Learning the origin stories of our favorite businesses is always fascinating. We hear amazing tales of overcoming, facing tough odds, and creating something out of nothing. Many stories go down in the history books as great feats of human accomplishment.
In the 21st century, the stakes are still high. We learn about the power of mindset, having a mission, and working with others to make unlikely dreams a reality.
We spoke with a handful of business founders about why they started their business and the spark that drove them in an entrepreneurial direction. This is what they had to say.
Astronaut? Rockstar? Celebrity chef? Kids have wild ideas of what they want to be when they grow up, but many people find real inspiration from their childhood that turns into a real, sustainable business.
These ideas may often be rooted in emotion or feeling, but the result is something concrete that helps thousands of people and creates a legacy for future generations.
“I began my journey with skincare when I was a child,” said Olamide Olowe, CEO of Topicals. “I was diagnosed with post-barbae folliculitis and struggled seeing flawless skin on my screen constantly. I was also blatantly aware of the lack of black representation in the skincare industry. Since then, I have set out to shake up the beauty industry, creating a brand that states you make your skin look good, not the other way around. We now have a dedicated following of men and women who celebrate mental health and their own feeling good in their skin.”
Connecting with like-minded communities of people is one of the greatest rewards for young business leaders who took a chance and pursued a dream.
Passion for Culture
The melting-pot of the United States is a perfect environment to start a business based on cultural pride. So many entrepreneurs have found success by bringing a unique cultural flair to this market in the form of a passionate small business.
Not only does this bring great new products to market, but it shows people from all over the world that it can be done again in the future.
“Coming from Sichuan, I was born into a community that took great pride in their mesmerizing flavors and cooking,” said Jing Gao, CEO of Fly by Jing. “I had a love and passion for the food from my home throughout my entire adolescent life. I eventually began my blog, Jing Theory, where I began to share my stories and experiences with the culture surrounding Sichuan foods and dishes. I went on to create Fly by Jing as a way to share these incredible flavors with people across the world. Combining ‘work’ with my love for my hometown and culture has been such a treat, and it brings new and exciting challenges every single day.”
Some products truly are portals to other cultures and atmospheres, which goes to show the power of a small business in the modern world.
Many business founders were dedicated to their creative careers long before they ever had the idea to venture out on their own.
The years spent grinding away in studios, salons, agencies, and restaurants – they all add up into a unique experience that can’t be replicated by anyone else.
These are the conditions in which amazing new companies are born.
“I started my business because of the sheer enthusiasm I have for my industry,” said Kaz Amor, Founder of VoCe Haircare. “The most exciting part of the beauty industry is being able to express yourself creatively. As a hairdresser, it is fun to see how trends evolve from previous trends, for example, how we see the 90s making a comeback in today’s hairstyles. I love to use my business as an outlet to express my creativity and love for all things beauty.”
Finding Life Purpose
There are so many entrepreneurs that started companies out of sheer necessity – they simply could not imagine themselves doing anything else.
Maybe it takes years of working for someone else, or just one pivotal experience that ignites a hidden passion within. No matter what, there needs to be a connection with a greater purpose that drives these individuals to create something much greater than themselves.
“Work takes on new meaning when you feel you are pointed in the right direction. Otherwise, it’s just a job, and life is too short for that,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. “You don’t have to choose between doing good and doing well. It’s a false choice, today more than ever.”
Helping Others Succeed
There’s no doubt that society has its fair share of problems. Economics, education, health – the list is endless. Many great entrepreneurs acknowledge these issues and strive to come up with a solution that benefits everyone without alienating or dividing people from one another.
“I have a huge passion for helping people get healthy and the need to make a change in the world,” said William Schumacher, CEO of Uprising Food. “Consequently, I began to combine my personal, health, and fitness experience in biohacking. I realized that there is a completely different way of eating that is not accessible to most people. My father also had a huge impact on my business. He was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I realized that it’s people exactly like him who face these types of health conditions. Many people like my father are what eventually inspired me to start my business.”
