Do you ever sit back and wonder how a business was born? Every single business starts as an idea, from Uber to the local mom and pop breakfast spot around the corner.
I am fascinated by stories of how businesses, products and ideas come to life. Sometimes it’s a very cut and dry story, while other times it’s very emotional and deep. Running a successful business is difficult, and while getting your business degree will help tremendously, there are many other aspects.
Whether you are looking for some inspiration to draw from, or you’re like me and enjoy hearing the story behind the idea, here are 20 entrepreneurs sharing how they came up with their business idea.
1. I used a personal struggle as my motivation to start my business.
“After struggling with overcoming an eating disorder in college, I always knew that I had figured something out a lot of young women struggle with — confidence. My mission when I started my business was to help young women build their confidence by teaching them to have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. I started with my why, then focused on my what. The what’s have changed, some what’s have taken off, others have failed. But everything I do has this mission in mind.” — Jaclyn DiGregorio, Cusp It
2. An accumulation of years of experience in the food and wine industry coupled with years of experience in the tech industry.
“When I lived in Champagne, France, I became aware of a number of large-scale thefts of shipments of champagne while the cases were being transported in trucks from Reims to Belgium and Paris.
Last year, after years of researching IoT technology, I decided to launch a logistics company that tracks and traces shipments of valuable assets throughout the transport process. Tracking includes movement, temperature and geo-location. The technology can be applied to wine, as well as high-end agricultural goods like truffles and luxury goods like art or jewelry, as well as pharmaceuticals and medicine. With the rapid evolution of IoT technology, our tracking sensors and synced software has become very affordable.” — Paige Donner, IoTShipping
3. I was helping businesses for free & realized I liked servicing these companies — that ended up being my business.
“In high school I sold purses on eBay. This taught me the power of the Internet and software; I could connect with anyone around the world.
In college I ran an events business. I’m naturally an introvert and like efficiency. So I figured out how to get hundreds of people to events by only contacting a small group of people. People today would probably call this influencer marketing. It wasn’t called that back then though. This taught me the power of leverage.
In college I also learned how to code. This opened my eyes to a whole new set of possibilities. When I looked at problems, I had another tool to use.
After college I decided I would start a software company. I figured software was the best way to reach people at scale for the least amount of money — I didn’t have much money but could code.
I didn’t know what product I wanted to build and wanted to make sure I really loved the industry and problem. In the meantime I started helping other businesses create digital products to help them grow their businesses.
After about 9 months of this I decided to actually turn this into my business. I got to constantly experiment with new industries, solve new problems, and by using the power of leverage, I could work with a few businesses but still reach massive amounts of people. That’s how my business was born in 2012.” — Anthony Tumbiolo, Jakt
4. My company was started after a poor personal experience.
“I was a single mom with two young children and felt like I never saw them. So, I decided to send out postcards to market my services and drum up some business. One printer was offering 5,000 postcards for $425. That was a great deal back then, and everything seemed fine — until I got my proof back from the printer — on a CD via FedEx delivery because the internet wasn’t a thing yet. I was horrified. This company put their phone number on my postcard. Here I was, the owner of a small graphic design firm that also brokered printing, and they put their phone number on my postcard — without my permission — so they could market their services to my list.
Obviously, this was a huge conflict of interest, because now my potential leads would see their phone number and call them instead. I called them immediately and demanded they remove their phone number from my postcard. After going back and forth with my customer service rep and then the manager, I finally got it remeoved without being charged. However, they warned me that next time it would be $50 to remove their number.
I hung up the phone, and decided right then and there that I was going to start my own postcard company and call it Postcard Mania — I pulled the name out of thin air, and it stuck. Twenty years, 82,000 clients and $60-million in annual revenue later, it turned out to be a pretty good idea.” — Joy Gendusa, PostcardMania
5. I desired the service myself so created a business to fulfill that need.
“I just started a company that delivers party decoration kits for people who entertain, but live busy lives. We have several different themes for holidays, football parties, movie night etc and the kits include cute decorations and well as practical items like plates, cups, etc. I came up with this idea because I was a pharmacist prior and after working long hours, and I would want to have my friends over during my free time.
