If you're just in the 'getting started phase' and want some inspiration, we put together a list of the most inspirational founders that are making at least $100k/year.
These businesses have grown because of their unique ideas and approach to launching and marketing - each story is worth a read to inspire you for your own business as they all talk about:
- How they came up with their idea
- Finding/sourcing/building the product
- Their approach to launching
- How they've grown the business
Here is the full list:
#1 - Brumate - $1.1M/month at 23 Years Old
Dylan Jacob started Brumate - a wine and beer cooler brand that has completely blown up.
In just a couple years, he grew the brand to over $12M/year, and did it as a solo founder and only 2 employees.
What's cool about Dylan's story is that he launched the brand before he even had a physical product. He created landing pages and tested with Facebook ads to validate the product:
Before investing in molds I wanted to be sure that there was an actual market for this product.
The initial design process started with a rough drawing that I brought to a local engineer for modeling. After the 3D model was done, I sent those files to a 3D printing lab called Xometry in Maryland for creation and then used that to pitch to local breweries that used 16oz cans.
After convincing one of the largest breweries in Indiana to carry the Hopsulator, I spent around $3,000 on creating 100 rough prototypes that we launched into their store for customer feedback.
After being in their store for around 45 days and running some targeted ads on Facebook to our audiences to begin gathering pre-orders / emails, I was confident there was a market for the product but I knew it still had a lot of room for improvement.
It ended up taking 13 more prototypes and almost a full year to finally get the final product molded, produced, and into my hands.
I launched our first product line in November 2016:
- We did $250,000 in sales from November-December 2016.
- $2.1M in sales in 2017, and we are now doing over $1.1M/mo in sales.
- In over 1000 retailers nationwide
- On track to do $20M this year with roughly 35-45% bottom-line depending on our ad-spend.
#2 - Framed Tweets $25K/month as a Solo Founder
Zach Katz launched Framed Tweets - a way for people to frame their favorite tweets and use it as art.
He dreamed about the idea of Framed Tweets a year prior to starting it and is now on track to make over $220K in revenues in 2020.
It was December 2015, and I was holed up in my room, avoiding the New Year’s party my parents were hosting downstairs. I was scrolling through Twitter, when suddenly, I thought, “what if you could frame a tweet?” (Honestly, that’s how most ideas come about, at least for me. They just randomly happen.)
That night, I tweeted the link to some random people who I found by searching Twitter. The next morning, I woke up to find Framed Tweets featured on Product Hunt, Mashable, Uncrate, and a few other websites.
You can frame any tweet you want, or pick one from our gallery of tweets from Twitter icons like Kanye West, Donald Trump, or Elon Musk. They come in three styles: Ornate Gold, Sleek Black, and Giant Canvases (which fill an entire wall)!
#3 - Mini Materials - $20K/month selling tiny cinder blocks
Mini Materials sells miniature masonry and woodworking supplies like cinder blocks, red bricks, pallets and lumber. He was a graphic designer by trade and wanted to create a super unique product.
They even got "free marketing" because the product was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.
The fact that it's such a novel thing meant that I got a lot of free marketing. We got featured on Uncrate, the Awesomer, and Laughing Squid right off the bat.
From Day 1, I have been super active on Instagram. Through posting every day, interaction with fans, and paying for a few shoutouts, we've grown to 45k followers in 2 years. Here's a typical week on Instagram:
Monday: I post something interesting I built with Mini Materials. Tuesday: I usually post a customer's build. Wednesday: Creative content. Thurs: #Throwbackthursday - I post an old video we have done. Friday, Saturday & Sunday: More creative content, especially videos.
What really works for the creative content? I've found that making miniatures out of our products in the style of "tasty" videos with fast cuts while keeping them under a minute to be the most engaging to our audience.
#4 - Plain Jain $275K/month in a college dorm room.
Plain Jane started growing weed in their dorm room at MIT & now have customers in 47 states & retail stores in more than 12 locations.
