How Tony Robbins rebounded from an abusive childhood to create a billion-dollar empire

Tony Robbins: The goal is to feel the fear
Tony Robbins: The goal is to feel the fear

To say that Tony Robbins' life started off rocky would be an understatement.

But instead of letting these challenges hinder his success, they are a core part of what's fueled him to become a best-selling author, self-made millionaire and coach to the likes of former President Bill Clinton and hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones.

In a recent interview with CNBC, Robbins recalled getting chased out of the house with a knife by his mother when he was 17 and being physically abused by her as a child.

"If my mom had been the mother I thought I wanted, I wouldn't be as driven; I wouldn't be as hungry," he said. "I wouldn't have suffered, so I probably wouldn't have cared about other people's suffering as much as I do. And it made me obsessed with wanting to understand people and help create change."

Instead of feeling sorry for himself, the author of books such as "Money: Master the Game" and "Awaken the Giant Within" turned his early life setbacks into a springboard for growth.

"Our worst challenges, our worst problems, our worst failures — for those who don't give up — they give you insights," he said.

Tony Robbins at a speaking event
Source: Tony Robbins

Robbins is a founder of or partner in more than 12 businesses, including a 5-star Fijian island resort and a company that makes custom 3-D-printed prosthetic limbs. Despite some recent negative headlines, these companies generate annual sales of $5 billion, according to Robbins — an impressive figure by any measure, especially considering that Robbins' atypical path to success did not include attending college.

"Early on, I developed this simple belief that there's a difference between schooling and education," he said.

Robbins said he believed that if he worked hard, he could succeed in life.

"I believe the secret to any entrepreneur's life is to add more value: Do more than anyone is doing in the marketplace," he said.

While everyone experiences fear at some point, it's crucial to really feel the fear and break through it.

"If I ever feel afraid (and) that I can't do this, then I tell myself I must and act on it immediately," Robbins said.

"Otherwise, the fear will stop you," he added. "The more you face your fears, the stronger you become."

Failure is also a key part of success, he said: "There's no one who's been successful who hasn't failed massively. The only people who haven't failed are the people who aren't doing anything. You have to realize it's not failure — it's a lesson."

Robbins shared three key pieces of advice for his fellow entrepreneurs:

  • "Don't even start a business unless it is your life and passion and you'd do it even if you didn't get paid," he said.
  • Find a way to understand more about your ideal clients than they know about themselves.
  • Do more for these people than any other business is doing. Add this value, and you'll create raving fans.