After picking up the food, cleaning and working, I’d be too exhausted to do anything else. We had several watch parties and I would think to myself that I should have picked up popcorn bags or a cute table cloth to make it more festive. Then I’d have friends over during football season and wish I had a football shaped chip bowl. So that’s how I came up with the idea — I couldn’t be the only busy professional that needed help with entertaining.
I thought it would be great for busy parents, young professionals, book club or any social gathering. I feel like we take the time to cook, clean and invite our loved ones over, so why not add decorations or something festive to make them feel extra special and with the ease of delivery and not having to look up ideas since it’s there for you.” — Linda Soviravong, Decor To Door
6. Brands needed a better way to find and choose vetted and vouched-for specialized agencies for free.
“Agency search consultants and traditional RFPs are generally disdained by agencies. Brands need to reduce their risk when finding and choosing an agency. Like a real estate agent, we know the schools and neighborhoods and match brands one-to-one with specialized agencies for free and with no obligation.
We don’t just make an intro — we break down the barriers and brinkmanship. Our vetted collective of 500+ agencies means we cover just about every capability and category as a “one stop shop.” — Robby Berthume, Bull & Beard
7. I started my business accidentally in response to an overwhelming market demand.
“I never intended to start my flight hacking service. I merely wanted to share my newfound knowledge of how to get an incredibly cheap flight from Canada to Europe with more people. Still, without any push from me, the business came about in three distinct steps:
- First, I wrote a blog post that was intended purely to help my friends.
- That post began to spread on Facebook and got covered in one of Vancouver’s biggest publications. From there, it went truly viral, so much so that #YoreOyster was trending on Twitter in Canada before I even knew what to think about it — just hours after I posted that first post on Medium.
- Thousands of people signed up to learn more about what I was doing, but I didn’t have any infrastructure to handle them. I learned how to code an extremely basic website, wrote up a “quick start guide” and launched a bare-bones service a few weeks later.
The response to what I launched was certainly mixed, but I was proud of what I pulled off. Today, the business is still running and I couldn’t be happier that I started it. It certainly hasn’t been easy over the past four years, but the tough lessons have all been worth it.” — Jordan Bishop, Yore Oyster
8. The idea hit me when I tried — with frustrating results — to fulfill my impulse-buying habits.
“I was on my phone — no surprise there — and saw an adorable pair of shoes being advertised to me. I decided then and there to buy them.
My resolve to purchase, however, gradually crumbled as I went down the digital-rabbit-hole that found me awkwardly pinching, zooming, and filling out input fields.
Annoyed, I abandoned my cart, and turned to my engineer friends, asking, ‘Can’t we just create an impulse-buy button?’ Three years later, we have 1,400 brands on our platform.” — Cooper Harris, Klickly
9. I wanted to work from anywhere so I decided to start an online marketing agency.
“I’ve always wanted to start a business and make an impact. In college, I worked for a general contractor and decided that wasn’t for me. I knew that I need to do something online.
I focused on learning digital marketing and then selling my skillset to clients that were willing to pay. I got into the construction niche because of my previous experience in working in that field.” — Mauricio Cardenal, Roofing Marketing Pros
10. Our business idea came out of necessity.
“In 2011, my father attempted to acquire a life insurance policy that was needed for estate planning purposes. He has diabetes and had some other health issues in the past. When we began the application process, we never thought the diabetes would disqualify him from almost every life insurance company out there.
After initially being declined, we turned to other life insurance and financial specialists. They all told us that people with diabetes, such as my father, couldn’t obtain a life insurance policy, which was very frustrating. At this point, I worked diligently, speaking with numerous life insurance carriers. After nearly a years long search, we found a company who would approve my father.