The trend of social entrepreneurship is a relatively recent phenomenon, but will surely play a more central role in the business world as startups seek creative solutions to problems.
There’s no better feeling than accomplishing a big personal goal and wanting to share it with the world. This is why social media loves stories about overcoming hardships and things like before-and-after photos.
In the business world, these transformation stories can form the foundation of a viable company. Many startups help people accomplish their own transformations with systems, services, or products, and do so successfully.
“I launched Love Wellness in 2016 after suffering from severe vitamin deficiencies,” said Lauren Bosworth, CEO of Love Wellness. “I was not well and struggled every time I would go to the drug store’s personal care aisle. The products I saw did not speak to me from a messaging perspective or from an ingredient perspective and I realized there had to be a better option. Working with my doctors, we began to create formulas and products that were made with clean ingredients and were body-positive in their messaging. Love Wellness was created to offer women personal care and wellness products that would better serve their wellness needs.”
Self-improvement is a huge industry in the modern world, and there is money to be made for founders willing to share their experience and capitalize.
Inspired by Role Models
A business doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to find success. Founders often seek inspiration from their own lives and learn from role models to gain insights that launch their companies into the stratosphere.
This might mean an everyday customer thinks of a superior business model, or an industry insider discovers a better way of doing things.
“Growing up with my father as a veterinarian allowed me to see the concern pet owners have when it comes to their pet’s health,” said Brandon Werber, CEO of Airvet. “My father, one of Los Angeles’ most respected veterinarians, Dr. Jeff Werber, and I partnered together to create a platform called Airvet where pet parents have 24/7 access to quality veterinary care with the most trusted veterinarians anywhere in the country within seconds.”
Some business ideas are so good, you wonder why they didn’t already exist!
Commitment to the Mission
High achievers are mission-oriented and put themselves through intense phases of self-discipline to accomplish the objectives in front of them.
Even when things get derailed due to unpredictable circumstances – 2020 comes to mind – there is always that central mission that brings a business leader back on track for success.
“Life comes in phases. We have family issues, divorce, cancer — you name it,” said Bedros Keuilian, Founder of Fit Body Boot Camp. “But if you have a responsibility, it must always come to the forefront. My mission is clear: to open 2,500 Fit Body Boot Camp locations so we can help 5 million people through fitness. I know that no matter the circumstances or phase of life, that responsibility doesn’t change.”
This goes to show how much of a mental game business leadership truly is.
We all have those experiences in life where we make an unexpected connection or encounter someone who totally changes our professional trajectory. Business founders have a special knack for seeking out these interactions and making the most of them, intentionally or not.
“My first business was when I met an inventor that had a patented device, and the first step I took was showing it to everyone to get their opinion,” said Sean O’Brien, CMO of Modloft. “I showed it to 10 people and all 10 said it was brilliant, so I decided to partner with him & build an e-commerce website & take it to market. Modloft was built on the core belief that when you surround yourself with beautiful and intentional things, you create a beautiful and intentional life.”
Entrepreneurs know how to make these connections work in a way that benefits everyone and creates an instant culture of creativity.
Focus on Values
Business founders often have a strong sense of personal values that pushes them in a certain direction in life. It could be an urgency to spread awareness about social issues, create a better future for the next generation, or just show some pride in who they are.
“4Patriots was created to ensure a better sense of freedom and self-reliance of all of our customers,” said Kamron Kunce, Senior Marketing Manager of 4Patriots. “We value freedom and it shows in our products. Our outdoor items and survival kits make it easier for anyone to have their family prepared for any situation. We also offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee to ensure that all customers find what they need from us.”
Not all values are universal, but those who connect on that level will definitely be loyal customers to businesses that show their true colors.
Convenience and Access
The world is not always fair when it comes to the accessibility of certain goods and services, and business leaders often find themselves starting their own ventures to make a difference.
When more people have access to key goods, they are better suited for success in their own lives, which then helps create a more equitable world overall. It’s a win-win for everyone.
