The path to starting your own business isn’t always smooth—just ask any entrepreneur. Sometimes, it helps to hear some business success stories, especially when you’re mired in the details of writing a business plan, getting a business loan, or finding a space. Even the most successful businesses—small, medium, and large alike—went through their share of challenges. And it can be so helpful to remind yourself you’re not crazy for feeling overwhelmed.
When you’re deep in the weeds of starting your business, it can be easy to think about quitting, but learning about other’s success can help lift your spirits. To comfort and inspire you, take a look at these 13 business success stories and what you can take away from each to inform your own business decisions.
MaryBeth Hyland started her company Spark Vision to help businesses create and maintain collaborative and inclusive office cultures. Specializing in millennial engagement, Hyland and Spark Vision offer workshops to help offices foster collaboration and connections among workers.
A child of abuse, Hyland has faced a lot of challenges to her self-worth and confidence. She uses her survival daily as a way to motivate her to succeed in business, drawing on the experience of her past to connect with the people she works with. According to her website, Hyland says she thinks that her experience makes her more successful in her company.
Everyone has a past—and not all are good. But whatever you’ve gone through, using your background and experience to inform your business can be great, even if your experiences aren’t. In Hyland’s case, she uses a troubled childhood to motivate and drive her, and her business benefits from it.
Eric Yuan came to the U.S. from China in the mid ’90s to pursue the internet boom—but it took a while to get here. The first eight times he applied for a visa, he was denied. Finally, on the ninth attempt, he was approved, but the process lasted two years.
In 2012, after working for a Silicon Valley communication startup for years prior, Yuan founded the communication platform Zoom. In an interview with Thrive Global, Yuan says that Zoom started as a daydream, a solution to a long-distance relationship that required a 10-hour train ride to see the other.
Now, Zoom is used by more than 750,000 companies to keep their teams connected through video and audio conferencing, collaborative workspaces, chat, and more. The real-time, face-to-face aspect of Zoom makes it easier for companies to stay in touch, so people can easily work from home or stay connected while working remotely or across several office locations.
Yuan’s difficult visa experience is a reality for many immigrants. But it’s also a testament to what can happen if you’re persistent and willing to keep trying. Whether you’re applying for an official document like a visa or a permit, or you’re simply trying to solve a difficult problem, determination will yield results—even if it takes a few years.
Virginia-based contracting firm, Halfaker & Associates, deals with data analytics, cybersecurity, software engineering, and IT infrastructure for the federal government. After being wounded in combat in Iraq, Dawn Halfaker worked on Capitol Hill and with various other contractors looking for a way to continue working with the military even after being medically retired.
As a veteran herself, Halfaker knows firsthand what troops in combat need to be successful, and she saw a disconnect between those needs and what people in Washington could provide. This inspired her to start her own company and offer real-world, common-sense solutions to help the military be more effective.
Halfaker’s story is a clear example of perseverance and getting back up after life knocks you down, and of what can be achieved with determination. But maybe what’s most important here is her commitment to her community—and how it benefits not only those around her, but also strengthens her business too. By hiring veterans and wounded warriors, Halfaker betters her company through their experience and expertise.
Arlete Turturro has a degree in merchandising from the Fashion Institute of Technology and a real estate license from Queens College. But these days she’s not working in fashion or real estate. She’s the owner of Night Owl Cleaning Services and has been for nearly three decades.
Night Owl offers a huge array of services, like commercial cleaning, providing party attendants, plus 24-hour emergency services, too. Turturro was featured by the Westchester Business Journal and awarded its Woman of the Year Award in 2004. She’s still going strong.
You can plan for a certain future—and end up in a totally different place. In Turturro’s case, she changed fields, somewhat drastically, a few different times before finding the business that worked for her and it’s paid off.
Staying flexible and open to new possibilities can lead to great things—as can hard work. Starting off by cleaning homes and offices by yourself on the weekends isn’t the most glamorous job in the world, but it is an important one, and it led to Turturro owning her own business.
Peter X. Kelly is a self-taught chef. He didn’t go to culinary school, but his restaurants and catering business bring in around $10 million in sales a year. He beat Bobby Flay in 2006 and rose to become an Iron Chef (no small feat, as any Food Network fan can tell you). He became the chef of the Highlands Country Club in Garrison, NY at 23 years old. When asked if he was nervous to be so young in such a position, he said he knew he could pick up and try something else if he failed.
He didn’t fail. Quite the opposite, actually. He went on to open Xaviars at Piermont and the Freelance Cafe & Wine Bar (both sold in 2016), as well as X2O Xaviars on Hudson in Yonkers and Restaurant X & Bully Boy Bar in Congers. Restaurants are risky, as anyone who wants to open one will hear over and over again. But in Kelly’s case, the risk paid off. Kelly is also a vintner (a wine merchant) and the founder and culinary director of Impromptu Gourmet, which delivers chef-inspired foods made with real, fresh ingredients to your door.
Entering the workforce can be challenging in any field, but especially one as competitive as the culinary world. Even if you don’t have the formal training, you can make up for it with passion and hard work—just like Kelly did. This approach doesn’t work for all fields, but it’s also not an uncommon story. If you’re willing to put in the work and learn by doing, you might be able to make it big.
Nellie Akalp is the founder of not one but two hugely successful companies—plus mom of four, author, and speaker. Even though entrepreneurs just starting out are often advised not to go into business with their significant others, she and her husband started MyCorporation.com in their living room, which they then sold to Intuit in 2008.
Then, rather than retiring on that sale, Akalp launched another company: CorpNet, which aims to help potential small business owners by preparing and filing the documents necessary to start a business in any state. For those already in business, CorpNet can help with ongoing paperwork like filing annual reports, changing a company name, and more.