Knowing that what we went thru was not acceptable, nor ideal, we wanted to start a company that could help the 30+ million people with diabetes experience a better way to obtain life insurance. For years we have worked behind the scenes with life insurance companies understand the ‘true’ risks people with diabetes pose to a life insurance company. By educating the life insurance companies, rates for type 1 and type 2 diabetics are at an all time low. Over time, many diabetics have been told life insurance is not obtainable, nor affordable, which simply is not true.” — Matt Schmidt, Diabetes Life Solutions
11. My business is a result of my experience helping international colleagues.
“When I was working for an international banking group it was always in my kind nature to take care of my international colleagues and help with everything that they needed in my city before and during their trips. From meeting at the airport and accompanying to a doctor to just showing them around, I was happy to lend a hand. When I started to travel myself I realized that I needed someone like me in different cities around the world to help travel hassle-free.
I was talking with my friend about our dreams and future at a local pub, and I shared this idea of assisting travelers with him. He assured me that it was a great idea. At the time I was studying for my MBA and I decided to dedicate my final research project to the idea of connecting advanced technologies and real human experiences, creating a concierge service for travelers designed to change the way people get things done in different cities around the world. I was excited with the results of my research so I quit my banking career of eight years to follow my passion. Today, we are an award-winning business that connects travelers to trustworthy local people to deliver tailor-made services in more than 300 cities around the world.” — Elena Shkarubo, MeetnGreetMe
12. Wanted to create resorts in the Philippines that looked like those in Santorini and Bali.
“After creating a luxury spa in the U.S. I traveled the world going to resorts to gain knowledge about their spas. In doing so I realized I love the resort side of the business and thought I could create the best service-business in the Philippines. I fell in love with Santorini and figured why not bring that to the island I grew up on, called Camiguin.” — Kate Hancock, Bintana Sa Paraiso
13. It was my wife’s fault.
“My wife started her company as a wedding florist and it was a headache to manage all the pieces. From her invoices to wholesaler list and packing list, she had 18 to 20 documents that had to be manually created. It hit me that all of them could be put into one simple interface that automatically generated everything needed to run the business. Now, we’re the industry leading software for event florists.” — Ryan O’Neil, Curate
14. I was annoyed and saw a need.
“I used to be a competitive runner and I naturally went through quite a lot of running shoes each year. Information was scarce. You could go to the local shop — which most often didn’t have more than 30 to 50 pairs — and expertise wasn’t anything to write home about.
Or you could go online, find a huge selection, but still poor expertise. On top of that, if you were looking for reviews, you’d find reviews here and there, but no consistency, and shoes were never represented equally. Most often, brands distribute shoes to experts, who then review the products. These experts are highly biased towards giving a good review, and the brands basically dictate what products they’re promoting.
Later in life, I started a running store, where I learned that people buy what’s promoted a lot and not what’s good. Brands pushed new products, and the only difference from last years version to this years version was the color.
I wanted to create a database of all running shoes.
Today, my company is the world’s largest review site for athletic shoes, with 53 employees, all working 100 percent remote and operating profitable. It started out with just running shoes, but about a year ago, we expanded to basketball shoes, hiking boots, training shoes and football cleats.
On top of all of that, I have a huge shoe fetish, and I always judge people by their shoes. We’re about to buy laboratory test machines to test all running shoes on mechanics to give the best possible neutral review of a shoe.” — Jens Jakob Andersen, RunRepeat
15. Entrepreneurship is lonely and we wanted to look for the diamonds in the rough in the under-served areas of the country.
“I’ve mentored hundreds of companies throughout the years and have noticed that most incubators and investors overlook companies that aren’t based in either CA or NYC.
Our goal was to find these diamonds in the rough — like a bio tech company that is saving lives in Iowa or a booming technology company in Arkansas — and help close that gap. We realized that investors in these geographic areas are very risk adverse.
Silicon Valley investors were not willing to sort through the noise of companies based outside the Bay area, so we decided to bridge the gap. Through my experience as a mentor, I heard the all-too-familiar story that there are companies that promise to find investors for a fee, but they are virtually never successful.
We wanted to be the ‘good guys’ that didn’t take advantage of first-time founders that are desperately trying to build their venture and reach their entrepreneurial dreams. Our goal was to take companies at various stages and help them reach their goals. For some companies, that goal is fundraising, so we prepare them before making the intro to investors.
