- Over 50% of the working population works in a small business
- 52% of small businesses are home-based
- Small businesses have generated 65% of net new jobs since 1995 (source: Forbes)
Starting a business is a challenging endeavor and achieving entrepreneurial success a great accomplishment.
Success for a startup usually occurs because the business fills an unmet need or creates an innovation in an industry that is under served.
But in all cases, there are significant obstacles, big sacrifices and nothing occurs without the individuals who have the ideas and perseverance to make them happen.
To celebrate the companies and individuals that have made this journey, here are 10 inspiring small business stories that achieved big things.
- 505-JUNK: After seeing a used trailer for sale on the side of the road one day, Barry Hartman and Scott Foran decided to look into the world of junk removal. While not a completely new idea for a business, they realized that they could diversify their business in two ways: The first to charge by weight of material removed and the second to recycle as much of that junk as possible. Barry and Scott wrote their business plan and presented it to Futurpreneur for financing. They were approved, and with the money, purchased their pickup truck and trailer and started the business in the basement of Barry’s parents’ home. Today, 505-Junk has been voted Best Junk Removal Company by Homestars.com, the online directory for renovators, repairman and retailers.
- ADAFRUIT INDUSTRIES: Limor Fried, who earned her master’s in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, runs Adafruit Industries, which sells do-it-yourself electronics kits. She welcomed people to use the information, and saw it as a way to foster innovation. Fried launched her company in 2005 with $10,000 that was supposed to go to her tuition. Anytime she made a profit, she made a tuition payment. Today, the company ships 150 to 200 orders a day, some of them worth thousands of dollars.
- APP EMPIRE: Chad Mureta was running a real estate business when a devastating car accident left him hospital-bound. Mureta decided to try his hand at producing mobile applications. At the time, the industry was relatively new, but he felt the growth potential was worth the risk. Mureta took out a loan for $1,800 to produce his first app, Fingerprint Security – Pro. It soon became one of the 50 most popular apps in the App Store, earning him $140,000 in the process. From there, Mureta founded and sold three app companies — Empire Apps, Best Apps and T3 Apps. He has produced 46 apps to date.
- CHARITY: WATER: When Scott Harrison was 28, he realized he was a “selfish scumbag” while on vacation in Uruguay. So Harrison founded Charity: water, which brings clean drinking water to developing nations. Charity: water has funded 3,962 water projects, providing access to clean, safe drinking water for 1,794,983 people in 19 countries.
- GAS BUDDY: Jason Toews and Dustin Coupal saw a need for a site to help people locate the cheapest local gas prices and founded GasBuddy.com in June 2000. The partners nurtured the website over the course of the next decade, persuading drivers to log in and share gas prices. Then, in 2009, they realized the potential of mobile apps. So the company launched Android and iPhone apps later that year, which were instantly popular. 6,000,000+ people have downloaded the apps with more visiting the website.
- OAK STREET SHOES: John Vlagos, a Greek immigrant living in Chicago, wanted to show his son George how hard it is to work with your hands for a living and hopefully choose another line of work for himself. He was a cobbler so he made young George come into his shop every weekend to shine shoes. The plan backfired as George Vlagos is now a cobbler as well. George is a bit more than that though – he is one of the most successful independent shoemakers in America. He saw an opening in the market for top quality shoes made with traditional materials that could be bought at an affordable price. George Vlagos’s shoes, known as Oak Street Shoes, are sold in some shops but he mostly sells them online. He regularly has to operate with a six-week waiting list.
- SPANX: Sara Blakely was getting ready for a party when she realized she didn’t have the right undergarment to provide a smooth look under white pants. Armed with scissors and sheer genius, she cut the feet off her control top pantyhose and the Spanx revolution began! With a focus on solving wardrobe woes, the Spanx brand has grown to offer bras, underwear, jeans, pants, active and more. She obtained her own patent, set up her company and started pitching her idea. She was repeatedly turned down until she got the buyer from Neiman Marcus to try on Spanx. She got an order and other retailers started to follow suit. And then came a mention on Oprah. Blakely is the world’s youngest self-made billionaire and in 2012, when she was just 41, Blakely made it on to the list of the top 100 most influential people in the world, as determined by Time Magazine.
- TASTY: Liane Weintraub, a local Los Angeles TV reporter and Shannan Swanson, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and former cook at one of Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants thought, given the current obsession with label reading and organic ingredients, there must be dozens of organic baby food brands. But they were wrong. The pair started making organic purees for their own babies and couldn’t believe how few options were available in stores. Today, Tasty Brand is carried at Whole Foods, Fairway, Tops, and other chains. The company turned a profit four years after its founding, and it’s on track for sales of $2.5 million this year.
- USEFUL CHARTS: When starting his business, Matthew Baker initially sold small laminated study guides. But he quickly noticed that what people wanted was posters. He discovered that there was a real need for visual-learning material. His chart-based posters now help students, teachers and home schoolers the world over. His Timeline of World History poster is especially popular, and has on several occasions reached Amazon.com’s Top 500 items.
- ZANE’S CYCLES: Chris Zane, 46, got his start at age 12 fixing bikes in his parents’ East Haven, Connecticut, garage. At 16, he persuaded his parents to let him take over the lease of a bike shop going out of business, borrowing $23,000 from his grandfather at 15 percent interest. His mother tended the store while he was at school in the mornings. In his first year, he racked up $56,000 in sales. Now, Zane’s Cycles has annual revenue over $21 million.
As a small business ourselves, we’re inspired by these stories. We started Barnraisers, a full-service digital marketing agency, with the belief that what companies want is to be guided by data-driven results to help them achieve greater levels of success. We’re glad to have taken a similar journey to these inspiring entrepreneurs and to be able to help those starting out.
Do these small business stories inspire you? Are you motivated by the entrepreneurial spirit of the people who started them?