but oftentimes, they are just ordinary people who have faced some setbacks and hard-earned lessons in life.

In my conversations with successful entrepreneurs, I’ve found that those who became successful and “made it” tend to echo the same advice.

Here’s what they credit for their success:

Advice #1: Anyone can do it

Jason McGowan was no professional baker before he co-founded Crumbl Cookies in 2017, but he didn’t let that hold him back from building a cookie empire.

Today, Crumbl is a unicorn company with about 1,000 locations worldwide. The company brought in over $1 billion in sales in 2022, according to documents seen by CNBC Make It.

Crumbl: How we built a cookie company that brings in $1 billion a year

“I never imagined in my wildest dreams that we would do over $1 billion in sales,” McGowan told CNBC Make It. “As I get older and as I build this company, I realize more and more — everything that we do is really just something that anyone can do.”

While they’d never stepped into a professional baking kitchen before, McGowan and his co-founder often got together to experiment with chocolate-chip cookie recipes whenever they had free time. Today, their cookies rake in millions globally, and it all came from a decision to believe in an idea and try it out.

The biggest thing I’ve learned through Solidcore — is you can do whatever you want to do as long as you’re willing to do it.

Anne Mahlum

Founder, Solidcore

Anne Mahlum echoes the same sentiment.

In 2013, she founded New York-based boutique fitness chain Solidcore. One decade later, the company has over 100 locations.

In 2023, Mahlum said she made $88.4 million after cashing out on her equity in the business, making her a multi-millionaire.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned through Solidcore is: You can do whatever you want to do, as long as you’re willing to do it,” Mahlum told CNBC Make It.

Advice #2: Lean into what makes you unique

Another piece of advice Mahlum gave is to lean into what makes you yourself. In fact, it is what she credits for her success.

“I really believe in the power of uniqueness. When we… lean into our uniqueness, it really works in our favor, and it really has been a huge part of my success to do that personally and professionally.”

“I think so many times, we look at entrepreneurs or people who made it — and we think that they just have something that you don’t, or that they have a special set of advantages, and to be honest, that might be true — the world and life is not fair, it never was, and it never will be,” she said.

Everyone has a special set of circumstances, advantages and disadvantages, Mahlum said.

“I think it is up to each and every one of us to figure out what those advantages are, what our talent and skills are and lean into them and make it work for you.”

People tend to think that those who have “made it” have something special about them. However, according to McGowan and Mahlum, they are not special. They just doubled-down on what set them apart.

How I built a billion dollar coffee company called Kopi Kenangan

Edward Tirtanata, co-founder and CEO of unicorn coffee chain Kopi Kenangan, also highlighted what separated him from the crowd.

“I think the best advice that I can give to fellow entrepreneurs is to be different,” he told CNBC.

“The next Starbucks is not going to look like a Starbucks, the next McDonald’s is not gonna look like a McDonald’s. The next Google is not going to look like a Google – you need to be radically different in order for you to compete against the incumbent,” he said.

Tirtanata founded the company in 2017 as a local Indonesian coffee stall. Today, the company has grown into an international coffee brand with more than 800 locations across Southeast Asia, bringing in more than $100 million a year in sales, according to documents seen by CNBC Make It.

Advice #3: Be passionate

Shawn Tsao loved sandwiches – a burning passion, some might say.

One day in 2012, he was craving a sandwich from a specific shop that was across town, but he didn’t have the time to go and get it.

“What if there were an Uber for food?” he thought. That’s how the idea for food-delivery service Caviar was born.

In 2014, Jack Dorsey’s payments company Square (now known as Block) bought Caviar for more than $100 million. Tsao and his co-founders made millions from the deal.

How I built a $400 million food delivery company called Caviar

“If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re really passionate about the product that you’re building — not because you just want the glory of being a CEO or a founder [but] you’re really passionate about what you’re working on — that will get you through the hardest days,” said Tsao.

Tsao built Caviar for himself. The business fulfilled a need that he personally had, and it was this passion that helped him persevere through the inevitable difficulties he went on to face building the business.

In the same way, Tirtanata loved coffee, Mahlum cared about fitness and McGowan was passionate about cookies — all these founders built something for themselves.

It was with this genuine passion that drove them through the most difficult times.

Advice #4: Just get started

In all my conversations with entrepreneurs, by far, the one piece of advice I’ve heard the most, is to simply get started.

“Nike got it best, to ‘just do it.’ I have a phrase that says: ‘Just have a day one,'” said Mahlum.

How I turned $175,000 into a Pilates company—and sold it for $88 million

Mahlum stumbled into a pilates studio in Los Angeles one day and fell in love with it. Months later, she invested all her savings into opening her first studio. That was day one for her.

Similarly, McGowan didn’t know how to bake cookies, but he didn’t let that stop him from starting a cookie company.

“One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned from starting Crumbl is just to get started. Whether you don’t have a mixer yet, or you don’t have a recipe for a cookie, you just get started — you start doing things, you start moving,” McGowan told CNBC.

“I think action in the early stage is what’s really important to success — just to move,” he said.

All four of these founders made their millions by choosing to believe in themselves, taking the risk when they saw the opportunity, and having a day one.

Want to make extra money outside of your day job? Sign up for CNBC’s new online course How to Earn Passive Income Online to learn about common passive income streams, tips to get started and real-life success stories.

Plus, sign up for CNBC Make It’s newsletter to get tips and tricks for success at work, with money and in life.


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