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10 Companies That Grew From Side Hustles To Major Successes

Nadav Shemer
10 Companies That Grew From Side Hustles To Major Successes
What did the founders of Apple, Facebook, Instagram and countless other successful companies have in common? Their businesses began as side hustles that they worked on in their spare time while holding down jobs, in-between jobs, or studying.

If you’re working on a passion project or have one that’s just starting to form in your mind, then don’t give up your day job just yet… but keep persevering on the side.

For inspiration, here’s our list of the top success stories involving companies that started as side hustles (hint we’ve given away the top 3).

1. Apple

That’s right, the second most valuable publicly traded company in the world (after Microsoft) began as a side hustle. Steve Wozniak developed what would become the Apple I on nights and weekends–often in the cubicle at Hewlett-Packard where he designed scientific calculators during the day. Wozniak begged HP 5 times to make the Apple I, and HP turned him down each time. Thankfully, Steve Jobs recognized the potential of Wozniak’s side hustle, and so Apple was born.

2. Facebook

Thanks to the 2010 film “The Social Network,” this is probably the most famous side-hustle story in history. In case you missed it: Mark Zuckerberg launched what was to become Facebook from his dorm room at Harvard in 2004, along with 4 college roommates. Membership was initially restricted to Harvard students, but was quickly opened up to other schools and later anyone with a valid email address. Zuckerberg quit Harvard in his sophomore year to focus on Facebook full time, but returned in 2017 to receive an honorary degree.

3. Instagram

In 2009, Kevin Systrom was working at Nextstop, a location recommendation startup founded by ex-Google employees which was later bought by Facebook. In his spare time, he developed a platform called Burbn that combined location check-ins and popular social games. He later teamed up with Mike Krieger and, after concluding that Burbn was too complicated, they decided to focus on one specific feature: photo-sharing. This led to the creation of Instagram, which they later sold to Facebook for $1 billion. 

4. Craigslist

For a story of someone who made the best of being laid off from their job, look no farther than Craigslist founder Craig Newmark. In early 1995, Newmark was fired from his job as a computer engineer at Charles Schwab Corporation. Instead of looking for a new job, Newmark created a list of San Francisco art and technology events and began emailing it to friends. By the following year, his project had morphed into the website we know as Craigslist.

5. UnderArmour

In the mid-1990s, Kevin Plank was playing football for the University of Maryland, where he says he was the “sweatiest guy on the field”. Frustrated by having to wear cotton tees under his jersey, he developed an undergarment made from synthetic materials that kept him dry. Using the money he had earned from another side hustle selling roses on Valentine’s Day, Plank launched UnderArmour. He initially ran the business from his grandmother’s house, but it wasn’t long before the company was raking in millions–and later billions–in revenue.

6. Oculus VR

Love what you do in your job so much that you spend all your free time doing it too? Palmer Luckey did. During the day, he designed head-mounted displays (HMDs) for the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies. At nights, he developed the idea of creating a new HMD that gamers could afford. In 2012, He teamed up with 4 other people to found Oculus VR and launch the Rift, a virtual reality headset for gaming. They then raised $2.4 million in one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever, which they used to make VR headsets available to developers. 

7. Khan Academy

In 2004, Sal Khan was working as a hedge fund analyst at Connective Capital Management. Outside of work, he tutored his cousin in mathematics over the internet using Yahoo’s Doodle notepad. Other relatives and friends began to request tutoring and, due to the high demand, he began creating educational videos on YouTube in 2006. Three years later, Khan’s tutorials had become popular enough outside his own circle that he quit his hedge fund job and created Khan Academy–which today is one of the world’s most popular non-profit online learning platforms.

8. Groupon

Groupon would never have grown into what it is today were it not for the fact that co-founder Andrew Mason started it as a side-hustle. Mason received the first $1 million in seed money from current Groupon chairman–and his then boss at a Chicago web design firm–Eric Lefkofsky. Initially, Groupon was known as The Point and it was a tool that helped people collaborate together on various social goals. But Mason, Lefkofsky and a third co-founder decided The Point was too complex, so they stripped it down to just a website that connected subscribers with local businesses–Groupon.

9. Houzz

In 2009, Alon Cohen and Adi Tatarko were just a regular couple living in the Bay Area. Cohen was a senior director of engineering at eBay and Tatarko was working at a Hebrew language school she had helped create. After having difficulties with their own home remodeling, they launched Houzz, a website that offers help with DIY home improvement and interior design and lets you search for local professionals. What started as a side project soon became a full-time business and now has 17 million+ users.

10. Imgur

Competing with Under Armour for the title of second-most famous side hustle started by an undergraduate is: Imgur. The image-sharing website was started in 2009 as Alan Schaaf’s side project while he was a computer science student at Ohio University. It was an instant success, reaching 1 million total page views per day within 5 months – before Schaaf has even graduated!

From Side Hustles to Empires

The stories told here are just 10 out of countless examples of side hustles that turned into empires. Whether the activity you love working on in your spare time is just something you do for fun or something you think could become a billion-dollar business – embrace the side hustle!

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Nadav Shemer
Nadav Shemer specializes in business, tech, and energy, with a background in financial journalism, hi-tech and startups. He enjoys writing about the latest innovations in financial services and products.