“During the pandemic, it became a necessity that everyone has a facemask ready for them,” said Andrew Pires, CEO of The Maskie. “I’m sure we have been in this same situation. We got to the store, parked our car, and walked to the front door to remember I forgot my mask. With The Maskie, we wanted to ensure that this issue happens far less. Changing from a scrunchie to a face-covering means that the mask is never too far away. We want to make sure that everyone stays safe and continues to have accessible face coverings at all times.”
In a world that still has a long way to go in terms of equality, business leaders are on the frontlines by making real changes for the better.
Rebooting a Classic
Some of the best business ideas start from fresh takes on old ideas. Think about how technology advances or the ways in which education has become more streamlined over the years – the fundamentals largely remain the same, but the mechanisms improve by leaps and bounds.
This can apply to many products and services, even something as simple as coffee and tea.
“Playing volleyball with my best friend in college, we both realized the importance of energy in everyday life,” said Steve O’Dell, CEO and Co-Founder of Tenzo Tea. “We were big coffee drinkers that battled our exhaustion from our games with caffeinated beverages. As time went on, however, the crashes became too much. We stumbled upon a drink called Matcha, which at first we were not the biggest fans of, but we knew we could perfect it. We created Tenzo to give everyone a fully organic feel of matcha tea that gives energy all day without the crash. Our customers have found their own niche within our product and have felt the results.”
Fresh Takes on Current Trends
There’s nothing wrong with hopping on the bandwagon when it comes to trends in consumer goods, especially if you’ve got something new to offer the world.
The market is already established – it’s up to business innovators to put a new twist on the ideas to make them more appealing, accessible, and effective for everyone to enjoy.
“Many Americans have fallen in love with supplements,” said Jack Klauber, Founder and CEO of Everyday Dose. “They promise to give you nutrients that you lack and energy all day, but they never seem to work properly. At Everyday Dose, we wanted to give everyone a different sense of energy. Using a blend of mushrooms we pushed a supplement that gives energy all day, nutrients many people lack such as collagen, and even deeper sleep that produces more vivid dreams. Our product is here to make you feel more awake in the morning after a good night’s rest.”
There is no limit to health and happiness, so there will always be room for improvement in industries like fitness, food, and lifestyle optimization.
Moment of Inspiration
Getting through the daily grind is never easy, even with all the modern conveniences we have at home and in the workplace. If a company can offer a product or service that takes just a little pressure off the average person, they have a huge potential upside for success.
This sometimes requires looking at our own lives and seeing how they can be improved.
“The idea for the business was the first time AJ (co-founder) attempted an out-of-home diaper change on his daughter Willow, there was no public changing station in the men’s room,” said Artie Baxter, CEO of Paperclip. “He even asked a woman leaving the ladies’ room if there was one in there. After using his t-shirt on the countertop as a changing station, he thought, “there has to be a better way.” Later that day, we sketched out an idea that would bring style, along with enhanced functionality, (all while keeping sustainability in mind) we launched our first parental accessory: the diaper bag. Thus, Paperclip was born (pun intended).”
So many startup stories are rooted in humble beginnings, whether it’s a garage, a workshop, a sports field, or a home kitchen. People have an amazing capacity to innovate when they lean into their experimental side and play scientist in everyday scenarios.
“I became a producer of nutrition bars intended to serve a healthy afternoon snack,” said Lezlie Karls, CEO of Mid-Day Squares. “My company manufactures a range of protein bars made out of real chocolate and packed with protein, fiber, and real organic sugar which uses raw, vegan, gluten-free, and organic ingredients, enabling consumers to stay fit and satisfy their mid-meal hunger in a healthy way. In 2015, I started to really get into plant-based foods and was always messing around in the kitchen. Nick, who was my roommate and best friend since 14, was always turning to the typical confectionery chocolate, Oh Henry! to be specific. To convince him into my vibe of eating, I whipped up a version of what is known today as Mid-Day Squares. In 2017 Nick and I got married and decided we can make a food brand that resonated with our peoples, our vibe, and our way of living.”
