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Before the billions: The first jobs of some of the richest men in the world

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·11 min read
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Before the billions: The first jobs of some of the richest men in the world
Before the billions: The first jobs of some of the richest men in the world

Becoming a billionaire doesn’t happen overnight. They all had to start somewhere and, like most of us, they all had to go through a sometimes cringe-worthy first job.

It’s hard to imagine an investing legend like Warren Buffett as a paperboy, but that’s exactly what he did before he earned his first million.

Whether they were sorting letters or working at a fast food restaurant, here are 15 of the first jobs of the world’s billionaires.

14. Travis Kalanick

Travis Kalanick LeWeb Day 1 - Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media Paris, France, December 10, 2013. LeWeb Day 1. Image by Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media
Heisenberg Media / Flickr

Door-to-door knife salesman

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick perfected his sales pitch by knocking on doors for CUTCO Cutlery Corporation as a teen.

He moved on to bigger ideas when he started his first business at the age of 18. It was an SAT prep course called New Way Academy.

Kalanick studied computer engineering at UCLA, but dropped out in 1998 to pursue a startup venture called Uber.

Ultimately, the risk was worth taking. Uber is now worth tens of billions and is used in more than 10,000 cities around the world.

13. Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg speaking on stage with blue background
Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock

Software engineer

The founder of Facebook (now Meta) always had an eye for innovation, even as a young kid.

At the age of 12, Zuckerberg showed an interest in computer software and developed a messaging program called “Zucknet” using the programming language Atari BASIC.

He wasn’t your average teenager, either — Zuckerberg leveraged the gap in music streaming software and created Synapse Media Player, an earlier version of Pandora.

He declined offers from several software companies like Microsoft and AOL and enrolled at Harvard University where he created the social networking site Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg, who has gone on to build a tech empire, now has a net worth of $123.1 billion, according to Forbes.

12. Giorgio Armani

Giorgia Armani in Milan, Italy 2019 waving to crowd
Fabio mazzarotto / Shutterstock

Photographer’s assistant

It's hard to imagine Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani ever worked as someone’s assistant, long before he sat front row at New York’s Fashion Week.

The glitz and glamour of Hollywood mesmerized Armani, especially since his family struggled to make ends meet.

While he completed his military service, he took a job at a department store and fell in love with fashion. It was there that he assisted the store photographer with designing the windows.

His career in fashion took off when he started a job as a window dresser at La Rinoscente, a department store in Milan.

Now the billionaire spends his time visiting his homes on the Italian island of Pantelleria and Antigua. Giorgio Armani has an estimated net worth of $7.3 billion, according to Forbes.

11. Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban speaking with attendees at the 2019 Arizona Technology Innovation Summit at The Duce in Phoenix, Arizona
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Door-to-door garbage bag salesman

The owner of the Dallas Mavericks wasn’t afraid to knock on a few doors to make some extra cash in the beginning of his career.

Mark Cuban was born into a middle-class family. His grandfather, Morris Chobanisky, moved to the U.S. from Russia and sold merchandise from his truck.

A business mogul-in-training at the age of 12, Cuban went door-to-door selling boxes of garbage bags to pay for a pair of basketball shoes he really wanted. He also gave dance lessons to help pay for his tuition at Indiana University.

The Shark Tank star now has an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion, according to Forbes. He spends some of that money on luxuries like a private jet and $17.6 million mansion in Dallas.

10. Jack Dorsey

One on One with Jack Dorsey Jack Dorsey, Creator, Co-Founder & Chairman of Twitter, Inc., in addition to being the CEO and Co-founder of Square
The DEMO Conference / Flickr

Software engineer

This billionaire dropped out of college and went onto design two influential platforms, Twitter and Square, an online payment platform.

At a young age, Jack Dorsey was fascinated by computers and communications tech. He was particularly interested in dispatch communication used for vehicles like taxi drivers and delivery drivers.

This led him to write dispatch software at the age of 15, which is still being used by taxicab companies.

