Businesses have a life cycle, in many respects, and just like biological life forms, they are vulnerable to being killed off by bigger, better, or more fit competition. The fact is, there are some companies — or business ideas, at least — that never really take off. In fact, they never really get out of the hangar. Yet, there are those that seek to implement ideas that are so out of the box that it’s unlikely they should survive a year, let alone prosper.
Still others seemingly hit road blocks well into their life cycle — whether it be making a bad decision with their products, running into a leaner, meaner competitor, or simple bad luck. Yet, they somehow come out on the other side, against all odds.
Simply put, the business world is full of anomalies, and many of the companies that we know and love have made it to where they are through incredible strokes of genius — or luck. Still others have managed to take ideas that may be half-baked, or completely out there, and turn them into successful businesses. There are a million ways to become successful, but these companies have managed to pull it off in some of the most difficult or round-about ways possible.
Read on to see five businesses that almost certainly shouldn’t have survived, but did.
It’s been a long time since Roombas hit the market, but back when they were first released, there wasn’t much faith that the company behind them, iRobot, would be around for the long haul. The idea itself — a self-directing robot that cruises around your house, cleaning up after you and your family — is undeniably neat. But the big bet that iRobot took by mass producing them was that people would actually spend their cold, hard cash to take one home.
Evidently, the public was impressed enough to keep buying them, and today, iRobot has expanded into all different kinds of robotic helpers that you can buy. While there was no real reason iRobot shouldn’t have prospered, it was still a considerable roll of the dice by hoping people would want an autonomous vacuum cleaner.
Snapchat presents an interesting case. While the company is still in its infancy, for all intents and purposes, that hasn’t stopped it from garnering a valuation of $10 billion. The interesting thing about the company is that it also has no revenues. Zilch. Notta. Nothing. It has also made the company’s founder, 24-year-old Evan Spiegel, the world’s youngest billionaire.
So, how does a company with zero revenues, and has a product that sends pictures betwixt users before deleting them seconds later, not only survive, but thrive? That’s a very good question, and it’s not one that anybody can really answer. What will be interesting, however, is seeing how Snapchat survives in the long-term. Will it successfully be able to monetize? Or will that process push its user base to the next big thing? We’ll have to wait to find out. But for now, Snapchat is one company that has defied all of the odds.
There’s no doubt that Netflix was a fantastic business idea. Taking on the home-video entertainment juggernauts of Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video, giving the whole industry a kick in the pants, it was adopted by consumers, and ultimately has led to huge changes to the entire realm of entertainment. But the idea itself presented a rather daunting task.
The logistics alone of moving millions of DVDs around the country — all by mail, at first — is an enormous undertaking, but Netflix pulled it off. Not only that, but devising and implementing a way to stream thousands of titles directly into consumers homes? That’s another amazing feat all on its own. Despite all of the reasons that Netflix shouldn’t have been able to pull through, the company did.
Today, shipping company FedEx has an international presence, and is one of the biggest logistical companies in the world. But the company’s origins would put the successes of today’s tech startups to shame. Frederick W. Smith, the company’s founder, originally came up with the idea for FedEx from a term paper he wrote as a college student, on which he reportedly received a “C” grade.
With the plan in hand, Smith went on to build his company from scratch. If that’s not enough resistance to overcome, Smith one time didn’t have enough money to pay his employees, so he took a rather drastic step: He went to Vegas. By gambling his final $5,000 at the blackjack tables, Smith won $27,000 — enough to pull through in the end. How many other businesses had their fate decided at the tables in Vegas?
Most might be very surprised to find Apple — currently the world’s most valuable company — included among these other companies. Apple didn’t get into the game on a half-baked idea, or suffer from poor decision making. No, they simply ran out of steam in the mid-1990s. And it was at that point that the company almost went the way of the Dodo.
Instead of watching his rival wither and die, Bill Gates — yes, Microsoft’s chief and Apple’s leading competitor — threw the company a life preserver of $150 million. From there, Apple has grown by leaps and bounds, giving us innovative products like the iPhone and iPad. But without a helping hand from none other than Bill Gates, the world would be without Apple.
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