How 50 Startups Started – Part 1

Ever wonder how some of today’s successful online businesses began? How did the entrepreneurs behind them get their Eureka moments? Here’s a rundown.

  1. Airbnb. Co-founder Brian Chesky wanted to attend a design conference in San Francisco but could not afford hotel accommodation. In the end his friend who lived in the city offered him an air mattresses and breakfast.
  2. Foursquare. Bored at work and looking for something to build, co-founder Dennis Crowley felt he could improve on the online guide website, Citysearch. He built the first prototype using an Access database and the idea evolved over time with new features being added until it became what it is today, one of the leading search-and-discovery mobile apps.
  3. Pinterest. Co-founder Ben Silbermann –  a lifelong collector – wanted to bring collections to the Internet, something he felt was not being done well online. He felt there was a place for photos and blogs etc. but not for collections themselves.
  4. Reddit. Founders Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman felt that online content was being created by such diverse sources that the Internet a way to aggregate the material. They decided to take the best aspects of Delicious (what’s popular is what people are submitting) and combine it with Slashdot (known for good content) to create “the front page of the Web”.
  5. Tumblr. Founder David Karp felt that blogging had evolved into something best suited to editorial publishing. He wanted a blogging platform that was much more fluid and minimalist, where he could share simple information about himself, what he was doing and things he found online that interested him. (It’s interesting to note that even though blogging was well-established, Karp found a gap in the market, a gap that has made him $200m and has valued Tumblr at $800m).
  6. Product Hunt. Founder Ryan Hoover had a simple idea: an online community where people could submit links to new products and others would up-vote the best ones. It was a labour of love, Hoover enjoyed talking about new stuff – apps, software, services, products – but could not find a site dedicated to the topic and so he built one. The site grew organically with Hoover inviting a few friends and select members to join a mailing list. Then friends-of-friends were approached and the community grew from there. AngelList recently acquired Product Hunt for $20m. Not bad for such a simple concept.
  7. Instagram. Co-founder Kevin Systrom says Instagram started out as a check-in app, similar to Foursquare where you could check into a venue but also add a photo alongside. They quickly realised that the check-in space was crowded, competitive and the market didn’t really need another check-in app. From there, the team decided to turn the concept on its head: you could take a photo and then optionally add a location. It proved a popular feature – especially when filters were added – and Instagram was born.
  8. Nest. Co-founder Tony Fadell’s managed Apple’s iPod division for nine years and several iterations of the iPhone. Whilst having a house built on Lake Tahoe, he was unimpressed by the heating control system being installed. It was ugly, it was outdated, it was expensive. Fadell believed he could design a better one and Nest is the result.
  9. Indiegogo. Co-founder Danae Ringelmann spent most of her career working in Finance. When it was time for a change she set herself the goal of democratising fundraising. She wanted to create a fundraising ecosystem where the amount of money raised was based on what really mattered: your cause, your community and how much people wanted to see your idea become reality. It’s community-validation meets fundraising.
  10. Groupon. Co-founder Andrew Mason knew that group-buying power was an established business model and decided to create a localised service around it. Combining the concept with daily deals helped the business take off.

Photo credit: Steven Zwerink via / CC BY-SA 2.0

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