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11 Surprising Jobs For Entrepreneurs—From Beekeeping To Banking (2023)


It’s 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, wrapping up another long work week. You close your eyes and wonder: what would it be like to be your own boss? Maybe running a little beachside bar or taking that leather-tooling hobby to the next level? 

Ahh, the impossible dream! Or is it? Plenty of successful entrepreneurs had no formal training, no college degree. These seem like unconventional résumés for people who now run a company single-handedly. But maybe not.

Ahead, meet 11 entrepreneurs who found their start in the most unlikely of places. Discover how they used skills learned on the job to help them launch their new careers. And, get inspired to uncover your own superpower and take the leap.

On-the-job skill building for aspiring entrepreneurs

What is an entrepreneur? What’s the required skill set? A pinch of fearlessness, a heap of drive, and the ability to self-start are the basic ingredients. While a lot of entrepreneur traits are innate, many business owners gleaned their knowledge through experiences, trial and error, and skills picked up from past jobs.

?Can your day job help you kick start your dream career? Consider the following:

  • Does your company have a program to help subsidize the cost of additional training like workshops, courses, or conferences?
  • Are there promotion opportunities that let you gain experience in people or project management?
  • Can you identify anyone with mentor potential within your organization?
  • Is it possible to take risk-free, unpaid leave or negotiate reduced hours while you work on building your business?
  • Does your day job relate to the business you intend to build? What would you change about your company if it was you in charge?
  • Are there tasks outside your primary duties that could develop your skills in areas like sales, social media, or public relations?
  • What other skills can you learn and what resources are available to you?

Your current job may not be your life plan, but reframing it as a step toward entrepreneurship can help you get the most out of it. 

Start your next career as your own boss and try Shopify today

11 unlikely jobs for entrepreneurs

We found 11 real jobs—from beekeeper to marketing manager—successful entrepreneurs held before they made the leap. In each example, the business owner shares how these roles prepared them for entrepreneurship.

1. Director of engineering

Steven Michael Thomas was working as an engineering director in tech when he launched his brand Super Magic Taste. “While making chili crisp is very different from making software, you are still met with a seemingly endless sea of choices of where to focus your efforts next,” he says. “My software career did a decent job in preparing me for navigating and building systems to help keep the business moving forward!”

A jar of chilli oil is stacked atop garlic, shallots, and chilies
Steven Michael Thomas was working in tech when he came up with his business idea for Super Magic Taste. Super Magic Taste

Steven’s former employer served millions of customers, meaning scale was always top of mind. “While our business is still small, considering scale has been helpful to prepare us even for the earliest parts of growth,” he says. He draws on this learned skill when deciding how and when to increase production.

Entrepreneurial skills acquired 

  • Systematic thinking
  • Building for scale

2. Fashion model

A model lounges on a chair, posing for a photographerLeanne Mai-ly Hilgart transitioned from modeling to founding her own sustainable clothing brand. The experience she picked up on set and on the runway prepared her to take on a new challenge in the fashion industry. “I know how to run a casting. I know how to run a photoshoot. I know what clothes look like on and off a person,” she says. “And that’s the online marketing version of fashion.”

Leanne offers hard-earned advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: “What are the tools you’ve been given that no one else has? Add those up to a strategy where you win.”

Entrepreneurial skills acquired 

  • Photography
  • Styling
  • Marketing

3. Film set decorator

Sophia Pierro’s set decorating role involved sourcing very specific props for film scenes. She familiarized herself with every corner of her city, learning about what each store had for sale. “I have a fairly good visual memory because of that, and it comes in handy now,” she says. 

A curated gift box with bath and body products
Sophia Pierro launched her own company after learning valuable skills in the film industry. Present Day Gifts

The skills learned on-set helped Sophia build her curated gift box business, Present Day Gifts. Her boxes are filled with handmade and locally sourced small-batched goodies. 

Entrepreneurial skills acquired 

  • Sourcing
  • Curation
  • Networking

4. Social development case worker

A woman sits at a desk facing two clients, seen in silhouette from behind“My job as a case worker was to find a solution to people’s problems. At times, these were life and death situations,” says Gustavia Lui. The role taught her to work fast under pressure while providing excellent customer service. “My time in that job was the biggest training ground for me, as I never had any formal education in business.” 

Gustavia was able to port many of the skills to her business, fashion brand Staavias. Learning to spend more time listening than talking prepared her for getting in tune with her customers’ needs and feedback. Most importantly, Gustavia thrives as an entrepreneur because of her learned adaptability. “In my previous job, things were never black and white, so I was forced to think of different ways to solve problems,” she says. “In business you will need to get out of your comfort zone.”

Entrepreneurial skills acquired 

  • Listening
  • Customer service
  • Versatility
  • Problem solving

5. Financial analyst

Melissa Butler dreamed of a career on Wall Street. After achieving it, she realized it wasn’t the right path for her. She started dabbling with lipsticks in her kitchen before quitting her finance job to launch The Lip Bar

Portrait of The Lip Bar founder, Melissa Butler
Many entrepreneurs start their own businesses from home. That’s how Melissa Butler launched The Lip Bar before scaling to commercial production. The Lip Bar

Melissa’s former career gave her a foundation that helped her make the transition. The confidence of reaching her goals was a motivating force. “Confidence is the key to being a small business owner simply because you’re going to be told no all the time,” she says. “If you’re confident, you’ll be able to keep going in those trials.”