Plain Jane was the first of their kind to dramatically change the CBD market. What's unique about Plain Jane is that they've partnered directly with farms to bring customers the best prices, vs going through a middleman like the vast majority of CBD companies.
I believe a product has to have some essential attribute that makes it different from existing products. It can be price or a unique feature but something has to be different about it.
believe marketing and brand is a lagging indicator of your products. Simply selling something already out there with a different label doesn’t really appeal to me. Most of the work of selling a product is done by the product so differentiation can be crucial for growth.
We’ve bootstrapped ourselves to this point. Plain Jane didn’t really have a launch. We just put out a website using shopify and then tried to start selling. It was about 90 days after we started selling before we saw any real sort of usage or engagement.
When a customer wants to meet you in a Safeway parking lot to get their product faster, you know you have something.
#5 - ATC Memes $34,500/month
David Lombardo launched ATC Memes - He started out by creating a social media site that shared stories and funny memes for air traffic controllers that got super popular.
He then quit his full-time job in air traffic control to start a business that sold unique types of merchandise for those who have an interest in the aviation industry.
I made these assuming that people would know they were fake. In uploading some of the recordings to Facebook and YouTube, however, it became increasingly apparent that some people (even those who were aviation professionals) had no idea if they were in fact real or not.
People began to share them, tag their friends, and comment on them. In one week, the ATC Memes page went from 8,000 fans to over 40,000. People also began to submit more and more of their own creations and memes. People were also sharing the memes, which also helped create buzz and a more social effect for our page. We were viral.
Ultimately, my love of music, audio, humor, and aviation was combined in the most peculiar of ways. People were super enthusiastic and loved the audio. And it wasn’t even real.
After a few months of establishing ourselves on multiple platforms (including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, a blog, and others), my partners and I decided to try to monetize the page. At this point, we had over 140,000 followers and a very loyal following at that.
#6 - QALO $2M/month selling Silicone Rings
QALO was founded from a dining room table in 2013 & is now on track to make $2M this year. Neither founder had any prior experience building a business.
They found influential people to wear & promote the product which gave them a lot of press.
When we first started we had absolutely no idea how to start an eCommerce business.
Shamelessly, we sent emails and product to anyone we thought could prove the concept, as well as having an impact on a larger group. For us, those communities were military, firefighters, CrossFit athletes, and professional athletes.
We ran a google search for a user-friendly platform and found Shopify. The most important thing is getting a functioning site that can give you the opportunity to sell the product.
Great marketing will just make a bad product fail faster, so don’t worry so much about the bells and whistles, worry about creating a place to drive traffic to and learn about how consumers respond to your product.
#7 - Joker Greeting $50K/Month with Zero Employees.
For the last 3 years, Travis Peterson has been working on making musical greeting cards interesting again.
He Launched a Kickstarter and raised $92,073 in 30 days with no marketing.
I kickstarted the company with a novelty idea, a non-stop musical greeting card that looped for 3-6 hours.
- Hit our initial goal of $7,500 in first 3-4 days of selling after being picked up on CNET, and ABC News. Also featured on BuzzFeed and Gizmodo and more.
- We work with retailers and wholesale, but 80% of our buyers are organic.
- Became an expert on Facebook Ads - 95% of our growth comes from FB ads.
- This year, Joker Greeting is on track to do $600k/year with no employees.
#8 - Woodies at $250K/Month at 28 years old.
As a Solo Founder, Cory Stout launched Woodies - a wood sunglasses brand that mainly sells on Amazon for $25.
In 2018, he topped 3.5 million in revenue and is now on track to reach over 4M/Year.
I have basic knowledge of Facebook ads, email marketing, SEO, etc but Amazon just really really works for me, so I didn’t have the big incentive to build a huge list.
Amazon brings me 100 brand new customers everyday for very little acquisition cost. If I tried that on my own, it would take a TON of work and it wouldn’t be nearly as effective as Amazon, so I took the easy road on this one.
You are your biggest marketing tool especially early on. Be prepared to be the face of your company.
