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Musk, Bezos, Gates: How these billionaires got their start

·4-min read
Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates when they were younger.
These billionaires may be well-known now, but how did they get their businesses off the ground? (Source: AAP)

We can all remember the controversy when Kylie Jenner was named the youngest ‘self made’ billionaire by Forbes, only to be dethroned by the same publication within 14 months.

There was initial debate about the ‘self-made’ status as many argued that someone who grew up on one of the most popular reality TV series could be classified as having done it alone.

The backlash hit critical mass when Forbes took the title away, accusing Jenner of having inflated the size of her Kylie Cosmetics business.

But, what about the other household name billionaires? How did they get their start and were they really self made? You can be the judge.

Jeff Bezos

Portrait du fondateur de la librairie en ligne, à l'occasion du lancement d'Amazon.fr en France (Photo by Yves Forestier/Sygma via Getty Images)
Jeff Bezos is the founder ans former CEO of Amazon. (Source: Getty)

Jeff Bezos made his massive AU$275.4 billion (US$201 billion) fortune with the creation of Amazon.

He went from selling books online to selling everything online.

Since then, Bezos has stepped down as Amazon CEO and taken his business savvy to space with the launch of Blue Origin.

But, when it comes to how he got Amazon off the ground, a 1997 SEC filing found that his parents, Jackie and Mike Bezos, invested AU$333,432 (US$245,573) in 1995 to help fund their son's budding business.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk (Photo by Chris Weeks/WireImage) *** Local Caption ***
Elon Musk is the CEO of Tesla. (Source Getty)

Elon Musk is known for being the CEO of electric car company Tesla and space exploration company SpaceX. His controversial tweets also often make headlines.

Musk was born and raised in South Africa before moving to Canada and then eventually going to the United States to study.

His first foray into business was with PayPal, which he was instrumental in creating.

Musk earned his first billion when he sold PayPal to eBay for AU$2.06 billion (US$1.5 billion) in October 2002. Since then he has grown his fortune to AU$385.5 billion (US$281.6 billion)

But it is his childhood that is particularly interesting. In an interview with Business Insider South Africa, Musk’s father Errol Musk said he negotiated his way into having partial ownership of an Emerald mine in Zambia along with other assets to amass a vast amount of wealth.

This has led many to believe that Musk grew up in a life of privilege with his father telling stories of private jets and a lavish lifestyle.

However, Musk himself has argued against this narrative.

He left South Africa at the age of 17 to chase his dreams in the US and, it would seem, did not leave on the best terms with his dad.

Musk described his father as "a terrible human being... Almost every evil thing you could possibly think of, he has done,” in a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates, from Microsoft, at the annual PC Forum, Phoenix, Arizona, early 1985. (Photo by Ann E. Yow-Dyson/Getty Images)
Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft. (Source: Getty)

Bill Gates, with a net worth of AU$188.9 billion (US$137.9 billion), is a household name thanks to being the co-founder of Microsoft.

Born and raised in Washington, Gates and his childhood friend Paul Allen founded Microsoft in 1975.

Gates is no stranger to wealth, having been on the Forbes list of the world's richest people every year since 1987.

So, how did he go from founding a company with his friend in 1975 to being one of the world's richest people in just over a decade?

Well, it's partially to do with the help of his mum, Mary Gates.

She was on the board of United Way, where she met the CEO of IBM, John Opel.

She put in a good word for her son, convincing Opel to take a chance on Gates.

Opel obliged and IBM reached a deal with Microsoft in 1980 concerning the software for a computer IBM was launching.

The rest, some say, is history.

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