7 Men Who Didn’t Get Rich Until Their 30s

jon hamm

Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. Richard Branson founded Virgin Records when he was 23. Jonathan Safran Foer published his first novel, the award-winning Everything Is Illuminated, when he was 26. For some men, success comes early in life. But not everyone is so lucky.

If you’re in your 20s and you haven’t hit your career stride, or even figured out what exactly you want to be when you grow up, it’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind. Not only do you have the wildly successful Zuckerbergs of the world to compare yourself to, but you have to watch your friends move steadily up the ladder while you flail around somewhere near the bottom, trying to figure out which rung to grab onto.

Don’t get too down on yourself if you’re closing in on 30 and success is still just a dream. While some people know exactly what they want to achieve at a young age and how to get there, that doesn’t mean that people who take a little longer to find their path are doomed to a lifetime of failure and disappointment. For every 20-something whiz kid, there’s a person who had their genius idea or got their big break in their 30s or beyond.

Here are seven men who didn’t really hit the big time until their 30s.


1. Jon Hamm

A former high school drama teacher, Jon Hamm left his home state of Missouri at age 26 to try his luck in Hollywood. But casting agents weren’t exactly beating down his door, and he struggled for years to find consistent work. In the early 2000s, he made one-time appearances on shows like The Hughleys and Gilmore Girls, and earned a role in the short-lived TV drama Providence. During slow periods, Hamm made ends meet by waiting tables and working as a set dresser for porn films, and even resorted to flirting with his landlady when he missed his rent payments. Finally, at age 36, he landed the part of mid-century ad exec Don Draper in Mad Men, and his career really took off.

2. Reed Hastings

 Reed Hastings Co-Founder and CEO Netflix

(Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Netflix)

Some entrepreneurs start building their business while still in high school or college. Not Reed Hastings, who took a little bit longer to find his way. After earning a degree in mathematics from Bowdoin College, Hastings briefly joined the Marines before signing up for a stint with the Peace Corps. After he returned to the U.S., he earned a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford and started working as a software developer. By age 30, he’d founded his first company, Pure Software. Six years later he had the idea of delivering DVDs by mail, and Netflix was born.


3. James Dyson

In 1979, engineer James Dyson noticed his vacuum cleaner wasn’t doing a good job of actually cleaning his home’s carpets. That inspired him to create the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner. Dyson spent years designing a prototype, which launched in 1983 when he was in his mid-30s. The world shrugged its shoulders at his invention, at least at first. The innovative product did eventually become popular in Japan, and by the mid-1990s, it was the best-selling vacuum cleaner in the U.K.


4. Marc Benioff

Marc Benioff, who founded the cloud-computing company Salesforce in 1999, has always been a high achiever. The proceeds from the video games he designed as a teenager helped pay his way through college, and after graduation he took a position with Oracle, where he quickly rose through the ranks. But becoming rich working for someone else wasn’t Benioff’s goal. His truly jaw-dropping success didn’t happen until his mid-30s, when the company he founded made him a billionaire.

5. Chris Gardner

Chris Gardner

(Photo Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images)

If you’ve seen the Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness, you know Chris Gardner’s story: Through grit and determination, a homeless single dad becomes a successful stockbroker. In his twenties, the real-life Gardner and his son were living in San Francisco homeless shelters and sleeping in subway stations while Gardner completed an unpaid internship with Dean Witter. Remarkably, he kept his personal trials from everyone at work and was eventually able to earn a full-time job with the firm. By his 30s, he’d put his early years of struggle behind him and had started his own investment firm.


6. Charles Bukowski

Legendary and controversial author Charles Bukowski moved to New York to become a writer at age 19. But despite a few publications, success eluded him, and by his mid-twenties he’d abandoned his dreams of a literary life. Instead, he committed himself to drinking. By age 35 he was living in Los Angeles when he decided to try his hand at writing again. This time it stuck, and his work began to appear in underground newspapers and magazines. Finishing his first novel, Post Office, took longer still – it wasn’t published until he was 51.


7. James Murphy

Turning down a chance to write for Seinfeld sounds like a pretty stupid career move, but when a producer from the hit show encouraged 22-year-old college student James Murphy to submit a spec script, he never followed up. Instead, he pursued a career in music, though it took a while for him to achieve much recognition in that field. Murphy didn’t release his first single as LCD Soundsystem until his early 30s. Since then, he’s scored multiple Hollywood films and been nominated for several Grammys. In a 2010 interview, Murphy said didn’t regret his missed opportunity at early wealth and career success, which he confessed probably would have turned him into an “insufferable prick.”

Follow Megan on Twitter @MeganE_CS

More from Money & Career Cheat Sheet: