Startup companies are an exciting sector of business, and watching them grow is as interesting as being a team member making it happen. For example, the hit HBO series Silicon Valley has viewers like us well entertained by the shenanigans these entrepreneurs get into. By observing humorously how important the group’s creative solutions move their business forward, other startups can learn from the clever ways these characters get around tricky situations.
Though Silicon Valley is a work of fiction, the scenarios these tech geeks face are quite common in startup culture, especially in technology. Forming a leadership team, honing the idea, getting funding, you name it; getting a startup off the ground and into a profit earning place is not a task for the faint hearted. As such, many startups get buried in the ever-growing startup graveyard, yet others become household names and keep the startup dream alive for everyone.
Here’s a few startups with stories that caught our attention. Some have launched into celebrity success, others are young and growing, but all share the similarity of an interesting idea.
In 2007, a couple of dudes in San Francisco couldn’t pay their rent. The dudes, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, looked around their apartment and decided to rent out their air mattresses, which they did to three people for $80 each. Thinking they might be on to something, the dudes invited their engineer friend Nathan Blecharczyk to build a site, AirBnB, and launched the project at SXSW. Unfortunately, the idea gathered little attention and the team was back to square one trying to figure out how to pay rent.
The 2008 presidential election was around the corner, so they had an idea that could raise money for the fledgling business as well as make ends meet. They decided to make presidential themed cereals, Obama O’s and Cap’n McCains, which they sold at campaign parties at $40 a box. They ended up raising 30,000 from the clever cereal effort, and invested the cash back into the idea they were determined to work. Revamping their design and positioning, AirBnB finally did gain traction, and is now valued at over $10 billion dollars.
Beginning from the closet of his home in Vista, CA, Mike Montano started and launched a successful home services company that grew to a multimillion dollar business. Yet around 2010, online reviews started to become a noticeable factor in the SEO game, and a big reason internet shoppers would choose one company over another. Montano knew customers weren’t just looking for any ole plumber to walk into their house, they were searching for a service professional they could actually trust. He realized online reviews were a way of proving his guys were worthy of trust, and started to encourage his team to ask for reviews. From there, he began to showcase those reviews as social proof for customers looking for help – and realized he was onto a solid idea.
With that idea Montano started ReviewBuzz in 2012, a tech company that helps service companies get more 5-star reviews organically. The core of the business is to make it easy for service professionals to request reviews, and for customers to write reviews online. Only 3-years old, ReviewBuzz has grown beyond home service businesses and has helped companies across a range of industries earn more than 150,000 5-star reviews on sites like Yelp, Google, Facebook and more. Organically!
The file sharing world in 2008 had certainly progressed beyond the floppy disk, yet was dependent on saving to flash-drives or emailing files. Two MIT computer science grads, Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, left the giant MIT network of computers they were used to, and went out into the mainstream norm of how most users stored on computers. Already growing tired of this system, one day while on a public bus Houston realized that he forgot his USB-drive. That moment was the last straw, and he started creating what would later be a cloud-based file sharing system, Dropbox.
Steve Jobs of Apple learned about the product, which piqued his interest to such a degree he offered for Dropbox to join Apple. Houston denied the offer, determined to build the business on his own. And build the business he did, as the company is now estimated to be worth over ten billion dollars and employs over 700 people.
One cold San Francisco night in the winter of 2012, Rose Broome was walking down the street and noticed a homeless woman. The woman was sleeping on the street, shivering in the dark. The image haunted Broome as she wondered why, given all of the advancement in technology, this woman was still in a position of living without a home. Broome wanted to find a new way to give to the homeless as a result.
Broome partnered with her friend Zac Witte and created HandUp, a startup company that utilizes crowdsourcing for the purposes of helping homeless people get off the streets and into a better position in life. The app allows people in need to team up with local nonprofits to post their story, photos and videos to request donations that will help them get to a place that will help them off the streets. HandUp has been able to raise money from people like Eric Reis, Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff, and companies like Google, Twitter, and – tying it all together – Dropbox.
These stories are just a few, and proof that any range of creative ideas can result in startup success. Have a story you’d like to share? Post in the comments below.