When you think of the world's richest people, you might see their houses and cars and assume they’ve always lived like kings. In some cases, they inherited the money and have never known hardship, but that’s often not the case.
In fact, some of the most well-known billionaires had it pretty rough when they were young and started as adults with nothing. They relied on passion, work ethic and perseverance to get them where they are today. Check out these 30 billionaires who rose from humble beginnings to build their own billion-dollar empires.
As the former CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz has a net worth of $4.2 billion, but he certainly didn't have riches growing up. He grew up in a public housing project in Brooklyn, and his family barely made ends meet. Schultz went to Northern Michigan University on an athletic scholarship and worked as a bartender to help pay expenses.
Before the mega success of her Harry Potter novels and the subsequent movie franchise, J.K. Rowling was a single mom struggling to pay her bills. She and her husband split after 13 months, leaving her with a young daughter to raise by herself.
Scaffolding mogul Mohed Altrad has a net worth of $2.6 billion, despite coming from very humble beginnings. His grandmother raised him after his young mother died, leaving him with a Bedouin father in the Syrian Desert who abandoned him.
Oprah Winfrey was born to a teenage mom in rural Mississippi. She won a scholarship to Tennessee State University and became the first African American TV correspondent in the state. She was eventually fired from that job, but she refused to let that stop her.
Shahid Khan has a true rags-to-riches story. The businessman emigrated from Pakistan at the young age of 16 with dreams of becoming an architect. He attended the University of Illinois while supporting himself as a dishwasher.
John Paul DeJoria
John Paul DeJoria is a first-generation American. Before the age of 10, he sold Christmas cards and newspapers to help support his family. He was eventually sent to live in a foster home and was initiated into a gang before joining the military.
Do Won Chang
Do Won Chang and his wife, Jin Sook, are the co-founders behind the popular Forever 21 fashion chain. Before the successful business made him $3 billion, Chang struggled to make ends meet. He worked three jobs simultaneously — coffee shop server, gas station attendant and janitor — to support his family.
When he was only 8 years old, Stephen Bisciotti and his family suffered a great tragedy when his father, Bernard, died of leukemia. His mother, Patricia, became a single mom with three kids to raise, and Bisciotti worked as a teen to help support his family.
Before becoming a successful businessman and billionaire, Alan Gerry was born to Russian immigrants in the United States. He eventually dropped out of high school to become a Marine. After his service, he went on to start a small television repair business.
Oil tycoon Harold Hamm's parents were cotton shareholders in Oklahoma. The family was so poor they had no indoor plumbing or electricity. As a young boy, Hamm often skipped school to help his dad pick cotton, and he later got a job pumping gas. He didn't go to college.
Chinese billionaire businesswoman Zhang Xin grew up with her mother in China during the Cultural Revolution. When Xin was 14 years old, they both became factory workers to pay the bills. At 19, she traveled to England to learn English and worked at a fish and chip shop to make money.
At the beginning of his career, Cirque du Soleil co-founder and CEO Guy Laliberté was a street performer. The Canadian-born entertainer played the accordion, walked on stilts and ate fire for audiences to earn money.
Jeff Bezos may be the richest person in the world with a net worth of $154 billion, but he certainly didn't come from wealth. His mother was just 16 when she became pregnant with Bezos. His father belonged to a unicycle troupe and worked at a retail store making $1.25 an hour, so the family barely made ends meet.
Billionaire Kenny Troutt was born to a single mother who worked as a bartender. They lived in public housing in Mount Vernon, Illinois. After graduating from high school, he studied at Southern Illinois University, paying his tuition by selling insurance.
Computer programmer and billionaire Jan Koum worked his way up to the top. As a teen, he moved to California with his family, who relied on food stamps to eat. He helped contribute to his struggling family’s finances by sweeping floors.
Hedge fund tycoon George Soros was born in Hungary and is of Jewish descent. In his early teens, he posed as the godson of an employee of the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture during the Nazi invasion of the country in order to survive. He later worked as a waiter and railway porter while studying at the London School of Economics.
The grandson of Italian immigrants, Ken Langone had a father who worked as a plumber and a mother who ran an elementary school cafeteria. In high school, his principal told his parents not to waste money sending the "unpromising" student to college. His parents disagreed and mortgaged their house so he could study economics at Bucknell University.
Rapper and media mogul Jay-Z truly knows the meaning of "hard knock life." He grew up in a single-parent household in the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, New York. Before getting into music, Jay-Z admitted that he sold drugs as a teenager to make money.
After contracting pneumonia at nine months old, Larry Ellison was given away by his biological mom and adopted by his aunt and uncle. He didn't see his biological mom again until he turned 48. In his younger years, he didn’t excel in school and ended up dropping out of college.
Orphaned at a young age, business tycoon Roman Abramovich was raised by his grandparents in Komi, a region in Siberia. He made money by selling gasoline, rubber ducks, perfumes and automotive parts as well as from business ventures such as pig farming and bodyguard recruitment.
David Murdock is dyslexic and dropped out of high school in the ninth grade. He worked at a gas station before he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. Although he served in World War II, he came back from the war with nowhere to live and no money.
Ralph Lauren was born the youngest child of Jewish immigrants. His mother was an artist, and his father was a house painter, and the family had very little money. Lauren graduated from high school, but he later dropped out of college to join the U.S. Army.
French tycoon and fashion mogul Francois Pinault was actually severely bullied in school because he and his family were so poor. He eventually dropped out, but he didn't give up on his dreams of owning a business.
Frank Lowy was born in Slovakia in 1930 and lived in Czechoslovakia for a time. At the start of World War II, he and his family moved to Hungary to avoid being arrested by the Nazis. Lowy spent time in a detention camp in Cyprus and fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War before moving to Australia with one suitcase and no money.
Amancio Ortega came from very humble beginnings in Spain. At the age of 14, he left school, moved to A Coruña and started working as a shop hand at a local shirt maker. Years later, Ortega and his wife launched their own textile manufacturing company and opened their first store, Zara, which produced popular fashions at low prices.
Lakshmi Mittal had a humble start in the state of Rajasthan in India. He was born to a poor family with very little money and few opportunities. He worked for more than two decades in the steel industry, slowly building his experience and finances with his own company, Mittal Steel.
Li Ka-shing is respected as one of the most influential businessmen in Asia. However, his early life was far from easy. He and his family left mainland China for Hong Kong in the 1940s. Ka-shing's father died when he was 15, and he became responsible for supporting his entire family.
Leonardo Del Vecchio
Born in Italy, Leonardo Del Vecchio (pictured on the right) was one of five children in a very poor family. He and his siblings were eventually sent to an orphanage because his parents couldn’t take care of them. He eventually began working as an apprentice at a car factory to put himself through design school.
With a net worth of $20.3 billion, Thomas Peterffy is definitely the richest person in Florida. However, he was born in Budapest, Hungary, in a hospital during a Russian air raid. He immigrated to New York when he was 21 years old, with no money and no knowledge of English. Nonetheless, he eventually got a job as an architectural draftsman.
Sheldon Adelson was born in the rough Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. His father was a taxi driver, and his mother ran a knitting group. He always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and at just 12 years old, he borrowed $200 from his uncle to purchase a license to sell newspapers locally.