In the Akalps case, ignoring advice not to go into business together resulted in a hugely successful company and a $20 million sale. When you’re starting a business, you’re being inundated with advice from all sides—the internet, other business owners, family, and friends. But in the end, you have to make your own informed decisions. Listen to advice from people who’ve been there before, definitely. But also remember that you’ve done your homework, and can forge your own path.
GooRoo is an online platform for finding tutors for everything from basic reading and writing skills to SAT prep to college admission essays and more. GooRoo has more than 1,000 tutors in New York and has facilitated upward of 3,500 sessions. And those numbers keep growing.
Scott Lee founded his first company, Peertutor, while he was still in high school in South Korea. Since then, he’s gone back to serve in the Korean army, founded an online clothing retailer, worked for JPMorgan, and served as an advisor for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. After everything, he’s come back to his roots in education to found GooRoo and offer affordable education services to people that need it—and can apply all of his worldly experience to better inform his business decisions.
Accumulating a diverse set of experiences can help you run your business best. As Lee says, all of his experiences helped him be a better CEO when he came back to what he knew he wanted to do in high school. Of course, you don’t have to abandon ship and return to the roost, but you do want to make sure you incorporate outside-the-box experiences so you can have outside-the-box thinking.
Founded in 2005 by former Wall Street trader Rhys Powell, Red Rabbit’s mission is to provide healthy, nutritious meals to school children. Red Rabbit partners with different schools to offer students made-from-scratch meals at affordable prices.
Powell started Red Rabbit after talking to parents who were struggling to consistently find healthy meal options for their children. Initially, the business plan was to have parents order meals online that would then be delivered to school. They quickly realized that doing things this way had a lot of costs and not a lot of return, so they switched their model and had the schools be the main customer instead of parents. Now, Red Rabbit delivers more than 20,000 fresh meals to students every day.
By switching his focus from the parents to the schools themselves, Powell was able to increase profits and lower Red Rabbit’s overhead cost. Being flexible and receptive to what the data is showing you is crucial to the success of your small business. No matter how thoroughly you plan and how well you stick to that plan, sometimes you’ll need to make adjustments. But if you stay flexible, your changes might pay off in major ways.
In 2010, Harriet Mills had a young child and had just gotten laid off from her sales job. Rather than panic, she took a breath—and a paint-and-sip class. As she enjoyed the outing with some girlfriends, she realized that group painting just for fun was a largely untapped area. Now, her own take on the idea, Wine & Design, has almost 80 franchise locations across the country, offering a range of events including children’s parties and corporate get-togethers.
Always be looking for the market whitespace to fill—that’s where your business is going to see success. And if you’re looking to start, pivot, or grow a business, your opportunities may come when you’re not looking for them. Heighten your senses for the areas within your own life that could use a little boost to start.
Grubhub has been operating since 2004, founded by two web developers who were tired of keeping track of paper menus and reading their credit card numbers on the phone. Seamless, which merged with Grubhub in 2013, has a similar origin story—just replace web developers with lawyers.
Today, Grubhub and Seamless combined serve from 80,000 local takeout restaurants in more than 1,600 cities in the U.S. They also have a corporate catering wing, so you can order larger-scale meals on a company card to the office in addition to their original single-meal model. But although they have the same parent company, they operate as separate brands, a deliberate choice.
Don’t reinvent the wheel—or your brand, in this case—if you don’t have to. If the easiest answer is simplest, don’t question it. When Grubhub and Seamless merged, they decided to continue to keep the two brands distinct. Grubhub founder Matt Maloney explains that both brands had good awareness and success independently of each other, just in different cities. By keeping both brands, they didn’t have to spend time or money rebranding or re-marketing either company.
After becoming a new mom, Sarah Paiji Yoo realized just how much single-use plastic she was using and became determined to use less. That’s when she founded her company Blueland. She made a company that creates tablets that become cleaners for your home when mixed with water in reusable bottles. They make a cleaning essentials pack that comes with cleaning bottles and hand soap bottles and the tablets for when you need a refill, as well as window cleaner, bathroom cleaner, and handsoap.
Yoo turned the dislike of single-use plastic into a business that helps eliminate further waste. She offers a solution to the single-use plastic products that are frequently used to package home-cleaning products to cut back on toxic and wasteful traditional products. Sometimes when you can’t find a solution to something, you just have to create it yourself.
While in school for sports science, Andy Puddicombe decided it was time for a change. That’s when he moved to the Himalayas and started studying meditation, which later led him to become a monk. After his return home, Puddicombe came up with the idea for an app to make meditation and relaxation more accessible to the general public. He ended up creating the app Headspace to help cultivate mindfulness and help people improve their meditation practice.
You never know what journey life is going to take you on or how technology could end up allowing you to share your passions with the world. The journey Puddicombe went on may have taken years but it led him to create the app that has more than 30 million users worldwide.
Finding the right person to take care of your children or loved ones while you’re at work can feel nearly impossible. Nobody can fully take your place, but many working parents and family members have to find the next best thing while they’re at work. That’s where Care.com comes in. It’s an online database that connects caregivers with those who looking for their services. The company was started by Sheila Lirio Marcelo in 2006 when she was a young working mom who needed some help taking care of her two children and her aging parents. The company is now also working to make systemic change across the care industry.
The success of Care.com goes to show that if you have a need, other people might have the same one as well. The difficulties Lirio Marcelo was having finding caregivers have proven to be ones many people struggle with. That’s what’s helped make Care.com such a success.
Although all these businesses have different backstories and circumstances, there’s a common thread tying them together: The road to business success isn’t an easy one. You’ll experience hardship, obstacles, detractors, and decisions that seem impossible.....
Written By Agbedorwu Noah