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What Can We Learn About Entrepreneurship From Ellen? Betty DeGeneres Shares Her Recipe for Success

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Activist Betty DeGeneres talks about how individuality, positivity, perseverance and confidence have all helped her daughter become wildly successful. 

By Jessica Schimm (Assistant Editor, Women 2.0)

Ellen DeGeneres may not be the first woman who comes to mind when you hear the word entrepreneur, but if you think about it for half a minute, it’s clear that she’s one of the most successful and perhaps the most-loved media moguls around.

And really, how could you not respect the incredibly generous, witty, charming, talented talk show host, who sends waves of positivity through the television screen? But as Ellen’s mother will tell you, Ellen was no overnight sensation; she grew her incredibly successful business and brand by working her way up the ladder. And when she did catch a break -getting her own sitcom- she lost it after publicly coming out. But after rebuilding her career and starting the wildly popular Ellen DeGeneres Show, she is now stronger than ever eleven years later.

That’s what entrepreneurship is all about, isn’t it? Staying confident and persevering through the toughest times only to build yourself back up stronger? Both confidence and perseverance are two qualities were crucial to Ellen’s success, her mother Betty DeGeneres told Women 2.0 when we had the opportunity to speak with her last week. An LGBT activist who speaks around the country about ending discrimination and bigotry while also celebrating and encouraging diversity, the elder DeGeneres spoke with us about Ellen’s entrepreneurial journey. She will be sharing the rest of her story with mothers and daughters at the SUREFIRE Girls conference on Oct. 12, (to get a free pair of mother/daughter combo tickets, comment on this article). This is what she had to say:

Confidence Is Essential

Ellen always seemed to have self-confidence from an early age, DeGeneres said. This quality helped a young Ellen execute an unprepared performance in high school which led her to the next stepping-stone in her career.

“She was very brave about doing some things, and she just went ahead and did them, and that was vital [to her success],” her mother said. “Ellen was funny, but she didn’t have anything prepared. And so she did this silly act, and this woman in the audience told her she should work up an act and appear at the University of New Orleans coffee house, which she did.”

From there, Ellen went on to be the MC at Clyde’s Comedy corner and then entered a contest for “The Funniest Person in America” put on by Showtime. She ended up winning regionals and then the entire competition.

After having won the title and with several years doing stand-up at clubs all over the country behind her, Ellen was invited to appear on the Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson. That was really her big break, according to her mother.

Ellen starred in her own sitcom called “Ellen,” which became a huge success but was canceled after her character came out on the show as a lesbian. Following the show Ellen made a public announcement on the Oprah Show that she, herself, was lesbian, and could not find work for up to three years after. However, Ellen persevered and eventually started The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2003.

It has since won 32 Emmys and is in it’s eleventh year.

“When she seemed to have lost it all, she built it back up. She didn’t go away with her tail between her legs,” DeGeneres said about her daughter.

It’s All About Positive Energy

Another thing that has been vital to Ellen’s success is her positivity. Part of the reason why so many people love her is because of her positive energy and because she is real, Degeneres said.

“What they see — that’s who she is,” DeGeneres said. “She’s very positive.”

And not only does she give off positive energy, but she surrounds herself with it.

Celebrating individuality and being comfortable in your own skin is one of the main messages Degeneres hopes to deliver to mothers during the SUREFIRE conference.

“The theme of this conference is wonderful for parents,” she said. “Don’t set boundaries for your daughters, just let them explore and let them decide who they want to be and what they want to be.”

And DeGeneres couldn’t be more proud of her own daughter. For the first couple of years, she went to every show. Now, she goes about once a week.

Despite all of her support, Betty DeGeneres doesn’t take any credit for Ellen’s success.

“I don’t take any credit, I really don’t. She is herself. She’s done what she’s done and it’s been quite amazing. Whoever dreamed that her career would just be so wonderful? When at one point, when she came out on her sitcom, she basically lost her career. But she didn’t stop, she didn’t give in, she just built it back up again.”

What has Ellen taught you?

Photo via ronpaulrevolt2008 / Flickr.

Jess headshotJessica Schimm (@JessicaSchimm) is the assistant editor at Women 2.0. She is a recent graduate of San Francisco State where she earned a B.A. in journalism and was the editor-in-chief of SF State’s Her Campus chapter. She has a strong interest in women’s issues and writes about them on her blog Women Who Run San Francisco.