50 Big Companies that Started with Little or No Money - Deepstash
7 Books on Habits

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7 Books on Habits

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Automate Your Workflow

The easiest way to build a useful product is to automate some part of your daily workflow which ensures you’ve got proven demand for your product and a pre-existing funding source.

Successful examples:

  • MailChimp: built a tool that would streamline the process of email newsletters created.
  • Lynda: produced training films for her students. She spent the next two decades building a content library and tech assets.
  • PluralSight: Like Lynda.com, PluralSight offers remote software training. 


1.22K reads

Start With a Capital Efficient Product

Start With a Capital Efficient Product

Instead of trying to compete with a company like Apple, these scrappy startups filled the gap left by RadioShack and built multi-million dollar businesses worthy of emulation.

  • AdaFruit Industries: Limor Fried started her DIY electronics eCommerce empire as a student at MIT by assembling DIY kits comprised of off-the-shelf parts. 
  • SparkFun: Nathan Seidle started Sparkfun from his dorm room by selling electronics kits and oddball components to engineers who wanted to explore exotic new sensors and systems. 


1.11K reads

Old Problem + Existing Business Model + New Tech = $$$

Solving an old problem with a new technology or UX layer can be enough to build a multi-billion dollar business.

  • Shopify: Shopify’s founders were searching for a shopping cart solution when they were setting up an eCommerce site for snowboarders. Unable to find one, they decided to scratch their own itch and built a bespoke solution on the then red-hot Ruby on Rails framework. 
  • Braintree Payments: Exchanging money online, without being fleeced by fraudsters, is one of the oldest problems on the web. 


1.01K reads

Scratch Your Own Itch

Scratch Your Own Itch

  • Ipsy: Youtuber Michelle Phan leveraged her online celebrity — 8M+ YouTube subscribers — to turn it into a phenomenon. 
  • ShutterStock: Jon Oringer combined his set of skills and used 30,000 photos from his personal photo library to start a stock photo service.
  • Quizlet: it was founded by a precocious 15-year-old who wanted to ace his French final.
  • Skyscanner: The company started as a bespoke spreadsheet to help its founder find the best flight prices.


895 reads

Everyone’s Money is Green

Funding doesn’t always come millions of dollars at a time. Founders can scrape together money from grants, incubators, and angels, or even pre-sales.

  • CoolMiniOrNot: it started out as a website where geeks could show off their ability to paint Dungeons & Dragons figurines. 
  • The Wirecutter: Who says blogging doesn’t pay? Founded by a former Gizmodo editor, the Wirecutter promised more thorough and fair-minded reviews, and paired that with Amazon affiliate feed.


782 reads

Sell! Sell! Sell!

  • RXBar: When one of the entrepreneurs behind RXBar shared his ambitious business plan with his father, he told his founder son “You need to shut up and sell 1,000 bars.”
  • Scentsy: They sold candles at swap meets when they couldn’t afford to buy ads.
  • Spanx: Shark Tank judge Sara Blakely turned a $5,000 investment into an Oprah-approved approved garment that generates $400M in revenue annually. 
  • Grammarly: Spell checkers around for decades, but Grammarly made enough improvements that they could charge over 800 universities and hundreds of thousands of writers.


788 reads

Be Miserly with Marketing

  • ButcherBox has thrived, earning as much as a million dollars a week by skipping expensive ad channels and developing ongoing, capital-efficient relationships with influencers.
  • Cards Against Humanity: They’ve sustained their brand with a series of canny marketing stunts, selling cow poop, cutting up a Picasso, etc.
  • GoFundMe: Viral marketing is dismissed, rightfully, when it is tacked on to a business model, but it can be a powerful driver when properly integrated into a product. Paired with hyper-efficient Conversion Rate Optimization, it can be unbeatable. 


635 reads

Efficiency > Capital

  • PaintNite: While their competitors relied on a slow, expensive franchise sales model, PaintNite paired art teachers with existing bars that wanted to sell wine on weekdays and created a business that did $30 million in revenue the year before it raised venture capital.
  • Tough Mudder: Track & field entrepreneur Will Dean turned $7,000 in savings into a company with over $100 million dollars in annual revenue. 


526 reads

Build a Community

  • Mojang: The masons behind Minecraft never raised any venture capital, employed just 50 people, and earned nearly a billion dollars in profit before selling to Microsoft. Minecraft grew by charging users a flat fee, resulting in a $2.5 billion dollar acquisition.
  • Craigslist: Craigslist parlayed an early launch in the first dot-com boom into a durable long-term advantage. Craigslist is the #17 most visited site in the US.


514 reads

Fortune Favors the “Boring”

  • SurveyMonkey was founded in the dot-com bubble of the 90s; it survived the dot-com crash and steadily grew into a nine-figure run rate, only raising $100 million 11 years after getting started.
  • Grasshopper is a phone networking company that had 150,000 customers, over $30 million in annual revenue, but no VC on the books, and was eventually acquired by Citrix.
  • GitHub took the pain out of version control and became a critical part of the tech ecosystem before raising capital.


507 reads

You Can Always Raise Capital Later

Wayfair was profitable from its first month of operation and grew profitably for a decade until they ultimately raised a series A. the company is currently worth $6 billion dollars and because they suffered little dilution, the founders are worth a billion dollars each. Zip recruiter: “we started out with humble ambitions, to Bootstrap a lifestyle business,” said Co-Founder/Ceo Ian Siegel.


504 reads

Blessed are the Unfundable

  • Wayfair: The company is currently worth $6 billion dollars and because they suffered little dilution, the founders are worth a billion dollars each!
  • Zip Recruiter: “We started out with humble ambitions, to bootstrap a lifestyle business,” said Co-founder/CEO Ian Siegel in an interview with Alex Konrad from Forbes. Those ambitions were met and superseded.
  • Nerdwallet: The personal finance service that promises to help young people save money lived on a tight budget from the time it was founded in 2009 until it a raised $64M series A in 2015.


478 reads

Don’t Design Your Business Around VC

Venture capital has powered nearly every major tech company from Apple to Zappos. Just remember that you don’t need a penny to get started. You don’t need permission from funders to found and scale a startup. So the next time a VC tells you they “pass,” remember these three principles:

  • It’s possible to get a tech-enabled business off the ground with no capital.
  • It’s feasible to scale a tech business rapidly with very little capital.
  • It’s often in the founder’s best interest to limit the amount of capital they take.


493 reads



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