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Blast from the past: Early pitches of 5 successful startups

Looking at how startups positioned themselves before making it big can be quite inspiring to your own fledgling idea.




Finding inspiration from big brands’ early days

It doesn’t matter how great you think your idea is. If you want it to go big, what does matter is how well you can convey the concept to others by answering the question: How does your idea plan to fill a gap in the existing market?

Through a solid pitch, these five tech startups convinced – or attempted to convince – potential investors that their ideas could grow popular, and thus become profitable. Now billion-dollar companies, let’s take a blast to the past to see where they went right.

1. AirBnB

When the idea pitched: 2008
Current value: $25.5 billion
Type of company: Travel, lodging
Early listed competitors: Coachsurfing,,, Craigslist

With AirBnB, you may find yourself spending a couple of days living in a tree house in Portland or renting a room in a villa in Spain. The app prides itself on offering unique experiences that help travelers experience a new city by living in the homes of locals.

In its early pitch, AirBnB (originally AirBed&Breakfast) noted the problem, or gap, in the market: Hotels “leave you disconnected from the city and the culture” and there was no easy way for people looking to rent cheap accommodation to get connected to those looking to provide it. The company’s solution was to build a mobile platform to “save money, make money and share culture.”

AirBnB has the most unique origin story of these five companies. Since original investors were skeptical that a blow-up air mattress business (how the startup originally presented itself) could work, the founders turned to creative means to fund their idea.

How creative? We’re talking designing and selling McCain-Obama election cereal, dubbed Obama O’s and Cap’N McCains.

Check out all of the pitch decks here.

2. AppNexus

When the idea pitched: Late 2007/early 2008
Current value: $1.2 billion
Type of company: Global cloud service, ad tech
Early listed competitors: Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Rackspace/Gridlayer, Google/Yahoo (not involved in cloud space, but ability to enter)

What initially started as a global cloud-based hosting service for all applications specified its focus to digital advertising. Its global angle worked; headquartered in New York, the company has offices in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

AppNexus’ pitch deck was incredibly detailed, including revenue sources, short-term and long-term differentiators and a growth timeline divided into three phrases.

3. Buzzfeed

When the idea pitched: 2008
Current value: $1.5 billion
Type of company: Media, tech, advertising
Early listed competitors: Mahaloo, Squidoo, Wikipedia, Reddit, Digg, Y! Buzz, viral agencies, BuzzMetrics, BuzzLogic, Rich Media Ads, Social Media Ads, FB’s beacon

On the first slide of its pitch deck, Buzzfeed included a quote from CNN: “We looked at Buzzfeed and saw the future.” On a later slide, Buzzfeed describes its potential to become “the most advanced network-aware, social media-aware system for publishing content,” a sort of YouTube or Wikipedia for viral content.

Now bringing in over 200 million unique views per month, these predications rang true.

4. LinkedIn

When the idea pitched: 2004
Current value: Over $28 billion
Type of company: Social media, networking, recruiting
Early listed competitors: Monster, Lexus Nexus

LinkedIn listed this problem in its pitch: “There is no effective, trusted way for professionals to find and transact with each other online.”

Outlining the difference between Internet 1.0 (search and transact via flat directories and Internet 2.0 (search and transact via networks), it labeled itself “a professional people search 2.0.”

5. YouTube

When the idea pitched: 2005
Current value: Acquired by Google in 2006 by $1.6 billion
Type of company: User-generated video sharing
Early listed competitors: Google Video, dailymotion, Vimeo, putfile

In a pitch that was released to the public in 2010 through a court case, the company’s purpose was clearly stated: To become the primary outlet of user-generated content on the Internet, and to allow anyone to upload, share, and browse this content.” The problem YouTube listed was how difficult it was to share video due to size (too large to email and too large to host on most websites) and a lack of format standardization.

The company’s goal was to create a community where videos became interconnected among Internet users, instead of wasting away as individual files on persona computers.


