How 50 Startups Started – Part 2

This is Part 2 of “How 50 Startups Started”. You can read Part 1 here.

  1. Twitter. Co-founder Jack Dorsey came from a programming background working on real-time, high-volume transaction dispatch systems. He identified a simple idea: someone broadcasts a message and those interested in it, follow it. He compared this to how ambulances would broadcast their locations and what they were doing and dispatchers and call centres would follow.
  2. YouTube. Co-founder Steven Chen says the idea for YouTube came about during a dinner party where friends were taking photos and video. They found that sharing photos was easy but there was no simple way to share video. He recognised that with more digital cameras and emerging video phones (this was back in early 2005), this would be a growing opportunity. The genesis of YouTube was to find a simple way to share video and eventually evolved into a platform to watch cats do funny things.
  3. Khan Academy. Founder Salman Khan came up with the idea of a free online education platform whilst trying to tutor his cousins in another city. The early version of the platform was little more than a way to upload YouTube videos for his cousins to watch  but Khan quickly realised that what he had built was a repository for information where a student could study and review material at their leisure. Khan Academy is a not-for-profit organisation. It has attracted donations from Google, Carlos Slim and AT&T to continue to produce courses.
  4. TaskRabbit. Founder Leah Busque was preparing to go out with her husband one evening and realised they were out of dog food for their labrador, Kobe. So the idea for TaskRabbit was born: connecting buyers with people willing to perform simple tasks.
  5. Twitch. This game-streaming channel was recently acquired by Amazon for $970m. Co-founder Emmett Shear was also the co-founder of another live-streaming service, At, Shear personally found the video gaming content to be the most compelling and believed if he found it engaging, others would too. It was a hunch that paid off spectacularly.
  6. Imgur. Founder Alan Schaaf saw a gaping flaw in photo-hosting sites of the time: once an image became too popular the hosting company would replace it with a nag-screen telling the owner to upgrade their hosting package. This made no sense to Schaaf who saw it as killing the golden goose: if an image is popular, why would you take it down instead of capitalising on it? From this simple concept, the photo-hosting service Imgur was born and it has grown into a large image-sharing community.
  7. Tradesy. Co-founder Tracey DiNunzio noticed that she had accumulated a lot of worn-once clothes and fashion accessories that were now clogging up her wardrobe and home. “I should be able to sell this stuff” was the simple thought that led her to building Tradesy, a platform that allows women to buy and sell used clothes whilst taking care of delivery, payment and refunds behind-the-scenes. The company is valued at $10m.
  8. Dropbox. Co-founder Drew Houston was frustrated by the need for diverse products, devices and services required to share your information. It made little sense to him that you might have to send a file to your email, download it to a thumb drive, send it to someone else and so on. Far better to “have your stuff follow you around” which gave birth to Dropbox.
  9. Threadless. Founder Jake Nickell was a member of an online art community and wanted a way to take the great art he was seeing and turn it into things people could own, namely, tee-shirts. At first it was more a way of giving something back than it was a commercial venture. As the idea took hold, Threadless was born: an online platform for visitors to upvote designs with the most popular being made into tees.
  10. Meetup. Following 9/11, co-founder Scott Heiferman realised the value of face-to-face human contact, saying he talked more to his fellow citizens than in the previous year. The world is increasingly industrialised and virtual which makes localised meetups more valuable. Heiferman maintains that there is value in meeting others that we do not get through a digital screen although he is careful not to say one is good and the other is bad.

Continue to Part 3 of How 50 Startups Started.

Photo credit: Sophia Louise via / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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