#9 - Combat Flip Flops $350K/Month with a team of 5.
Matt Griffin launched Combat Flip Flops - an e-commerce company employing artisans and entrepreneurs in Afghanistan, Colombia, Laos and the US.
Matt and his team made it on Shark Tank which was life changing for the business.
When Mark Cuban, Daymond John, and Lori Grenier agreed to invest in Combat Flip Flops, the mission was legitimized as a solid business.
The Shark Tank experience was life-changing on a variety of levels. First, it made us really focus on the mechanics of the business. Second, it took everything we thought we knew about our business and wrecked it. We saw 450% growth tied to media, and it imploded every process in the business. From the beginning, any time we saw a problem, we wrote it down, prioritized it, and then attacked it in order of priority in it's importance to sales and revenue.
Mark Cuban is our most proactive investor. He's provided a great deal of advice and assistance. Mainly, he got us a gangster bookkeeper (highly recommended). Our main interaction revolves around weekly and monthly updates. We haven't sold enough flip flops yet to get Mavericks season tickets.
#10 - Snappa $85K/Month as Two Friends
Two Friends launched Snappa - a SaaS app that helps non-designers create online graphics efficiently.
Interestingly enough, Snappa got their first few customers from their previously established blog.
When we first launched Snappa, we were getting pretty much all of our leads from StockSnap and our free stock photo blog post. I spent the next few months trying to optimize the amount of leads we could get from these two sources.
Things that worked well:
- We created an animated gif of our product in action and added that to a popup whenever an image was downloaded from StockSnap (this doubled our signups overnight).
- Relied exclusively on StockSnap and word of mouth to drive acquisition for the first year
- Focused on content marketing and highly targeted SEO efforts
- On pace to break $1M in annual recurring revenue by the end of the year
It seriously doesn’t matter if your first idea sucks and you completely bomb. You will learn so much in those first 3 - 6 months and at a certain point you need to apply what you’re learning from blog posts and podcasts.
#11 - $4.8M/month selling raver glasses
Dan Watkins built GloFX - they make those funky kaleidoscope lenses that you see at raves.
They started out with humble beginnings:
GloFX was originally a side project I started in my garage when I wasn’t at work, and I was just selling basic glow products to local clubs. I was putting the money I earned back into the business, and before I knew it, I was making 80% of my income by only putting 20% of my time into its creation.
And that’s saying a lot when you also have a 40-hour week job!
After the garage, we moved into a small office building. I first rented two small offices, each about 10x15 square feet. We were packed in! Within about a year, we expanded into over a dozen of these small offices. We had a small operation inside each of them. All-in, we were still under 2,000 square feet.
The business really took off as soon as I discovered diffraction grating film. This eventually turned into GloFX Diffraction Glasses, a key factor in developing our line of dimensional eyewear. I started GloFX with $400 in capital, and within 30 months, I watched that $400 snowball into $1,000,000.
#12 - Sweatpants overalls doing over $300K in sales
Another inspiring story is Kyle Bergman, the founder of Swoveralls.
- Started just 18 months ago
- Have done over $300k to date
- Did it all part-time and while in business school
- Made it on Shark Tank
At first, I was really just trying to solve a personal problem - Sweatpant overalls didn’t exist, and I wanted a pair. I’ve always loved overalls for reasons I can’t really explain. Perhaps it’s the fact they’re a little unique to wear...yet functional and practical.
Anyways, a friend actually sent me a BuzzFeed article about a novelty pair of sweatpant overalls they looked like denim overalls but were made of a sweatpant material. I said to myself, “Man, I would never wear those...but regular sweatpant overalls I would 100% rock!”.
Alas, “normal sweatpant overalls” did not exist online after a quick google search, nor in any stores that I visited. So I made them."
#13 - $21k/mo selling preppy clothing
After graduating from law school, Miriam Zelinsky decided that law wasn't for her.
One thing that I love about Miriam's story is that she doesn't do paid advertising, and her sales come from pure hustle and building connections with customers.