Staff Writer Larisa Manescu cringes at the question "Where are you from?" because it's a long story, but it's one she loves to share if you ask her. Her interests include storytelling, social justice and choreographed group dance classes.

Business Entrepreneur

PopCom designs smart vending machines to automate regulated products

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) PopCom raises $1.3 million in equity crowd funding to launch smart vending machines that will securely sell regulated products like cannabis and alcohol.



vending machines

Dawn Dickson is upgrading the beloved vending machine to thrive in the era of COVID-19. Dickson is the Founder & CEO of PopCom, a black-owned retail technology company whose mission is to “equip entrepreneurs and brands with future-ready retail solutions that allow rapid retail expansion, incredible customer experiences, and powerful sales data.”

Dickson started her entrepreneurial career with Flat Out Heels, rollable flat shoes that fit in a purse. The business was an e-commerce hit, relying on online data analytics to drive sales and growth. She found there was a disconnect in leveraging that technology when she looked for traditional vending machines to sell her products in places with high foot traffic like airports. Like any good entrepreneur, she created her own solution to the problem.

PopCom vending machines use facial detection and machine learning to create an interactive and intelligent retail experience. In 2020, the Columbus, Ohio based company is rolling out secure pilots for automated vending of regulated products like alcohol and cannabis. The machines rely on biometric analysis to verify identity, and can even anonymously evaluate age, gender, and emotional sentiment while a customer is browsing to convert sales. Products can therefore be available on demand with minimal human interaction.

The growth of this technology is timely as COVID-19 continues to ravage retail in the United States. “Vending machines and convenience services are becoming more essential, and retailers are looking for more ways to deliver their products direct-to-customer with less human friction. We are excited about what is to come,” Dickson told

And what is to come is coming quickly. Dickson just completed a record-setting equity crowdfunding campaign on Start Engine, being the first female founder in history to raise $1.3 million in just 47 days! Previously, PopCom raised an initial $1.07 million from their first campaign. According to SEC regulations, companies can raise up to $1.07 million from regulation crowd funding sources in a 12-month period.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to choose the right software for your business

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) What are the best software options for your company? Well, we have a list of suggestions and questions to help you determine what is best for you.



software products

It’s almost impossible to run a successful modern business without some kind of software to help you stay productive and operate efficiently. There are millions of companies and even more independent developers working hard to produce new software products and services for the businesses of the world, so to say that choosing the right software is intimidating is putting it lightly.

Fortunately, your decisions will become much easier with a handful of decision-making rubrics.

Determining Your Core Needs

First, you need to decide which types of software you really need. For most businesses, these are the most fundamental categories:

  • Proposal software. Customer acquisition starts and ends with effective proposals, which is why you need proposal software that helps you create, send, and track the status of your sales documents.
  • Lead generation and sales. You’ll also want the support of lead generation and sales software, including customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. These help you identify and track prospects throughout the sales process.
  • Marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising platforms help you plan and implement your campaigns, but even more importantly—they help you track your results.
  • Finance and accounting. With finance and accounting software, you’ll track accounts payable and receivable, and countless variables influencing the financial health of your company.
  • Supply chain and logistics. Certain types of businesses require support when it comes to supply chain management and logistics—and software can help.
  • Productivity and tracking. Some software products, including time trackers and project management platforms, focus on improving productivity and tracking employee actions.
  • Comprehensive analytics. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and other “big picture” software products attempt to provide you with comprehensive analytics related to your business’s performance.