Entrepreneurial skills acquired 

  • Confidence
  • Financial literacy
  • Researching
  • Business development

6. Beekeeper

Beekeeper tends to a hiveSimon Cavill has been keeping bees since 2005. A few years into the hobby, he experimented with turning the yield into products to sell. The couple started their skin care business Bee Good as a side gig—and antidote to stress from Simon’s 9-to-5 job. “The main lesson I learned from my previous life was one of patience, and probably stubbornness,” he says. 

“There’s a thin line between stubbornness and stupidity,” Simon says. “Nothing comes easy, but if you stick it out long enough, and if the product is ‘right,’ you will eventually succeed.”

Entrepreneurial skills acquired 

  • Patience
  • Perseverance

7. Army colonel

When Carl Churchill left his army career, working for a startup was an obvious next move. “Because I had been in small, highly specialized units where you were really close—literally your lives depended on people to your left and right—I was drawn to startup companies.”

Alpha Coffee founder Carl Churchill pictured with his wife
Working in the army and in several other startup businesses gave Carl the skills to start his own company. Alpha Coffee

After buying into a startup, Carl lost everything when the company folded during the recession. 

“It was a financial ambush,” he says. “In the military, if you’re in an ambush, you’ve got to move. If you get pinned down and just lay there, you’re going to die eventually.” To ensure his family’s survival, Carl cashed out his 401(k) and started his own business, Alpha Coffee

Entrepreneurial skills acquired 

  • Teamwork
  • Thriving under pressure
  • Finding perspective

8. Brand marketing manager

Woman holds documents and smiles at tthe cameraDiane Danforth draws from skills learned in her past careers in both banking and health care marketing to help grow her own business, Pawdentify. “Even though the industries were totally different from pet products, the fundamentals are similar,” she says. “My prior career has been invaluable in teaching me many skills.” 

Her brand management and marketing role taught her the skills she needed to build her brand and attract customers. “To run a small business, you need to know a little bit about everything,” says Diane. “You also need to understand how the different parts of the business work together.”

Entrepreneurial skills acquired 

  • Branding
  • Networking
  • Negotiation
  • Communication
  • Forecasting

9. Social media influencer

Bryan Reisberg began Instagramming cute photos of his corgi, Maxine—and then the account took off. With his newfound side gig as an online creator, Bryan had an audience he could monetize. He and partner Scott Dunn developed a dog backpack as an alternative to the subpar versions on the market. Little Chonk resonated with his fans.

Little Chonk founder Bryan, pictures with his corgi and his partner
Bryan Reisberg’s experience building audiences helped him turn his popular Instagram account into a small business. Little Chonk

When developing the new brand, Bryan looked no further than his own past. He built his audience with care and authenticity, and brought that same passion to selling products. “How do you break through the noise? People care about people,” says Scott. “And Bryan is really serving them and representing this community to do something that no one’s really done before.”

Entrepreneurial skills acquired 

  • Audience building
  • Content creation
  • Social listening

10. Broadcasting script editor

Three people sit in a theatre setting discussing a scriptBefore branching out on her own, Virginia Sorrells worked for a major TV broadcaster as a news and documentary script editor. “My training in strategic planning helps me envision the big picture and identify goals and the steps needed to get there,” she says. 

When running her own agency, Virginia Sorrells Communications, Virginia constantly draws on her valuable storytelling expertise. “The experience helped me learn how to write concise, compelling stories,” she says. “It taught me that I always need to view what I’m creating through the eyes of the audience.”

Entrepreneurial skills acquired 

  • Storytelling
  • Strategy
  • Goal setting
  • Audience building

11. Zookeeper

Hand feeds a small kangarooTaylor Scarboro jumped around in her career, starting as a zookeeper before launching a number of different businesses. She’s still thankful for her experience working at the zoo. “I gained a lot of my customer service skills and experience in that profession,” she says. “I learned how to make customers happy with compromise—‘No, you can’t pet this bird, but I can give you a feather to take home.’” 

Taylor also credits her time at the zoo with learning to juggle multiple tasks while working atypical hours. This lifestyle helped her transition into entrepreneurship—a career path with a similar working style.

Entrepreneurial skills acquired 

  • Multitasking
  • Juggling irregular hours
  • Customer service

Start your own business—you’re more prepared than you think

The best jobs for entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily the ones you’d expect. Every hour you spend learning a skill, engaging with people, and even facing failure is a valuable addition to your toolbox. Make the most of your career before you leave it. You never know when that banked knowledge or the people in your network will come in handy as you create your own dream job.

Feature image by Anete Lusina

Jobs for entrepreneurs FAQ

Do entrepreneurs have jobs?

Many entrepreneurs get their start by launching a side hustle alongside their day job. Some keep it that way, diversifying their income as a strategy to seek financial independence or early retirement. Others eventually transition out of traditional jobs to pursue a business full time.

What are 5 career opportunities for entrepreneurs?

An aspiring entrepreneur may choose from career paths in multiple industries to learn on-the-job skills that are ideal for entrepreneurship. Some entrepreneur careers include:

  • Business development or project management
  • Marketing and branding roles
  • Software development
  • Hands-on trades like carpentry or hair styling
  • Creative job titles like video editor or graphic designer 

Do entrepreneurs make a lot of money?

Some entrepreneurs don’t make enough money to sustain their lifestyle on the business alone, so they may choose to run the business as a side gig. But many entrepreneurs who grow successful businesses over time can make a lot of money—some CEO founders have some of the highest paying jobs in their industries. How financially successful you are in your business depends on many factors, such as your ability to grow and maintain a customer base, your pricing strategy, and changes in the market or industry.

This originally appeared on Shopify and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.
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