According to Forbes, Dorsey’s has an estimated net worth of $9.5 billion. You might find him enjoying the view at his seaside home in San Francisco.

9. Richard Branson

Richard Branson in Las Vegas NV 2021
Brian Friedman / Shutterstock

Magazine publisher

Sometimes even future billionaires have trouble in a classroom environment.

Richard Branson struggled with dyslexia and decided to drop out of school and start his own youth magazine called Student, a publication meant for students and run by students.

In an effort to fund his magazine, he started a mail-order record company by the name of Virgin Records in 1978. He later sold Virgin Records for $1 billion in 1992.

Branson owes much of his fortune to the Virgin brand. He expanded the brand into a conglomerate of businesses that include Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic, Virgin America airline and, more recently, Virgin Voyages cruise line.

Richard Branson now has an estimated net worth of $3.9 billion, according to Forbes.

8. Bruce Nordstrom

2018 Outstanding Family: Bruce Nordstrom's & Anne Gittinger's Family
Advancement Northwest / YouTube

Stockroom associate

Before Nordstrom became a well-known luxury department store, American billionaire Bruce Nordstrom wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in the back of a stockroom.

Nordstrom was originally a shoe store founded by his grandfather. At just nine years old, Nordstrom worked in the stockroom for just 25 cents an hour.

According to Forbes, he has an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion.

Bruce Nordstrom, now 88, has taken a step back, and his two sons, Peter and Erik Nordstrom, now run the company.

7. Evan Spiegel

TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019 - Day 3 Snap Inc. Co-Founder & CEO Evan Spiegel speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019 Moscone Convention Center October 4, 2019
TechCrunch / Flickr

Red Bull promoter

He might have been the shy and nerdy kid in school, but that didn’t stop him from creating one of the biggest social media platforms to date.

Evan Spiegel was still in high school when he pursued a party promoter internship with Red Bull years later.

He went on to study product design at Stanford University. In 2011, he founded Snapchat, known then as Picaboo, with classmates Reggie Brown and Bobby Murphy.

He dropped out of Stanford in 2012, before completing his degree, to focus on Snapchat. By 2012, Snapchat already had 1 million daily users.

You can find him and his supermodel wife Miranda Kerr jet-setting between their estates in France and Los Angeles. Evan Spiegel has an estimated net worth of $9.2 billion, according to Forbes.

6. David Geffen

Producer/executive David Geffen at the premiere of the movie Kung Fu Panda II at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on May 22, 2011 in Hollywood, CA.
RoidRanger / Shutterstock

Mailroom clerk

This Brooklyn boy started his career sorting letters in the back of a mailroom.

Geffen was the son of immigrant parents who moved to Brooklyn’s Russian community. He claims to have learned his entrepreneurial skills by watching his mother run a small clothing shop.

He worked as a letter sorter at William Morris Talent agency, but moved on to become a music agent for singer songwriter Laura Nyro.

He went on to help bankroll numerous iconic productions such as Dreamgirls, Little Shop of Horrors and the hugely successful classic Cats.

Now, he’s the founder of Asylum Records, Geffen Records and DreamWorks Animation. According to Forbes, he’s worth an estimated $11.1 billion.

5. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs @ WWDC 2007 Steve Jobs speaks at his keynote at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference
Ben Stanfield / Flickr

Video game designer

This class clown grew up to become one of the most recognizable billionaires in the world.

A gifted child, Steve Jobs was often bored in school and got up to mischief. At a young age, his teachers offered to have him skip ahead to high school, but his parents declined.

At just 19 he became a video game designer for Atari. He later became the founder of Apple along with friend and business partner Steve Wozniak.

In 1985, he left Apple and founded Pixar Animation studios.

He later rejoined Apple as the company went public and went on to create the phones and computers that make Apple a household name to this day.

Before he died in 2011, Steve Jobs had an estimated net worth of $7 billion, according to Forbes.

4. Bill Gates

Bill Gates at Hioe Charity Forum This Image is of Bill Gates. He was attending meeting on charity
Greg Rubenstein / Flickr

Computer programmer

Bill Gates’ first job isn’t a total shocker.

It makes a lot of sense that the founder of Microsoft started his career in computer programming, though his parents worried about him becoming a loner.

Gates took his first job during his senior year in high school as a computer programmer for the automotive and aerospace company TRW.

He later enrolled at Harvard University in 1973, only to drop out of college two years later to co-found Microsoft with Paul Allen.

According to Forbes, Bill Gates is worth $138.3 billion. He invests his money in many companies and philanthropic pursuits and is now the largest owner of lucrative U.S. farmland.

3. Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and interviewer Carol Loomis of Fortune at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, CA
Fortune Live Media / Flickr

Newspaper delivery

Warren Buffett might be a household name now, but the Berkshire Hathaway CEO's first job was delivering newspapers to homes like yours.

As a child, Buffett was called a mathematical prodigy by friends and acquaintances.

His father was a stockbroker, and Buffett would often visit and help out at his father’s brokerage.

At 11 years old, he purchased three shares of Cities Service Preferred at $38 per share.

Then at 13, Buffett worked his first job as a paperboy delivering newspapers for The Washington Post, for which he earned $175 a month.

According to Forbes, Warren Buffett has a net worth of $109.1 billion.

2. Jeff Bezos

Amazon Spheres Grand Opening
Seattle City Council / Flickr

Fry cook at McDonald’s

The next time you order at a McDonald’s drive-thru, you might catch a glimpse of a future billionaire in the making. Jeff Bezos was one such fast food employee at the age of 16.

He landed a summer job as a fry cook at McDonald’s where he earned just $2.69 an hour.

Bezos later worked at several firms on Wall Street but quit his job in 1994 to start an online bookstore by the name of Amazon.com.

Bezos transformed that bookstore into the e-commerce giant it is today. You can buy almost anything on Amazon — though not always at the best price.

He is now one of the richest men in the world and owns other huge companies such as The Washington Post and a space exploration firm called Blue Origin that allowed him to be one of the first civilians to go to space.

Bezos has an estimated net worth of $194.5 billion, according to Forbes.

1. Elon Musk

Elon Musk - The Summit 2013 The Summit 2013 - Picture by Dan Taylor / Heisenberg Media
Heisenberg Media / Flickr

Video game developer

Don’t ignore the daydreaming, bookish kid in the back of the class. He might just become the Elon Musk of your time.

The founder of Tesla took an interest in computers at age 10 and learned how to develop software before making his own video game called Blastar at just 12 years old.

Musk obtained two bachelor degrees and then pursued a PhD at Stanford. He dropped out after just two days to launch his first company, Zip2 Corporation, in 1995.

These days, you might catch this billionaire running SpaceX and planning his next voyage to outer space. Elon Musk has a net worth of $274.7 billion, according to Forbes.

How to boost your own net worth

Adult man hands count money dollars
Grustock / Shutterstock

While you've probably paid your dues in a less-than-glamorous job, chances are you don't have millions of dollars to show for it today.

If you want to become a millionaire, too, get started with some of these fundamental money-saving and money-making tips:

  • Land a better mortgage rate. Interest rates are historically low right now, but they may not stay that way for long. If you refinance, you may be able to save hundreds each month and thousands over the lifespan of your loan.

  • Consolidate high interest debt. With interest rates as bad as 20% — or even worse — credit cards make it easy to fall into debt. Combining all of your balances into one loan with a much lower interest rate can help you save hundreds and free yourself from debt faster.

  • Invest in a "fine" asset. Returns on fine art by the likes of Banksy and Andy Warhol have crushed the S&P 500 in recent years. That used to be an option only for the ultra rich, but with a new investing platform, you can invest in iconic artworks, too, just like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates do.

  • Turn pennies into a portfolio. Even if you don't have much money to spare, you can still earn big returns from today’s runaway stock market. A popular app will help you invest your “spare change” from everyday purchases.

This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.