20 Startup Success Stories

And What You Can Learn From Them

Group of business people high fiving.

Ever wonder how the products and services you use every day got their start? For some, it wasn’t a straight path to success. Whether it is difficulty securing funding or a necessary rebrand, startups aren’t always successful overnight. These entrepreneur success stories highlight resilience, creativity, and, in some cases, a stroke of good luck. If you’re ready for entrepreneurial inspiration, keep reading for 20 of the most motivating startup success stories.

Recommended: Learn how to launch your own company by reading our comprehensive guide, how to start a startup.

20 Entrepreneur Success Stories

No matter the industry, the startup and business world is filled with inspirational and unique stories. If you're a startup founder or even just interested in the startup space, learning from those that have forged the paths that exist today can be one of the most powerful learning tools. Across tech, health and wellness, ecommerce, and more, we've sourced some of the most notable success stories in business history.

Tech Startups

1. Facebook

When Facebook was launched in 2004, it took only 24 hours to gain over 1000 users. Flash forward to today, Facebook is one of the most valuable and influential companies in the world. Originally developed as a platform for college students to connect, Facebook rapidly grew to become the most popular social media platform for users of all ages and walks of life.

2. Airbnb

One of the most wildly successful (and profitable) startups, Airbnb was created by Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia to provide a different kind of lodging experience — one that was less expensive and more accessible. It started with the duo purchasing cots to rent out in their New York dwelling to the $100 billion company it is today that provides homeowners the opportunity to make supplemental income through short-term lodging.

3. Pinterest

Pinterest founders Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp, and Paul Sciarra wanted to create a startup that would appeal to everyone — not just tech-focused Silicon Valley workers. They didn’t stop there; however, the founders continuously improved on Pinterest, basing their changes on the customers they had rather than trying to focus on markets that weren’t using the platform. This strategy created an optimal experience for users and built Pinterest into an $11 billion company.

4. Buffer

Joel Gascoigne took his social media content scheduling platform, Buffer, from zero to paying-client status in just seven weeks. Gascoigne initially came upon the idea as a solution to his own problem—he wanted to schedule tweets several times a day without having to set a day and time for each one. He tested the initial concept on his favorite social media platform—Twitter—asking his followers for their thoughts. Today, the platform serves more than 73,000 customers. 

See our list of the best tech startups to watch.

App Startups

5. Robinhood

The origin story of Robinhood, a stock-trading app worth over $1.3 billion, starts with a lot of rejection and entrepreneurs who just wouldn’t give up. It took founders 75 pitches to find venture capitalists willing to back the app that hadn’t even been fully developed yet. Robinhood is a great example of the power of a great idea and founders that are dedicated to making their idea a success.

6. OfferUp

Many startups are designed out of a desire to solve a widespread problem; OfferUp is just one example. When founder Nick Huzar simply had too much stuff at his house that he wanted to get rid of, he created an alternative to eBay and Craigslist with OfferUp, a user-friendly app that allows users to buy and sell items easily and safely. In addition, the app includes shipping options, setting it apart from platforms like Craigslist. Today, OfferUp is reportedly worth $1.4 billion.

7. Uber

Another example of an entrepreneur solving a widespread problem with their startup idea, Uber was created by StumbleUpon founders Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick to address San Francisco’s taxi problem. Uber is worth $75.5 billion today; however, the road to success was not always smooth. By overcoming challenges concerning local government regulations and pricing, Uber is a great example of meeting challenges head-on to create a sustainable, rapidly growing startup model.

8. Angry Birds

By 2009, Finnish college students Kim Dikert, Niklas Hed, and Jarno Väkeväinen had tried 51 business ideas and failed at every one. When one of the founders sketched a rather mean-looking bird, everyone agreed it would make a great game character. Angry Birds was initially a side hustle for the trio, but by focusing on the iPhone market and tapping into the psychology of users, Angry Birds soon became an international phenomenon, garnering 4.5 billion downloads and spawning movies and merchandise.

See our list of the best app startups to watch.

Food & Beverage Startups

9. Instacart

Apoorva Mehta, the founder of the grocery-delivery app Instacart, started with only one shopper: himself. To improve the app and create the best possible experience for shoppers and customers alike, Mehta would use the app to order, shop, and deliver groceries to himself. This process paid off with Instacart becoming a startup valued at $2 billion just three years after the inception of the business.

10. Siggi’s

When Siggi Hilmarsson moved from Iceland to the US to attend business school, there was something missing - an Icelandic yogurt known as Skyr. Using recipes sent from his mother in Iceland, Siggi’s was born. At the time, yogurts in the US were mostly super processed and loaded with sugar. Siggi’s provided a healthy alternative that ended up making the startup a global success.

