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Meet Your Heroes: 11 Successful Small Business Stories and How They Did It

No two small business success stories are ever going to be the same. 

Most small business owners that make it big will tell you that it is all about hard work, determination, and an air-tight business plan.

But, aren’t you, too, sick of hearing the same generic advice about company culture and values for small businesses? 

This time, we’re going to analyze small business success stories and the entrepreneurs behind them to give you a real education in how businesses make it big.

1. Zoom, by Eric Yuan

Zoom landing page

Zoom is a video calling software company that is as popular in high school as it is in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street.

For a decade, video and conference calls have been getting progressively better on mobile phones, thanks to apps like Facetime and WhatsApp.

It’s part of the general rapid switch to mobile devices, now contributing to 51% of all web traffic. 

Sure, working from your mobile is likely coming soon. But, right now, millions of people require computers for work. 

Since 2019, Zoom has increased its quarterly revenue by over 1000% because it didn’t take its product for granted on either desktop or on mobile. 

When we needed to talk with our team members, friends, and family members across the country the most, Zoom was the best option on the market at exactly the right time.

Actionable takeaways:

  • Don’t ignore existing markets
  • Always invest in user-experience

2. Arianna Huffington

Huffington Post Life landing page

Co-founder of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington redefined content for the social media generation.

From day one, Huffington Post stories were designed to be shareable on social media. That meant making posts shorter and content more viral at the same time.

It was this effort that brought the company from a small venture with a few journalists into a business success with millions of visitors every month.

CEO Arianna Huffington realized that the engaging content of a blog format could also work for news and politics. 

Her stories all but transformed new media journalism by aggregating popular content from more established news sources and presenting it in a viral format.

By stamping its logo across every story that went out, The Huffington Post soon established vital customer trust in its content.

At its peak, The Huffington Post was bringing in around 100 million unique users every single month. 

Actionable takeaways:

  • Focus on customer trust
  • Established brands aren’t always effective brands

3. Red Rabbit, by Rhys Powell

Red Rabbit landing page

It might sound like the plot of a straight-to-DVD movie but the truth is that Red Rabbit has been feeding schoolchildren across the USA for over 15 years.

Rhys Powell’s company didn’t stop there though: his values as an entrepreneur saw his company move from catering services into education and charitable causes too.

Powell had a computer science education, but decided to start a business providing healthy school meals in New York.

Powell knew that the US National School Lunch Program would reimburse schools up to around $3 per meal.

All Powell had to do was prove he could provide healthy food for under $3 per child and he knew he would be looking at a win-win of massive proportions.

Actionable takeaways:

  • Own your business values from day one
  • Always look for new funding sources for your small business

4. DC Mosquito Squad, by Damian Sanchez

DC Mosquito Squad landing page

Pest control isn’t the most glamorous of business ownership opportunities, but Damian Sanchez knew that the people of Washington D.C would always need the services of his company.

The problem was that even as a small business he wasn’t able to keep track of all his leads in Washington D.C. and that was putting a limit on his business’s productivity.

Sanchez invested in software to automate his sales and marketing options and take care of everything in between. 

He started tracking data and found he could onboard his team faster, renew customers with just an email address, and scale his small business into something much, much bigger.

Actionable takeaways:

  • Invest in automation software
  • Analyze your company pain points for growth solutions

5. GooRoo, by Scott Lee

GooRoo landing page

GooRoo’s value statement couldn’t be clearer: “everyone deserves a good education.”

As a small business owner, Scott Lee had a problem: how do you tackle something as big as education?

His business solution was to draw upon his own experiences of tutorship in high school. Incredibly, even at that time, he managed to connect 1000s of Korean students with mentors.

Lee refused the one-size-fits-all approach. Realizing that no two students have the same needs, he devised a small business platform to connect students with the perfect tutor.

These days, the GooRoo team includes over 1000 tutors in New York alone, with more in training across the country.

Actionable takeaways:

  • Use your unique experiences to your advantage
  • Build your small business on airtight values

6. The Presentation Source, by Laure and James Widmaier

Even in the saturated market of the late 90s tech boom, Laure & James Widmaier saw a space for an opportunity in audiovisual services.

True entrepreneurs understand that if you can innovate effectively, then there is always room for a small business to grow into a large one.