This has led her to build an amazing brand harnessed by customer loyalty and a focus on quality products.
I always knew I didn’t want to be a practicing lawyer and as law school came to a close, I knew I had to figure something else out. I was literally answering Bar exam multiple choice questions in my practice book when I knew I wanted to make a better quality tie for the young professional.
I had no experience in design or art or fashion – I just knew I always loved fashion and helping my dad pick out his Hermès ties every morning growing up. I also had no financial backing to make this idea even seem like a remotely good idea, but I believed in the idea and knew I had to at least try.
I’ve tried it all when it comes to marketing. I’m done AdWords, Google Advertising, Facebook and Instagram ads... I haven’t yet seen a meaningful difference there and I know that’s something I need to work on.
In order to make money, other companies tell me you really have to spend it. I’m not willing nor do I have the resources to put $10,000 minimum a month for it. It’s such a big risk, especially when that money pays for one month at a holiday market where I know I will make good sales and forge great new relationships with customers.
#14 - $25k/month selling chocolate d***s that you can send to your friends
One thing that I've seen have some success is prank and gag gifts.
Adam Elliot started D*** At Your Door - which sells chocolate you-know-whats you can anonymously send as a fun prank to friends and family... When they open the package, it looks like a fancy box or expensive present. However, when they actually open the package, it’s a 5oz. solid chocolate dong.
Dick At Your Door started when a buddy found a silicone penis mold at a random sex shop on a cross-country drive (thank you Lincoln, Nebraska). My buddy and I thought it would be hilarious to send molds of this in the mail to our friends. Disclaimer: It was hilarious.
We eventually threw up a website as a joke to continue the prank and people started reaching out that weren’t our friends. That was the lightbulb moment for us. From there it was perfecting the molding process, finding a real chocolatier (and eventually becoming chocolatiers ourselves), building a secure website that was legit and going forth into the world of dicks and candy making.
#15 - $10k/mo selling fancy pickle juice
Harris Derner started Brine Brothers - a company that sells pickle brine, or the juice that's in the jar after you finish the pickles.
They are currently generating over $10,000/month and are focused on growing the company now.
How did the idea come about?
In 2015, when I figured out Pickle Juice was curing my hangovers, I looked everywhere to find a drinkable pickle brine, but it did not exist.
It took me a couple months to realize that pickle juice was the main reason I was not getting a hangover. When I went out and took over 3 pickle back shots, the next morning I felt great.
We invested a total of $11,000 in 2016 and had a business valuation of $200,000 3 years later.
This led me to drinking the leftover juice in pickle jars before I went to sleep after a long night out. After chugging countless pickle jars, throwing out pickles, and straining all the seeds, I searched for a drinkable pickle juice and to my amazement I couldn't find anything.
#16 - Selling $600K in eucalyptus bed sheets
Colin McIntosh of Sheets & Giggles launched on Indiegogo and raised over $40K.
How many sheets companies are out there? A lot. So what sets Sheets & Giggles apart? Great, funny marketing and customer support:
I think the single best thing we do to drive conversion is answer all Facebook comments and messages within minutes.
I have the Pages Manager app on my phone (it’s terrible but it at least works), and when people comment on our ads we respond immediately to almost every single comment with on-brand straightforward answers, questions, jokes, pics, gifs, etc.
I honestly think that some people are deciding to buy before they ever click on our ads based on our answers to questions and interaction with commenters.
A lot of people (especially customer service folks) don’t understand that you’re not just responding to the person who asked; you’re writing marketing language to convert the thousands of people who will read the comments before clicking.
#17 - $1M+/year selling respirator masks
Michael Vahey started Breathe Healthy - they produce comfortable, wearable respiratory protection that also looks good.
As our air gets more polluted and viruses spread more easily in our connected world, respirator masks have become extremely common, and they will become more common in western countries over the next 10 years.
After leaving the military, I met someone who had developed a mask that was comfortable, re-usable, and worked very well for allergies and other general purpose uses.