Key Factors to Consider

From there, you’ll need to choose a software product in each necessary category—or try to find one that covers all categories simultaneously. When reviewing the thousands (if not millions) of viable options, keep these factors in mind:

    • Core features/functionality. Similar products in a given niche can have radically different sets of features. It’s tempting to go with the most robust product in all cases, but superfluous features and functionality can present their own kind of problem.
    • Integrations. If you use a number of different software products, you’ll need some way to get them to work together. Prioritize products that make it easy to integrate with others—especially ones you’re already using.
    • Intuitiveness/learnability. Software should be intuitive and easy to learn. Not only will this cut down on the amount of training and education you have to provide employees, but it will also reduce the possibilities of platform misuse in the future.
    • Customizability/flexibility. Out-of-the-box software products work well for many customers, but they may not suit your current or future needs precisely. Platforms with greater customizability and flexibility are favorable.
    • Security. If you’re handling sensitive data (and most businesses will be), it’s vital to have a software developed with security in mind. There should be multiple layers of security in place, and ample settings for you to tightly control accessibility.
    • Ongoing developer support. Your chosen software might be impressive today, but how is it going to look in three years? It’s ideal to choose a product that features ongoing developer support, with the potential for more features and better functionality in the near and distant future.
    • Customer support. If you have an issue with the app, will someone be available to help you? Good customer service can elevate the value of otherwise average apps.
    • Price. Finally, you’ll need to consider price. The best apps will often have a price that matches their quality; it’s up to you to decide whether the extra expense is worth it.

Read about each product as you conduct your research, and pay close attention to reviews and testimonials from past customers. Additionally, most software companies are happy to offer free demos and trials, so you can get some firsthand experience before finalizing your decision. Take them up on the offer.

Finding the Balance

It may seem like purchasing or subscribing to new software products will always improve your business fundamentals, but this isn’t always the case. If you become bogged down with too many apps and services, it’s going to make operations more confusing for your staff, decrease consistency, and drain your budget dry at the same time. Instead, try to keep your systems as simplified and straightforward as possible, while still getting all the services you need.

You won’t find or implement the perfect suite of software products for your business overnight. It’s going to take weeks, if not months of research, free trials, and in-house experiments. Remain patient, and don’t be afraid to cut your losses on products that aren’t working the way you originally intended.

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Business Entrepreneur

‘Small’ business was once a stigma, but is now a growing point of pride

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Small businesses make up the majority of companies, employers, and money makers of the American economy, that’s something to be proud of.



American small business

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, all businesses were small businesses. Independent craftsmen served communities with vital services. Small merchants opened shops to provide the community with goods. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals hung out a shingle to offer their services to neighbors. Small businesses were the norm. Some of the most beloved American companies started out local. John Deere, Harley Davidson, and King Arthur Flour, all got their start as small businesses.

Business changes led to a attitude change

It wasn’t until manufacturing allowed businesses to scale and produce more efficiently that the idea of big business became more important. Post-World War II, the idea of a small business became derogatory. It was the age of big government. Media was growing. Everyone wanted to be on top. Small businesses took a back seat as people moved from rural to urban communities. Small business growth plateaued for a number of years in the mid-20th century. Fortunately, the stigma of small business is fading.

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy

According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, the “American business is overwhelmingly small business.” In 2016, 99.7% of firms in American had fewer than 500 workers. Firms with 20 workers or less accounted for 89.0% of the 5.6 million employer firms. The SBE also reports that “Small businesses accounted for 61.8% of net new jobs from the first quarter of 1993 until the third quarter of 2016.” Small businesses account for a huge portion of innovation and growth in today’s economy.

Modern consumers support small businesses

According to a Guidant Financial survey, the most common reason for opening a small business is to be your own boss. Small business owners are also dissatisfied with corporate America. Consumers also want to support small businesses. SCORE reports that 91% of Americans patronize a small business at least once a week. Almost half of Americans (47%) frequent small businesses 2 to 4 times a week.

Be proud of small business status

Small businesses are the innovators of tomorrow. Your neighbors want to support small businesses, knowing that their tax dollars stay in the community, and that they’re creating opportunities within their own city. Your small business status isn’t a slight. It’s a source of pride in today’s economy. Celebrate the fact that you’ve stepped out on your own in uncertain times. Celebrate the dirt under your fingernails, literally, or figuratively, that made you take a risk to do what mattered to you.

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