11. Impossible Foods

In 2011, Impossible Foods founder Pat Brown decided to leave behind his career as a biochemistry professor at Stanford University to pursue another goal: start a plant-based meat alternative company that would reduce the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. Today, Impossible Foods is worth billions and served in restaurants all over the US.

12. Misfits Market

Misfits Market is the brainchild of Abhi Ramesh. The concept is an online grocery delivery service focused on selling organic produce that is less visually appealing at low prices. The idea spawned from a 2018 apple-picking outing when Ramesh witnessed first-hand how much produce was wasted due to small imperfections. Misfits Market set out to put that wasted food to good use. The company has now received over $300 million in funding and was recently valued at unicorn status.

See our list of the hottest food and beverage startups to follow.

Ecommerce Startups

13. Allbirds

Allbirds, the wool-based athletic shoe company, wouldn’t exist if co-founder Tim Brown hadn’t received a $100,000 research grant from the New Zealand wool industry to create a product he thought of while captain of a college football team in New Zealand. Moreover, the startup was funded initially through crowdfunding via Kickstarter. A testament to the power of creative funding sources to power a great startup idea.

14. Warby Parker

The founders of Warby Parker asked themselves one question: why can’t you buy eyewear online? So, they set out to provide an answer and give customers the opportunity to try on five pairs of glasses that were delivered directly to their door. However, the start of the popular eyewear company began with a mistake that ended up paying off. They launched their website without a sold out function, and when orders flooded in after a GQ article titled the startup “the Netflix of eyewear,” Warby Parker reached its first year sales target in three weeks with over 20,000 orders.

15. Reformation

Reformation, a sustainable fashion company with a cult following, was created by Yael Aflalo in 2009 with the intention of creating a new kind of millennial-clothing company. With an emphasis on doing things differently, Reformation began producing sustainably made garments with an unorthodox presentation and providing quarterly sustainability reports to hold the company accountable. Today, Reformation brings in an annual revenue of roughly $100 million, an impressive feat for a startup of its kind.

16. Etsy 

Today, we know Etsy as the online handicraft store that unites 1.7 million retailers selling 40 million products across 190 countries on one platform. Back in 2005, though, it was nothing more than an idea between three friends. Chris Maguire and Haim Schoppik jumped in to support Robert Kalin's idea of an online group of sellers to give his own handmade furniture business a space to sell from. Between 2008 and 2012, Etsy weathered many storms, which eventually resulted in Kalin being the only remaining founder. Today, Etsy is the 116th most valuable company in the world (by market cap) and is valued at $12.79 billion. 

See our list of the top ecommerce startups to watch.

Health & Wellness Startups

17. Glossier

What started as a beauty blog turned into the culture-shifting, millennial pink beauty company that is now valued at $1.2 billion. The founder, Emily Weiss, prioritized branding and providing products that women wanted — not what they were told to want. The strategy paid off and within four years of starting Glossier, the company was already worth $400 million. With accessible price points and a range of product offerings, Weiss’ goal to “democratize beauty” was a rousing success.

18. Everlywell

After years of frustration trying to find solutions to health problems, Everlywell founder Julia Cheek decided to take matters into her own hands. She then went on to offer the same option to consumers. Everlywell is a direct-to-consumer medical test service that provides a range of at home medical tests from food sensitivity to metabolism that takes on the traditional lab testing method and gives agency to consumers over their health. Today, Everlywell is worth roughly $175 million and started on the popular TV show Shark Tank.

19. ClassPass

Classpass, the platform that gives users access to fitness and wellness classes at a discount on one easy subscription platform, is a testament to the power of retooling a business to make it work. Founder Payal Kadakia took what was a great idea with no investors or users to create a new business model. Now, Classpass estimated worth is $610 million with partnerships more than doubling through the years 2018 and 2019.

20. Headspace

The story behind the Headspace meditation and mental wellness app is certainly a unique one. Founder Andy Puddicombe spent several years traveling across East Asia, Australia, and Russia. Puddicombe learned the art of meditation during his travels and, upon returning to the US, wanted to find a way to share this with the masses. Although many other meditation apps exist, Headspace has seen phenomenal success in this space by combining elements of freemium features, content creation, gamification, and influencer participation.

See our list of the top health and wellness startups.

The Takeaway

As you can see, there is no one size fits all approach to creating a successful startup company. However, there are some commonalities between these wildly successful entrepreneurs — they were creative and dedicated to making their business idea work. Whether your startup idea is a solution to a widespread problem or a unique take on an existing industry, your startup success story begins with your hard work and commitment.