What starts as a simple snack or makeshift invention can quickly build into something much bigger if you simply embrace the possibility of success and pull the right levers.
Response to Crisis
We learned first-hand that there is opportunity in crisis, however morbid that idea may be. People need extra help in tough times and are willing to put their money down to protect themselves and their families.
The result can be great products that result in a widespread improvement in health or preparation for future events. Everyone benefits, and navigating crises can even help bring people together.
“The team at Caligenix created our Immunotype supplement in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Tzur Gabi, Co-Founder of Caligenix. “Now more than ever, it’s crucial that we protect and supplement our immune systems. Formulated in an FDA-regulated lab, our supplement is designed to achieve maximum and universal nutrient absorption with DNA-based and evidence-based science. Immunotype works in tandem with your body’s innate ability to heal—because you deserve a vitamin as intelligent as your immune system.”
Businesses must be ethical with how they present their products in these contexts, but the market rewards those who maintain transparency and goodwill in tough times.
One-Up the Competition
Competitors can often be a source of inspiration, sparking the notion of “I can do better than that!” This is what drives innovation and pushes society forward on a macro level.
This is the case for everything from energy production to semiconductors and snack foods. One-upping the competition is a healthy part of market dynamics and a key driver of better business that improves our lives.
“I started a business to bring a product that the market needed,” said Grant Hosking, Co-Founder of Total Hydration. “Today’s water isn’t cutting it. We’ll even say that sports and electrolyte drinks around the market don’t cut it either. That’s why we created Total Hydration. Because we take our health seriously. Using premium and natural ingredients, our products are made right here in the U.S.A. and meet or exceed the strict manufacturing standards set by the FDA.”
It’s not always about competition for market share – there’s plenty of opportunities to create brand new segments that appeal to untapped audiences.
It sometimes takes reaching a low point to bounce back and build something from scratch. This is how many business leaders turned their own lives around and end up helping millions of other people in the process
“Because I experienced side effects of medications and felt helpless,” said Sarah Morgan, CEO of Even. “After my education and during clinical practice, I had a light bulb moment that this problem was fixable and I could be the catalyst to uniting medication and nutrition.”
These stories might not be so bright or cheery at the beginning, but the ending is worth celebrating.
Long Term Vision
A handful of entrepreneurs knew exactly what they wanted to do from a young age. They admired people in their field from afar and knew they could make an impact if they simply stuck with it for the long haul.
With this kind of vision and commitment, there’s nothing that could get in their way.
“Ever since I was 16 years old, I wanted to become a plastic surgeon and start my own practice,” said Dr. Robert Applebaum, CEO of Applebaum MD. “It is rare in my industry to be so sure of the career path at such a young age, but I have always looked at plastic surgery as a form of art that I admired. Being able to help people feel their best and diminish any insecurities they carry within themselves provides me with an immense drive to continue with my business and to further my knowledge and skills within my industry.”
Not everyone has that sense of certainty from a young age, but as soon as passion is found, it should be pursued in full.
Very few startup stories are just about the money. Sports cars and fancy clothes cannot be the ultimate goal. If anything, they’re a distraction from the mission. The people who get into this for the wrong reasons will not stick around for very long.
The best entrepreneurs understand this well and remind themselves to maintain a higher purpose as they go after their dreams. Helping people, being creative, building a great life for their families – these are the things that matter most.
“I started my business because I wanted to help people and do it on my own terms,” said Dr. Livingood, CEO & Founder of Drlivingood.com. “To me, being an entrepreneur is the ultimate expression of business, creativity, and creating something special that leaves an impact on the world and helps people be better people. It is not only achieved by creating a product that impacts customers but also creating a business that employs and empowers people and allows them to make a living and be a part of something special along with it. My passion and sense of responsibility to help and impact people is what drives me to work hard every day.”
Every business was started for a different reason, and they all have a unique kernel of wisdom to be harvested from within. Whether you’re toying with the idea of entrepreneurship or you’re currently all-in on a startup of your own, these are stories to keep close to the heart.