Other companies may be more interested in scaling their company, so we provide them with the mentorship and the tools to scale efficiently and effectively.” — Gene Swank, Propellant Labs
16. I used my interest as well as a void I saw to come up with my business idea.
“I had been working a corporate financial job for a few years, and I would come across infomercials that sold the concept of wealth creation through real estate. I always loved the idea of real estate — maybe having loved the game Monopoly when I was young had something to do with it. Real estate in my mind was something tangible — an asset you can actually touch and see, providing more control than other assets.
I was also always into the flipping shows and was just so intrigued by every facet of the industry. I began to learn more about the industry by diving into as many resources as I could find, from internet articles to books, online courses and everything in between. I knew the industry had no regulatory or third-party service other than the Better Business Bureau that would validate what companies were legitimate from those that were unscrupulous in their business practices.
I wanted to start a real estate business that conveyed our service model of providing honest solutions to help people in their time of need. In an industry with a reputation of attracting individuals more hungry for earning a dollar then delivering a quality service, I wanted to be a beacon of light to those who genuinely needed helpful guidance in their situation without being taken advantage of.” — Jonathan Faccone, Halo Homebuyers
17. Wanted to help e-commerce and mobile app companies scale.
“Our business was built out of necessity while helping out a few friends that were running e-commerce companies launch and scale.
Instead of referring them to agencies that we knew, we decided to start our own agency to serve them immediately and to have control on the outcome.” — Ryan O’Connell, Boomn
18. Noticed a great need while contracting.
“I was working with a large bookstore chain in 2010 as a software contractor, and we were getting their e-commerce store ready to begin e-book sales. During this project, I came to understand that piracy was a major concern for e-book sales, especially for publishers and authors. After doing some more research, we learned that a big chunk of revenue was lost to illegal copying of e-books globally; around $100 million in 2010. This number is now closer to $1 billion in 2018 as the market has grown substantially.
Unfortunately, e-book protection schemes like DRM were and continue to be very expensive, and they’ve highly complex to acquire, deploy and maintain. This led me to see an opportunity — to offer a SaaS DRM platform that lowers monthly costs and makes it easy for e-book retailers of all sizes to adopt. EditionGuard was born out of a real need. But I wanted to validate the idea, as I was bootstrapping this on some of my own cash — around $10,000.
After spending a month putting together a basic prototype and pitching the idea to some potential prospects, I had some early validation in the form of a handful of paying customers in Europe and the U.S. I kept reinvesting all the profits into the business while continuing to contract part-time to pay the bills. Over the next 7 years, the business has kept growing steadily without any additional investment, and I’ve been able to concentrate on it full-time up to the present day.” — Turgay Birand, EditionGuard
19. Set out to connect businesses with quality remote workers.
“After meeting my wife in college who is from Central America, I quickly found a desire to find a career path that allowed me to keep the family connected considering that we were living in Los Angeles.
It was very important for me to establish a business that I could effectively start and grow to solve a need in the world. My company is the result of identifying the demand for providing high quality remote labor to businesses worldwide.
By doing this we found a way to efficiently and conveniently serve the needs of our outsourcing partners allowing them to increase productivity and reduce overhead.” — Matt Reeser, Tri Source International
20. Believed that ordering promotional products shouldn’t be a difficult process.
“I’ve been involved in the promotional products industry since I was 16 years old. Before deciding to start my company, I previously worked for mom-and-pop shops and even a failed startup business.
My college friend and I started our own promotional products company because we never understood why companies made their ordering process so difficult for customers to price and order custom branded products. For this reason, we created our ‘No Surprise Pricing,’ which provides users with a total delivered price, including printing, setup and shipping fees. The idea of having no hidden fees was a first in the promotional products industry. Overall, we wanted to give our customers a more satisfying experience and show them we care.
Basically, we made purchasing a product decorated with your custom logo as easy and straightforward as purchasing your favorite item from Best Buy or Amazon. The proof is in the pudding — we now have 115+ employees and are on target to do $45 million in revenue for 2018.” — Bret Bonnet, Quality Logo Products