Even Billionaires Get It Wrong Sometimes


One of the hardest things about running a business of your own is that you’re inevitably going to come face to face with failures of your own making on occasion. The key to success is surviving them. We all make mistakes, and we all suffer for those mistakes to some degree. Often, the difference between a business that succeeds and a business that fails is how the person in charge responds to those mistakes. If you’re inventive and agile with your response when things go wrong, you stand a better chance than someone who isn’t.

The purpose of this article isn't to dwell on the mistakes you might have made, though. It's to dwell on those made by other people! We wanted to remind you that everyone - even the richest and most successful business people in the world - makes a mistake every now and then. In some cases, they're spectacular mistakes involving eye-watering amounts of money. We know of a few high-profile billionaires who've made mistakes that meet that description - and these are their stories!
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Bill Gates Saved Apple

If you're old enough to remember the "I'm a PC, I'm a Mac" adverts from a few years ago, you'll know that the war between Apple and Microsoft used to be a bitter one. Things have calmed down a little in recent years, but there's no denying that Apple irritated Microsoft with its "we're younger, cooler, and more exciting" approach to its product line in the early 2000s. The campaign probably annoyed Microsoft founder Bill Gates more than it annoyed anyone else at Microsoft because he'd approved an initiative that saved Apple from bankruptcy in 1997. The move was mutually beneficial at the time. Apple was in deep debt and needed financial and strategic support, and Microsoft needed to prove to the US Government that it wasn't indulging in anti-competitive practices. Microsoft came up with a $150m investment, Apple took that money and ran with it, and the rest is history. Apple is now the world's biggest and most successful technology company. Microsoft is unlikely ever to reclaim that crown.

Richard Branson Tries To Sell Soda

Self-made billionaire Richard Branson hasn’t made many bad calls in his business career, but trying to go toe-to-toe with Coca-Cola and Pepsi wasn’t a smart idea. Branson’s “Virgin” company had successfully put its name to aircraft, music stores, a record label, package holidays, and train services by the time “Virgin Cola” launched in the mid-1990s. You could even go to Virgin gyms and then go home to log into your Virgin internet account. Buoyed by all this success, Branson thought Virgin Cola couldn’t fail. He was badly wrong. Both Coke and Pepsi spent millions of dollars on new advertising campaigns, and Virgin Cola couldn’t establish a foothold in the market. At its absolute peak, it claimed a market share of 0.5%. Such a low figure proved to be unsustainable, and the resulting humiliation prompted Branson to add a permanent notice to the Virgin website. Perhaps he still reads it every time he has a bad idea.

Jeff Bezos’s Relentless Bad Ideas

Years from now, Amazon's Jeff Bezos will be a fascinating case study for business students. They'll marvel at the fact that he became the world's richest man despite experiencing more failures than successes. Bezos' biggest idea - the Amazon delivery service - has been his money-maker. Amazon Prime has done well, too. Kindle just about broke even as an idea, and the jury is still out on the Echo Bluetooth speaker. Beyond that, almost everything has gone wrong. Remember Amazon trying to sell mobile phones? Probably not, because nobody bought them. That little misstep cost Bezos $170m on its own. Amazon's tablets aren't big sellers either. More recently, the company tried to set up a video gaming studio but is yet to create a single popular game despite spending tens of millions on development. Amazon Luna doesn't look likely to capture the public's imagination either. Jeff Bezos is a constant reminder that you can have as many bad ideas as you like so long as your one good idea is capable of paying all the associated costs.

Donald Trump Bankrupts Casinos

Whether or not former American President Donald J. Trump is or ever was a billionaire is difficult to say. His accounts are notoriously well-hidden, so his true worth is something a court would have to decide - and might very well do so soon. He certainly professes himself to be a billionaire, though, which means we can include his Atlantic City casino disasters in this article. Trump had the misfortune to be getting involved in real-world casinos at the same time that online slots websites were becoming a reality in the 1990s. The law has never made it especially clear whether or not you can play online slots in New Jersey, but there's an untested presumption that it's permitted. Owning and operating an online slots website within the state would be illegal, but residents are free to access external slots sites like Rose Slots for New Zealand players. Even if that weren't the case, though, Trump's casinos would have failed because of the sheer depth of the high-interest loans he raised against them. He bet that the Trump name would persuade enough people to walk through the doors to offset the costs of those loans, and he lost. "Bigly."

George Soros And His Bad Friend

George Soros is another one of the world's richest people. He's not quite as rich as some people often accuse him of being, but he's easily a billionaire. He's also so rich that he's been able to survive losing five hundred million dollars because of bad advice. Soros knew and admired Bill Gross, then head of Janus Capital, when Gross told Soros that the Quantum Partners fund would be a great investment. That was in 2014. By the end of 2015, Soros was desperately trying to get his money back with very little success. Unfortunately for Soros, Gross, and the fund, the publicity that surrounded Soros' attempt to yank back his cash caused a crisis of confidence among other investors, ultimately resulting in the collapse of the fund. It's almost incredible to imagine anyone losing so much money and still being rich at the end of it it all, but Soros is. Still, we suspect that he and Gross are no longer on speaking terms.

If George Soros can lose half a billion dollars and Richard Branson can rebuild his reputation after trying to sell a bad Coca Cola clone, you can get through whatever problems face you and your business. It’s not about how you go down - it’s about how you bounce back!