7 of the Most Successful Companies That Started With Limited Funding

From Shopify to Microsoft, we look at seven highly successful businesses that started with limited funding.

  1. Shopify

Shopify is an app for creating online stores that is worth an estimated $1.3 billion today. When the company was originally created, however, it was not intended as an ecommerce platform, but rather an online store in its own right.

Shopify was originally called Snowdevil. When it went live in 2004, the online store sold snowboards. Over the years, Shopify has evolved into a leading ecommerce platform; in 2014, the year before its IPO, the company recorded $3.7 billion in sales. When it went public in May 2015, Shopify was valued at $1.3 billion.

2. Ipsy

In less than 10 years, Ipsy creator Michelle Phan has risen to fame as one of the world’s most successful social media influencers, with an estimated net worth of around $3 million.

Phan partners with digital stars in order to boost social visibility, brand awareness, and ultimately to drive product sales. She came from humble beginnings, growing up in a low-income Vietnamese family, selling candy to classmates to scrape together enough money to buy her first computer. Phan started her blogging career earning five cents a day, posting makeup tutorials on YouTube. Today, Phan’s makeup subscription service, Ipsy, is worth approximately $800 million.

3. Microsoft

Headquartered in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft is the world’s leading software manufacturer. Over the last three decades, the organisation has grown to enormous proportions, employing more than 90,000 people globally. In April 2019, Microsoft reached a major milestone when it became the third American company to be valued at more than $1 trillion.

Microsoft was founded in 1975 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The company was created by Paul Allen and Bill Gates, the developers of a BASIC (Basic All Purpose Symbolic Instructional Code) language for the Altair computer. At the end of 1975, their company had just three employees, attracting just over $16,000 in revenue from their only product, Microsoft Basic. By the end of 1978, Microsoft posted its first $1 million in revenue, with a workforce of just 12 employees. Today, of course, the company is a household name.

4. Plenty of Fish

Plenty of Fish creator Markus Frind was known for working just one hour a day to maintain his company’s $10 million annual revenue. He has attributed the success of Plenty of Fish to one key principle: keeping things simple.

Plenty of Fish is an online dating platform available in numerous countries worldwide. Frind launched the site in 2003 and ran it almost entirely on his own for a decade — with the site attracting as much as four times the traffic of online dating giant Match.com. In 2009, Frind employed just three customer service representatives and handled everything else himself. In 2015, Plenty of Fish was sold for $575 million to The Match Group, owners of Match.com, OKCupid, and Tinder.

5. MailChimp

MailChimp was founded in 2001 by Dan Kurzius and Ben Chestnut, who ran a web design business at the time. When customers asked them for a way to send emails, Chestnut revisited some code he had used in an earlier project. That code forms the foundations of the Mailchimp email marketing service, a platform that is today used in 175 countries worldwide to send over six billion emails every week.

As MailChimp grew, Kurzius and Chestnut gradually came to realise that their passion no longer lay in web design. In 2007, the duo closed down their web design consultancy business, channelling all of their energies into MailChimp instead.

Having gained extensive experience working closely with small businesses, Kurzius and Chestnut recognised what business owners most wanted from their digital marketing tools. The pair were not only knowledgeable but had working relationships with many up-and-coming businesses that their competitors lacked.

In 2019, MailChimp announced that its annual revenue would exceed $700 million, affirming the company’s reputation as the world’s premier email marketing platform for small organisations.

6. Shutterstock

Shutterstock creator Jon Oringer collaborated on a dozen different tech start-ups before buying an $800 camera and starting his own stock-photo business.

In 2003, Oringer shot around 100,000 different images over the course of six months, capturing anything he could think of. He published 30,000 of his images on his website, funding the venture himself.

Eventually, Oringer took a risk, enabling other photographers to contribute content. He decided to open Shutterstock up to the whole world, enabling anyone to give stock photography a try as a means of raising extra income.

Today, Shutterstock is a publicly traded company listed on the NYSE, and its market value a year after its IPO reached $2.5 billion.

7. Grammarly

Over the course of just 11 years, Grammarly has attracted more than 20 million active daily users.

Grammarly’s AI-based writing and editing tools help users communicate more effectively. Its free browser extension is available on Google Chrome, highlighting any spelling errors the user makes when they type anywhere on the web.

Headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in New York City, Kiev, and Vancouver, Grammarly received sizeable cash injections in 2017 and 2019. As of October 2019, its net worth was estimated at more than $1 billion.

Nicole Junkermann is a self-made, international entrepreneur and investor.