Whether it’s closing a round of funding or an acquisition, we always hear about the successes of startups. However, we rarely hear about their beginnings. No, I don’t mean how they launched, but the very start of how the idea of some of today’s hottest startups were conceived. With that being said, here are eight startup stories we’ve compiled on how entrepreneurs came up with their innovative startup ideas.
While on a long-haul flight to Singapore connecting to Hong Kong, Kiip Founder Brian Wong noticed a lot of people were playing games on their touchscreen devices. He felt that the advertisements took up too much space on the screens and weren’t effective. From there, he came up with the idea of leveraging key moments of achievement to advertise. Instead of ads popping up and interrupting the user experience, he made it so that the advertisement was the reward after completing certain achievements within the game.
During the summer of 2009, Yale students Mahbod Moghadam, Ilan Zechory, and Tom Lehman were hanging out in a East Village living room when Lehman asked Moghadam the meaning of a Cam’ron lyric. Zechory also chimed in to help. As Moghadam, who was a huge rap fan, was breaking down the meaning of each lyric, he was interrupted by Lehman, saying that this would make a great website. Being a computer programmer, Lehman wrote the prototype that night and said that their new site would be the “Wikipedia of rap.”
After buying an iPhone in January 2009, WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum noticed new market opportunities in the seven-month old App Store. He then went to friend Alex Fishman’s home in West San Jose for a weekly get together; there they both stood for hours talking about Koum’s potential app idea. According to Forbes:
“Jan was showing me his address book,” recalls Fishman. “His thinking was it would be really cool to have statuses next to individual names of the people.” The statuses would show if you were on a call, your battery was low, or you were at the gym. Koum could do the backend, but he needed an iPhone developer, so Fishman introduced Koum to Igor Solomennikov, a developer in Russia that he’d found on RentACoder.com.
Koum decided to name his app “WhatsApp” because it sounded like “what’s up.” He incorporated WhatsApp Inc. a week later on his birthday, February 24, 2009.
After a night of clubbing with friends, Kogi Truck Co-founder Mark Manguera was eating with his friends at nearby taco truck when he said:
“Wouldn’t it be great to put Korean barbecue into a taco, put it in a truck and park it in front of the club we just came out of?”
His friends laughed at him, saying he was crazy and that it would never work.
After hearing Y Combinator Founder Paul Graham speak in Boston, Reddit co-founders Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman managed to get an interview to pitch their startup MyMobileMenu, a mobile food ordering startup. On the night of the interview, they got a call from Graham telling them they got rejected. They were devastated and got incredibly drunk that night.
The next morning, while on a train back to his home-base Virginia, Ohanian got a call from Graham telling them that if they came up with something new, they’d let them in the first batch of Y Combinator. In the conversation Graham said, “You guys need to build the front page of the Internet.” That conversation lead to the conception of the idea for Reddit.
The idea for SnapChat started when a buddy of co-founder Evan Spiegel was bummed about a photo he regretted sending. After a search for any app that featured disappearing texts, photos, or videos ended with no results, Spiegel and his co-founders saw an opportunity. Spiegel, along with co-founder Bobby Murphy then built the prototype.
Being an active Reddit user, Alan Schaaf was tired of all the other image hosts out there due to constrictions and usability issues. He then set off to create “an image hosting service that doesn’t suck.” The site originally started off as Schaaf’s “gift” to the Reddit community, but has grown tremendously over the years. As of today, Imgur has 130 million monthly unique visitors and recently raised $40 million in a Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz.
After quitting his job as an industry designer in Los Angeles, Brian Chesky drove to San Francisco to crash with a college friend, Joe Gebbia, whom also recently quit his job. They were both having financial issues and were having trouble making the upcoming rent payment.
Then they realized that the 2007 Industrial Design Society of America conference was coming up and that hotel rooms would be hard to get. Gebbia, who had three air mattresses suggested they turn their apartment into an “air bed and breakfast.”
After setting up a simple website, they managed to book out their whole apartment in three days, solving their rent problem.