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10 Startups that Made It Big

10. Craigslist

It doesn’t cost a dime for most people to use Craigslist, and somehow it’s still wildly successful. You can find a job, find a friend, buy a goat, get laid (sometimes for free, sometimes not), or hope the cute coffee girl you winked at doesn’t read the “missed connections” section just to laugh--you can even start a multi-million dollar business. Whatever your hobbies, it’s a safe bet that you’ve looked at your local Craigslist at least once.

Craigslist was founded by a man named Craig Newmark in 1995. Originally, it was just an email distribution list that highlighted events in the San Francisco Bay Area, but by 1996, it grew into a multi-category, web-based service. Craiglist’s growth, although slower than some of the companies on this list, was lightning fast for a website in the late 90s. In 1999, Newmark quit his day job as a software developer and turned his efforts to Craigslist full-time. Since then, Newmark has slowly started rolling out paid ads, despite his professed lack of interest in maximizing profits. Last year, Craigslist’s revenue doubled for a total of $335 million and they’re only expected to climb from there.

9. Paperless Post

Paperless Post is a website that sells virtual stationary. So, effectively, you pay money for cards that don’t actually exist. The end product is something you can't put in your scrapbook, and it looks exactly like snailmail. This seemingly crazy idea was the brilliant brainchild of siblings James and Alexa Hirschfeld.

The Hirschfelds founded Paperless Post in 2009 as an online-only business when they were only 23 and 25, respectively. Paperless Post has since grown to a multi-million dollar company. Over 40 million users 85 million cards later, they show no sign of slowing down. Users include big names like President Barack Obama, actress Emma Watson, and designer Zac Posen. If it’s good enough for the president, it’s good enough for me.

8. Mint

When it was founded in 2006, Mint must have sounded ludicrous. Its purpose is to keep you completely updated on all of your banking information, loans, and credit score. So they require every single most personal detail of your life. Then, they use those details to track how much you spend on groceries and gas, offer you new credit cards, and give a credit score that is more or less accurate sometimes.

Joking aside, at its core, what Mint offered was surprisingly simple: a way to track all of your finances in one convenient location. Although today, with 10 million users, Mint is clearly a home-run, founder Aaron Patzer initially struggled to find investors. In an interview with Mashable, he recalls getting at least 50 “no”s from angel investors and venture capitalists before hearing his first “yes”. His perseverance paid off because in 2009, he sold Mint for $170 million when he was only 28 years old. 

7. LinkedIn

LinkedIn, aka Facebook for professionals, was founded by Reid and Konstantin Guericke, Jean-Luc Vaillant, Allen Blue, and Eric Ly. Hoffman had previously tried to build a network called Socialnet that was focused on online dating, but it never took off. Hoffman then left Socialnet to work at PayPal, which is where he learned what it took to make a startup succeed, and succeed he did. LinkedIn today boasts 364 million users (which is more than the population of the U.S.) and 7,600 full-time employees based all over the world. Their huge user base pays off —in 2014, their total revenue was more than $2.2 billion.

6. Amazon

When Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994, there’s no way he could have predicted this level of success. Amazon is a business giant — they’re the ninth largest company in the U.S. and they have over 244 million users. 

First, they replaced every bookstore in the world, then they replaced books all together, and now you can buy pretty much anything at less than you can from a normal store (including granola bars and jewelry). Even grandmas who don’t think it’s safe to put their credit card number on the internet like Amazon, because you don’t have to leave the house for Christmas shopping anymore they just send it in a big bag, like Santa Claus. Today, Bezos is worth 39.2 billion and Amazon is making money hand over fist—they reported $43.9 billion (with a ‘B’) in earnings for 2014.

5. Twitter

Since Twitter was founded in 2006, it has exploded. “Hashtag” is a part of everyday lingo and everyone loves that the character limit turns the status updates of Facebook into witty and funny things--not paragraphs about how your man cheated on you but he’ll get his because you were too hott for him anyway.

Twitter’s early years were chaotic to say the least (at one point they had three different CEO’s over the course of three years) but that chaos didn’t slow them down. Over the course of 5 years (from 2009 to 2014) Twitter’s revenue increased from $25 million, which is nothing to turn your nose at, to a roaring $479 million. It’s safe to say that Twitter will only continue to grow in the coming years.


4. Instagram

Instagram was an instant hit. An entire website devoted to pictures, and it’s only real benefits are that you can make your pictures look cool. Nonetheless, it’s wildly popular. Who knew so many people wanted to see daily photos of your outfits.

Co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger launched Instagram on October 6, 2010. 25,000 users joined on the very first day. Three months later, Instagram grew to one million users. Less than a year since its founding? 10. Million. Users. It’s worth noting that they accomplished that growth with less than a dozen employees. In 2012, Facebook purchased Instagram for a cool $1 mil in a deal that helped out everyone involved. 

3. PayPal

In 2000, the American dollar is crashing, identity theft is running rampant, and hackers can get into almost anywhere. Enter PayPal, an online-only bank, so you never know who you’re talking to, but where you just need an email address to give someone money. And somehow, it worked out wonderfully.  Just two years later, PayPal sold to Ebay for $1.5 billion. As impressive as building (and selling) a successful company is, the coolest thing about PayPal is the “PayPal mafia.”

The “PayPal Mafia” is the term that their peers use to refer to the Mountain View (aka pre-Ebay) PayPal team. After the Ebay acquisition, PayPal’s 220-person team went on to found some really impressive companies, among them 7 “unicorn” companies (companies valued at more than $1 billion): Tesla Motors, LinkedIn, Palantir, SpaceX, Yelp, YouTube, and Yammer. 

2. Google

Google’s story is legendary in this day and age. Back in September of 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google with $100,000 and a garage rented from Susan Wojcicki. By December, PC Magazine called Google their "Search Engine of Choice of 1998." They only grew bigger from there.

Today, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are multi-billionaires, Susan Wojcicki is a Senior VP at Google, and Google might as well be the internet. Even though “Google” is everyone’s favorite verb for using a search engine, Google is far more than that. Google works with phones, cars, email, a word processing cloud, and probably at least a dozen other things no one has even heard of yet. 

1. Facebook

Before Facebook, we used to send letters, mail Christmas cards, and call our parents, but we also lost touch with our high school classmates, missed out on seeing our friends’ babies grow up, and frequently forgot important birthdays. Whether you’re fan or foe of Facebook, you can’t deny that it’s one of the biggest entities in the world: it’s a noun, a verb, and a website.

When 19 year old Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in 2004 from his Harvard dorm room, it was originally intended as a sort of meet and greet for college students (you had to sign up with a .edu address). One year later Zuckerberg secured nearly $40 million from various venture capitalists and from there, Facebook’s growth became unstoppable. 10 years later, Facebook boasts more than 1.4 billion active users, generates $12.47 billion in yearly revenue, and Zuckerberg, worth an estimated $38.6 billion, is the 11th richest person on Earth. Talk about a successful startup.