Biz Features

Groundbreaking Startup Idea Origins You Should Know

by . November 4th, 2014

So you want to start a business but unsure of what you actually want to sell. You are pressured. You want to build a business so revolutionary that it could change the way people live and how the market operates. What do you do?

How about getting some inspiration from successful startups?

Tim Finnigan from BlockShelf compiled 50 startup founders discussing the origin of their ideas in one nifty video. It’s about 40 mins long but it is worth the watch.

Here are some of the founders included in the video and their story on how their idea started:

Ben Silbermann – Pinterest

“We wanted to solve a problem that I really felt acutely online. We want to put collections which was something I always did as a kid and put them on the internet. I was a big collector as a kid. I collected butterflies and I collected stamps. And it felt like a few years ago, you could put anything online you wanted. You could put up your photos. You could write a blog. But there was nothing to put this collections on.”


Photo credit: Nick Scott/CNN

“I think that collections, even if we don’t think of them as the kid kind of collection, even if we think of them as your favorite books, your favorite movies, they tell a lot about exactly who you are. Collections are a way of people organizing the world around them and making sense of it. You don’t collect things arbitrarily. You think meticulously. ‘How am I gonna put this together? Who am I gonna share it with? What does it say about me?'”

Alexis Ohanian / Steve Huffman – Reddit

“It seemed like the internet was going to need a new front page, a broader one. because its content is being created even back in 2005 by such a broad array of sources that no one source could really lay claim to that unless it aggregated everything.


Photo credit: Anirudh Koul

“We were basically gonna take the mechanism of, the most popular things out of things that lots of people are submitting, and combine that with Slash Dot which actually had good content. Paul crystallized that content during the discussion. “That’s it. You guys need to build the front page of the web.”

Alan Schaaf – Imgur

“You couldn’t upload your image and share it out to as many people as you wanted. And the image sharing websites at the time had this business model that really makes no sense to me.

“The model was that I’m going to upload this image and share it out and then if it gets a certain amount of views or used a certain amount of bandwidth, it’ll get taken down and then it will get replaced with an image that says Upgrade to Pro and Get Unlimited Bandwidth and stuff like that.


 Photo credit: US Embassy New Zealand

“But it doesn’t make any sense to me because if an image is so popular, then it’s getting all of these views and it’s circulating around the internet, it’s going viral, why would you take that down? And then you’re only trying to monetize that one person who uploaded it. That Upgrade to Pro message is now only useful to that one person.”

Jeremy Stoppelman – Yelp

“My co-founder and I saw that there was this big thick book sitting on our desk and there really isn’t any good online equivalent. There’s nothing better than the old-fashioned yellow pages in 2004. And that inspired us to take another look and peel back. “Can we build something better? What would be better? What is it missing?” And the thing that we felt like it was missing was word of mouth recommendations.


Photo credit: Hubert Burda Media

“That’s how we love to find local businesses: asking friends, talking to people, asking the mailman ‘Hey, do you know a good person?’ What ever it is. And we thought, if we could capture that information that’s in everybody’s heads and put it online, and allow others to search over it, that would be the ultimate way to find a local business.”

Salman Khan – Khan Academy

“Some of you might know, about five years ago, I was an analyst at a hedge fund. I was in Boston and I was tutoring my cousins in New Orleans remotely. And I started putting the first YouTube videos up, really just this kinda nice to have, a supplement for my cousins. Something that might give them a refresher.

Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson

“And as soon as I put those first YouTube videos up, something interesting happened. You have this situation where now they can pause and repeat their cousin. Now they can, without feeling like they’re wasting my time. If they have to review something that they should’ve learned a couple of weeks ago, or maybe a couple of years ago, they don’t have to be embarrassed and ask their cousin. They could just watch those videos. And if they’re bored, they could go ahead and watch it at their own time at their own pace.

“And probably the least appreciated aspect of this is the notion that the very first time that you’re trying to get your brain around a new concept, the very last thing you need is another human being saying ‘Do you understand this?’ And that was what’s happening with the interaction with my cousins before. And now they can do it in the intimacy of their own room.”

Daniel Ek – Spotify

“I grew up in Sweden. I had access to all these broadband. It was so obvious to me after getting Napster, Kazaa, and all these services that this was the way that people wanted to consume music. And the more I started researching it, it actually turned out that there is half a billion people that consume music that way.

And at the same time, musicians were struggling and they can’t make money out of music anymore so they keep doing it for touring, and they keep doing all these things.


Photo credit: iabuk

“For me, at the time, it was quite obvious that, and when we started Spotify, this was in ’06, I chose those sole DRM track. They were copyright protected songs. You couldn’t play them anywhere. The quality was 160 kbps and at the same time, I could go to Pirate Bay or Kazaa and download the same song pretty much as fast in lossless quality and with no protection whatsoever.

“It was obvious to me that for the first time in history, the pirated product was actually better than the one you could buy so no wonder why people use pirated services.

“So that’s what we try to do with Spotify, and the goal was to create a service that was actually better than piracy. It was simpler. It was easier for people to discover and share music. It’s really all that.”

Dom Hofmann / Colin Kroll – Vine

“I wanted to be a filmmaker when I was a kid but I find it really hard to do. I bought a video camera. I didn’t buy an editing software because nobody buys an editing software in fifth grade. Just download it. It’s fine. Whatever. I got the whole arsenal of what you needed to put together a film and I spent a summer doing that and it was a lot of fun.


“And then I sorta just fell off. And I’ve been programming. I’ve been designing. And I guess film has always been in the back of my head. On my phone in particular, it was almost all videos. I don’t shoot a lot of photos. Even before we built this product, I was shooting so many shorter videos. I was super into video film, and I think everyone on the team is. And so it definitely manifests itself in the product.


It seems that most of these startup ideas were personal problems that each founder wanted to address. Some of them built upon existing products and iterated or improved them. So what can we get from them?

Sure, there might be that revolutionary product or disruptive innovation that could change the way an industry operates. But let’s be realistic here. It doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t sweat about thinking of being the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.

Address a problem. Build on it. Improve. Monetize. And improve some more. The revolution starts later.

Check the rest of the video above or click here.

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So what do you think of these startup idea origins? Hit us in the comments below!


Kevin is a reader first, a writer second, and a gamer somewhere in between. When not rooting for Tyrion Lannister for the Iron Throne, he's probably writing some morbid short story. He enjoys some surreal art, clever advertising campaigns, and a warm cup of coffee while reading Murakami.