It’s not easy being the founder of a startup business. Partly because it's easy to get discouraged when an idea is rejected by investors or consumers, but mainly because you’re expected to come up with a big idea that’s going to change the world.
Investors look for startups that are innovative enough to disrupt their industries but still sane enough to make them a profit. However, many of the most successful businesses today once seemed like ridiculous ideas that would never even survive, let alone make any kind of profit.
Let’s take a look at a few examples...
Airbnb faced a lot of struggles when it first launched in 2007. The founders came up with the idea when they noticed all the hotels in their city were booked due to a nearby conference. So, they bought a few airbeds and launched a website called ‘Air Bed & Breakfast’.
Although it sounds like a great business idea now, at the time, most people thought the startup wouldn’t succeed due to obvious concerns over safety. Who would want to spend the night sleeping on a stranger’s floor with other strangers? After a year of being rejected by investors and in debt, the founders were able to raise their first $30,000 in funding by selling cereal boxes.
The company finally started to take off in 2009 when the focus was shifted from shared living spaces to all kinds of accommodation and today Airbnb is worth billions of dollars and used by guests and hosts globally.
In the early 2000s people were sceptical about using online banking and entering their credit card details online, yet PayPal made a brave offer by asking their users to connect their bank accounts with their email addresses and in return, they would be able to make fast, low-cost payments.
PayPal began as a money transfer service called Cofinity but finally began to see growth after becoming a payment method for eBay and being renamed to PayPal. Eventually, users started to appreciate the convenience of using PayPal on eBay and before they knew it, PayPal had reached 1 million users.
Today, it’s one of the most common payments methods used all over the world and since launching, the company has developed a mobile payment platform and acquired other large companies in the FinTech Industry.
Snapchat is probably the most ridiculous idea on this list. In fact, a lot of people still don’t understand the purpose of the app. What’s the point of sending someone an image, if it’s going to disappear after a few seconds? Well, the founders of Snapchat made a case for the platform by presenting it as a solution to users having to clean up their social media profiles before job interviews and editing out blemishes from candid photos. It was created for them to communicate with full human emotion and without having to conform to unrealistic beauty standards.
In 2011, Evan Spiegel (one of Snapchat’s founders) explained the idea behind the app in product design class at Stanford University and his audience believed it would never work. But Spiegel had so much confidence in the platform that as soon as a venture capital firm invested into the app, he dropped out of Stanford (even though he was only weeks away from graduating!).
By 2013, there were around 150 million snaps being sent every day and later that year Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) offered the founders $3 billion for Snapchat (which they wisely rejected). Not only has Snapchat grown to be one of the most popular social media platforms out there, but it has also been a pioneer in creating features such as filters and stories used by many of their competitors.
Like all startup success stories, Amazon had a rough start when it first launched. Despite not seeing any major profits for the first 3 years, Jeff Bezos decided to go public with the company. Market experts and analysts disapproved of this move and believed Amazon wouldn’t be able to compete with other book retailers such as Barnes and Nobles.
Amazon also launched at a time when the internet could barely support online transactions - another reason why everyone doubted the company. But Bezos believed in his business when no one else did and eventually the business expanded into the retailer giant it is today, selling everything from electronics to groceries.
You’ve probably read this post thinking ‘these ideas don’t seem ridiculous at all’ - and you’re right! I personally can’t go a day without sending a ‘snap’ to my friends and I haven’t made a payment with physical money in months.
However, at some point in time, the internet wasn’t advanced enough to handle virtual currency, people weren’t trusting enough to let strangers sleep on their floors and there was no need to send disappearing images to your friends. Most people would’ve thought you were joking if you had asked them to invest in your ‘online payment system’.
The bottom line is, doubters and rejectors are part of the journey that all startups have to face. But if you believe in your idea, you could be the next great startup success story and if your idea doesn’t sound crazy, perhaps you’re not thinking big enough!