The masks had gained a small following among some cancer warriors and people with COPD. COPD is a disease that causes difficulty in breathing and can be helped by the appropriate mask that allows room for oxygen tubes.
Research had told me that the global market for mask use was a very large market. Every hardware store and pharmacy in the US sell some sort of breathing mask.. However, none of them had the unique properties of the Breathe Healthy mask. This mask filled a niche between cheap paper masks, and expensive heavy duty respirators.
The developer of the mask was in retirement and did not have the desire to bring the product to market. So, in 2009, I purchased it from him for about the cost of a new car. About half of the cost was for inventory.
The remainder, or “goodwill”, was for the trademark, the associated trade secrets of the mask material, and the rudimentary website.
#18 - $25K/mo passive income business
Ashley Drummonds was a personal trainer going through a rough patch, that's when she had the idea for Abs Protein Pancakes:
Before starting ABS, I was a personal trainer for seven years with a passion for helping people feel better and hit their fitness/weight loss goals. I always had a desire to do something bigger that allowed me to have more free time while still helping people.
I am a foodie at heart and have a passion for breakfast food - specifically pancakes. Years ago, I came up with this protein pancake recipe that I used to make every day for myself as part of my breakfast routine.
At the start of 2014, I was going through a bit of a rough patch and needed to do some soul searching to figure out where I was headed with my life. I was still so passionate about the fitness/nutrition industry, but I knew that I couldn’t be a personal trainer forever and expect to make the money I wanted to make.
I spent about two weeks meditating, journaling, and setting out clear goals of what I wanted my future to look like. I came out of that realizing “the answer” or “the how” would happen naturally through life, the universe, and God.
One day I woke up and starting making my morning breakfast with my protein pancake recipe and the thought popped into my head: “I wonder if anyone else would eat this recipe as a way to help them stick to their nutrition. Could I package this recipe and sell it?”.
So I started telling my personal training clients about it and gave them little ziplock bags of single serving sizes to try. They loved it.
They started telling their friends about it, and before I knew it I had someone on social media reach out to me asking to buy it because they had heard about it from a friend. That was when I started realizing I had a product I could turn into something big.
#19 - $10k/month selling bidets
As a kid, Ahmad Iqbal traveled around the world and saw many cultures.
When he ended up in Canada, one thing he noticed was a difference in hygiene habits:
I didn’t know it at the time, but the traveling was what eventually gave me the idea to start Nadeef. Basically, in Middle Eastern countries and places like Japan, Korea, and Pakistan, having a bidet is quite common. In fact, the houses and apartments have hand-held bidets built in as standard.
So growing up with this bathroom hygiene I expected it as standard. Personally, I cannot use a bathroom now without a hand-held bidet - it just doesn’t feel right. There are millions of people that share this pain with me; my friends and family, and many people in our community.
The substitute that we immigrants have found is to use what we call a “lota” which is basically like a water-pot. It does the trick, but having a real hand-held bidet is like a 10x improvement on the whole experience. I used the water-pot method for all my years in Canada (I moved to Canada for university), but a few years ago decided this was a problem worth solving. And that’s how I got started with it.
I started by asking my target market (my friends and family in North America) why they don’t have hand-held bidets installed in their toilets. I got two recurring answers:
- Seems like it would be hard to install, needed renovations, or some very sophisticated plumbing.
- They don’t sell them here.
#20 - $3.2M/year photobooth company
You know those photobooths you see at weddings, and basically every event these days?
Well, these guys build their own custom photo booth machines made from iPads and other components and sell them!
In this experience economy, the event industry is exploding and nothing is coming up faster than photo booths.
In fact, from 2005 to 2012 more people searched online for photo booth rentals than for wedding DJs. It’s not uncommon to see seven-figure photo booth rental companies, and six-figure ones are a dime a dozen.
We specialize in making that happen for you.
Are you inspired yet?
We hope these 20 businesses gave you some inspiration and show you that anyone can start a business.
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Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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