How 50 Startups Started – Part 4

This is Part 4 of “How 50 Startups Started”. You can read Part 3 here.

  1. Medium. Co-founder Evan Williams says he awoke early one morning and immediately began scribbling down the idea for a publishing platform. It was a moment of inspiration. Williams had just left Twitter and said Medium was the result of a whole range of ideas and technologies that he had been exposed to over his career and which had been brewing in his subconscious.
  2. Hipmunk. Co-founder Adam Goldstein often booked travel plans for friends but found the process time-consuming and needlessly complex. He felt he could do it better so approached friend and Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman who believed in the idea. Huffman knew that flight-search websites were difficult to put together but said, “I’m not sure if we can do it but we’ll give it our best shot.”
  3. Upworthy. Co-founder Eli Pariser felt that traditional news focused too much on celebrity gossip and trivia rather than informing viewers and helping them become better citizens. He set out to make Upworthy a site that just focused on important topics. However, after a strong start, the site lost its way, degenerating into clickbait content. In 2015, Upworthy turned its back – and apologised – for the unpopular practice and is now returning to its roots of focusing on original, meaningful do-good videos.
  4. Soundcloud. Co-founder and sound designer Alex Ljung believed in the power of sound to bring people together- whether it was music, language, voice, conversations. He started to look for ways to help people have more meaningful relationships and experiences using sound as a connector. Principally a music-distribution platform, Soundcloud is increasingly used by diverse customer base to record, upload and distribute any audio content.
  5. Fiverr. Co-founder Micha Kaufman came up with the idea for Fiverr after seeing statistics predicting that by 2020, half of the US workforce would be freelancers. Coming out of the worst of the global economic crisis, there was also a growing climate of uncertainty with many people concerned about unemployment and financial hardship. Kaufman believed it was a great time to launch the service, allowing buyers greater choice of suppliers and sellers the opportunity to monetise their skills, passion or to test a possible future business service.
  6. Codecademy. Co-founder Zach Simms believed the best way to teach people to code is to facilitate self-discovery. Self-learning, trial-and-error and just doing also seemed to produce the best programmers. Simms created a platform that facilitated the process, letting users try out exercises, solve problems and go at their own pace. Codecademy says it has 16m users and it has raised approx $42.5m to date.
  7. Github. Every coder knows about Github, an online version control system that tracks and keeps modifications to any software project to allow coders to collaborate, make changes, upload revisions and rollback to earlier versions. Founder Tom Preston-Werner recognised that prior to Github, version control was very centralised with one programmer typically locking down the code and controlling who could access and change it. It was stopping people doing work and experimenting. He wanted to create a system which allowed people to work on code without having to ask for permission then to propose any code changes to the community and have a discussion around it. The original code would be the trunk and new versions would be branches off that trunk. Github has attracted $350m in investment.
  8. Yelp. Co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman could not believe that there wasn’t a better alternative to the big, thick, yellow company directories that were still around in 2004. He asked himself, “What would be better than this?” and hit on the idea of a directory combined with word-of-mouth recommendations – the way many people find services in the real-world.
  9. Innocentive. Founder Alph Bingham set out to tackle an interesting problem. Searching for information is easy; searching for wisdom is hard. In fact, the very question you type into a search engine moulds the information and findings you get back. Bingham recognised that if you want to change the future, you had to be asking the right questions. Isaac Newton was not the first person to realise apples fell from trees but he was primed to recognise its significance. Innocentive is a problem solving network where challenges are posed to some of the brightest minds and through collaboration solutions and future innovations can be uncovered.
  10. 99Designs. Co-founder Matt Mickiewicz who was involved in the online coding and design magazine, Sitepoint, noticed that designers were mocking up fictional projects (to build up a portfolio and practise their skills) and competing with each other to see who could come up with the best designs. Mickiewicz noticed that quite often other community members would offer these designers payment for real work and he hit upon 99Designs where a buyer could submit a project brief and designers could submit designs for cash prizes and other incentives. Essentially, 99Designs came about from something that was already happening organically in another part of Mickiewicz’s business.

You can read Part 5 of How 50 Startups Started here.

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

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