Rather than focusing on selling to other businesses, The Presentation Source directly targeted government sector organizations that often have big budgets and one eye on the future.

After 20 years of integrating its technology into large government organizations, outside investors finally saw this success story for the huge opportunity it really is and bought out the founders.

Overnight, Laure and James Widmaier went from entrepreneurs and small business owners to multi-millionaires.

Actionable takeaways:

  • Research your niche thoroughly, there is always space for innovation
  • Use new technology to solve old problems

7. The Body Shop

The Body Shop landing page

In 1976, Anita Roddick opened the first Body Shop in Brighton, England with 15 products, and no training or experience in business. 

These days The Body Shop boasts more than 3000 stores in over 70 countries – it’s clearly a small business no more. 

Roddick’s business success is built on her experience and her ethics. Her travels had brought her into contact with women around the world and the natural, reusable products they used to clean and care for their bodies.

Just like that, her small business was born and in a time of growing resentment towards big cosmetics companies, stories like Roddick’s began to resonate with the general public.

Actionable takeaways:

  • Pay attention to social trends
  • Analyze your competitors for pain points and complacency  

8. Canva

Canva landing page

Entrepreneurs and Canva co-founders Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht are sitting on a $6 billion business. 

The DIY graphic design software will be familiar to most – you’ve probably used it yourself. After all, it is free and so much easier to use than Adobe’s Creative Suite.

Just like Slack, Canva had to overcome the freemium paradox of millions of people loving your service, but millions of people simultaneously never, ever wanting to pay for it either.

Business stories like this are everywhere in the SaaS era, but Perkins had a plan: invest in UX, offer professional tools, and a subscription will be cheaper than hiring a graphic designer.

In the age of social media, every small business needs slick graphics. If you’ve got an eye for design, Canva allows you to do it yourself in minutes, without having to hire external help.

Actionable takeaways:

  • Invest in UX
  • Try alternative business models

9. Getty Images

Getty Images landing page

Whenever you read a page online, you’re going to see images too. Look at the small print and the chances are that it will read something like this:

 ‘Getty Images. All rights reserved. Copyright 2021’

As small business stories go, the experience of entrepreneurs and founders Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein is a classic.

In the 90s stock photos were just as prevalent as they are today, but with no platform to license them on the web in existence, the pair spotted a huge gap in the market and became the very first business to do so.

Actionable takeaways:

  • Identify fragmented markets and take advantage of them
  • Research new technologies that can impact small businesses

10. SurfHappy

Surf Happy landing page

SurfHappy is a small business with one goal: to spread positivity.

Founders Erin Champ and Josh Hallmark knew their community like the back of their hand and used it to build a surf apparel brand.

They put together an eCommerce site as quickly as they could and started selling their products.

As expected, the effort of the couple paid off: the clothes were an instant sell-out, and the experience was a success. 

Now, the pair are slowly expanding their line, and staying within the needs of their community.

Actionable takeaways:

  • Build your brand around a community
  • Only invest in products that you really understand 

11. Lapsa

Lapsa landing page

Lapsa is a sustainable fashion brand from Lithuanian designer and founder Agne Kairyte-Timinskiene.

Breaking into such a saturated niche is never easy, but by focusing on providing high-quality designs and cruelty-free products, Lapsa soon made a name for itself.

With just an online store and a powerful brand, Lapsa went from a hobby to a full-time business.

Kairyte-Timinskiene credits her brand values for the rise of her brand, constantly communicating the things that make her products unique has brought her the success she deserves. 

Actionable takeaways:

  • Communicate your unique selling point in your business branding
  • Focus on one aspect of your niche and perfect it

What are you waiting for?

Most of these people started small with a bright idea and grew their business into what it is today.

Focus on your own experience, use what makes you unique to identify a niche, and do it in the way that no one else knows how to do.

If you don’t know how to get started in business or think that you don’t have the money, then check out our guide for new entrepreneurs. 

It doesn’t take much to start that online shop or that blog just like The Huffington Post and with Zyro, you’ll have your small business up and running in minutes.

Written by

Author avatar

Damien

Damien is a self-professed, semi-obsessed word-freak that wants nothing more than to tell small-business stories in a big way. Always scouring the market to find the right tools for the job, he is focused on finding creative ways to bring them to the people. When not writing, Damien is known to be a massive music bore, amateur radio enthusiast, and woodland wanderer.

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