Walt Disney endured an impoverished childhood, a difficult relationship with his father, and survived the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. None of this stopped him from dreaming and doing!
In 1923 Walt Disney’s first studio, Laugh ‘O Gram Studio in Kansas City, Missouri, went bankrupt. At age 23, Walt was financially ruined. Instead of giving up, Walt went “All In” on his dream by boarding a train bound for California. He boarded that train with $40, a single suitcase, and a one-way ticket.
After arriving in California and creating his first successful character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt lost him in a distribution deal to Universal. Facing bankruptcy all over again, Walt came up with the most popular, and profitable cartoon character of all-time, Mickey Mouse. The lesson? Pivot, don’t panic. Innovate, don’t implode. Be resourceful, don’t retreat.
No one believed in the world’s first full-length animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Over and over again Walt heard the cry “Stick to shorts!” And no one believed in Disneyland either, including his own wife and brother. “Oh, Walt, why would you want an amusement park? Why those places are filthy!” “Honey, that’s exactly the point. Mine will be clean!”
The first attraction finished for Disneyland was the Frontierland Stagecoach. No matter what he did the attraction’s lead designer, John Hench, couldn’t get the leather straps to Walt’s liking. “It’s just a leather strap, Walt. No one will notice. No one will care.” Walt replied, “John, you are underestimating people. They will notice and they will care. In fact, every time a guest comes to Disneyland they will notice something that they have never seen before and that’s what will keep them coming back again and again and again.”
Walt once thought he would never do anything as good as Snow White and almost stopped making movies as a result. After the overnight success of Disneyland, he said repeatedly “There will never be another Disneyland.” Today, the sun never sets on the Disney parks.
Walt once said that “As long as there is imagination left in the world, Disneyland will never be finished.” The night before he died, Walt Disney was laying out his plans for EPCOT, his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, on the ceiling tiles over his hospital bed.