From flea market to stock market: Success can have humble roots

bex-2017-08-10-bill-green-book-coverBill Green was once just one of us. A regular guy growing up in the suburbs with no silver spoon to be found anywhere, no trust fund waiting for him to turn the right age and no guarantees that life was going to work out pretty well for the entrepreneur who turned a flea market business into a major enterprise.

Green’s entrepreneurial ways can be traced to when he was 17 and decided to go into business with a friend, operating a table at a flea market.

When his friend dropped out of their partnership, Green didn’t need to look far to find a new partner. His father was laid off work and decided to join his son on the Philadelphia and New Jersey flea market circuit.

A year later they were opening up a hardware store. Through a series of smart moves — some of which Green said took a few failures to learn — that one store eventually turned into a publicly traded company and morphed into a $1.8 billion business owned by the Home Depot.

“My humble background is why I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for feisty entrepreneurs,” says Green (, whose book All In: 101 Real-Life Business Lessons for Emerging Entrepreneurs was ranked in a Forbes article as the No. 1 book on a list of must-read books for entrepreneurs. “Forty years ago I was there. I was a small business owner who had a great idea that I brought to life.”

Green offers up some tips for entrepreneurs striving to get their business moving in the right direction:

  • Take in all the experiences you can. Without a solid foundation, anything in life is going to crumble — whether it’s a tree, a building or a small business. Green says that it’s important not to devalue simple jobs because no experience is bad experience. During his life he took on paper routes and worked as a door-to-door salesman, gleaning all the knowledge he could from those seemingly trivial jobs.
  • Learn how to pivot. We all want to come out of the gates with a smashing idea that sets the world afire. That’s not always the case though. Just like a baby learning to walk, there will be stumbles along the way. Green says the key to one day finding success is to learn how to pivot and adjust when something isn’t working.
  • Find out what you don’t know. Technology is rapidly changing and today’s trends quickly turn into yesterday’s news. Those who are willing to stay on the cutting edge of their industry and keep up with technological changes will be the ones still standing at the end of the day.

“No one will remember where you started,” says Green. “They’ll only remember where you finish. Your dreams may seem like a fantasy to most people now, but if you combine a great idea with a lot of persistent and consistent hard work, you can get anything you want out of life.”

BILL GREEN is an author and serial entrepreneur who has built multiple businesses during his 40-year career. He is best known for “bootstrapping a startup” before anyone even knew what the word startup meant. He propelled his first company, Wilmar Industries, from a flea market table to one of the largest industrial distribution companies in the U.S., now known as Interline Brands which is now owned by The Home Depot.