Rags to Riches: 10 Millionaires Who Started With Nothing

By Nora Mathe

Not all people who have money came from money. Some of the millionaires and billionaires we respect today used to live in poverty and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to reach heights they couldn’t even imagine.

Such success stories are rarer than inherited wealth and success, but they are more inspiring, as well, giving hope to the layman that with a good idea and a lot of ambition, anyone can reach the heights of financial security and absolute comfort.

We are counting down 10 incredible rags to riches stories for a daily dose of motivation!

10. Pewdiepie


Net Worth: $30m

Felix Kjellberg, aka Pewdiepie, is the most subscribed to individual Youtuber, with over 100 million people following him on the video-sharing website. Although he didn’t grow up in terrible conditions, Pewdiepie risked it all in 2011 when he decided to become a full-time Youtuber and left university to pursue this dream, which didn’t seem very lucrative back then.

Digiday, CNBC

In order not to burden his family with his then seemingly ludicrous decision, Kjellberg supported himself by working at a hotdog stand

Once his gaming videos gained more traction on YouTube, Kjellberg started amassing more and more subscribers, and with the growth of his audience, he grew his ad revenue and his popularity. Today, he is the most popular Youtube creator, breaking through and becoming recognized in mainstream media. 

9. Halle Berry


Net Worth: $80m

Before she went on to win an Oscar, Halle Berry was sleeping in homeless shelters, according to Business Insider. The actress comes from a poor family, and her father abandoned them at an early age. So, her mother, Judith, struggled to keep the family afloat. 

Parade, W Magazine

Berry moved to Chicago to become an actress, and while she went to auditions, she ran out of money. Her mother thought it was for the best if she didn’t keep supplying her with money, so the actress resorted to staying at homeless shelters so she wouldn’t have to move back home. Today, Halle Berry is a celebrated actress with an Academy Award under her belt!

8. Shania Twain


Net Worth: $400m

The Canadian country singer’s claim to fame and wealth was no walk in the park. Her adoptive father was in and out of work through most of her childhood and refused handouts from the government. Shania and her two sisters and brother often had nothing to eat growing up. 

Country Fancast, Taste of Country

When she was 21 years old, her parents lost their lives in a car accident, which left her to care for her three younger siblings. She sang in bars for money in order to keep the family afloat, but she didn’t make enough to cover basic expenses such as electricity or running water, so she moved her family into a house that had none of these utilities.

They washed their clothes in a nearby river. Once her siblings were old enough to hold their own, she started working more seriously on a musical career, and soon after she was signed and reached the stardom we know today.

7. Jay-Z


Net Worth: $1b

In the early 1990s, Jay-Z was a drug dealer in New York City. Today, he has amassed a massive fortune in record sales and smart business ventures. His start was not simple: he sold drugs out of his car while he worked on perfecting his flow, and slowly he blew up on the New York City rap scene.

Access Online, Grammy

His money doesn’t only come from his art. With a good eye for business and a realization that investing money is an important factor in making money, he started the streaming service Tidal and has a widely recognized entertainment company called Roc Nation.

6. Oprah


Net Worth: $2.7b

A household name in American culture, Oprah Winfrey was not always as well off as she is today. She comes from very humble beginnings: Winfrey grew up in a small town in Mississippi, raised by her grandmother, who could only hope that once Winfrey would become a domestic worker, she would be treated fairly by her employer. Her family was so poverty-stricken that she had to wear potato sacks as clothes.

Essence, Politico

With unbridled ambition, Oprah pulled herself out of her situation, becoming the first-ever black newscaster in Nashville. Then, she went on to become the most famous daytime talk show host and built a TV empire. According to Business Insider, she is the only black woman on their list of the 400 richest people in America.

5. Howard Schultz


Net Worth: $2.9b

The CEO and chairman of Starbucks didn’t start out with money in his pocket either. Schultz grew up in a working-class Jewish family in Brooklyn, spending his early years in New York City housing projects. While his mother took care of the children, his father took blue-collar jobs, such as truck driving and cab driving. 

Seattle Globalist, TIME

Schultz recalls a time when he was 7, when his father broke his ankle on the job and the family was left without any income for a while. The struggle they faced gives him the ambition to remain driven even today.  

4. John Paul Dejoria


Net Worth: $3.1b

Nowadays, John Paul Dejoria is a billionaire, but back in the day, he was homeless, living out of his car. The young Dejoria showed an entrepreneurial spirit even as a child, selling Christmas cards and decorations to help support his family. His first job was as a door-to-door salesman, selling editions of the Collier Encyclopedia. He recalls that this was an incredibly tough job, having doors slammed in his face every day. 

Parade, YouTube

Since his success selling the encyclopedias didn’t come easily, Dejoria found himself in a hopeless situation: he became homeless after his wife left him and his then 2 years old son. He quickly got back on his feet, collecting Coke bottles to trade them in for cents as well as working hard for himself and his son, and with that ambition, today he is the owner of John Paul Mitchell and Patrón Spirits Company.

3. Richard Branson


Net Worth: $5.5b

Branson’s success is attributed to his daredevil personality: he dropped out of high school at the age of 16 and started printing a magazine called “Student”, then set up a mail-order business selling records. His success came slowly; he went bankrupt twice before he finally started making money.

Medium, CNBC

Because he had no money to repay the debts, his mother had to remortgage the family home to help him out. Today, Branson owns over 400 companies, such as Virgin Records and Virgin Airlines, which are incredibly successful. 

2. Ralph Lauren


Net Worth: $6.5b

Ralph Lauren grew up in the Bronx in a Jewish immigrant family. In his high school yearbook, he wrote that his life goal was to become a millionaire. Safe to say, he achieved that goal tenfold. At his first job, he was taken to a polo match and he witnessed the exquisiteness of the wealthy, and that gave him the idea that made him a billionaire.

ML Hamptons, CFDA

Today, Ralph Lauren is a celebrated fashion icon; inspired by that one polo event, Lauren designed an elegant and high-class brand, breaking into the fashion industry with wide, colorful neckties when the norm was plain and skinny. His risk-taking spirit earned him the riches he has today.

1. Sergey Brin


Net Worth: $54.7b

Sergey Brin is one of the people who gave us Google. He comes from a Russian-Jewish immigrant family, who had to leave their home country because the communist party was prosecuting the Jewish people who lived there. 

Art Plus Marketing, Yahoo Finance

Due to his father’s sacrifice and forward-thinking, Sergey grew up in the United States where he was able to study computer science. He and his partner, Larry Page, started Google in a garage in Menlo, California. 



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