This week, the US is celebrating the small businesses that form the backbone of this country.
Today, there are nearly 30 million small businesses providing stable income to about 120 million people in America. Small businesses bring in big money too. They’re responsible for roughly half of the nation’s $17 trillion GDP.
Many of us have worked for a small business at least once in our lifetimes. Many of us are also in the middle of starting our own. This isn’t an easy path to take. But when you’re struggling with your decision, it’s easy to forget that nearly all of the world’s biggest businesses started out as under-funded companies running out of someone’s living room.
To celebrate Small Business Week, here are just four of the world’s most successful businesses and their humble beginnings.
Lynda was founded by Lynda Weinman in 1995 when she realised the guides used to teach web design were too complicated for most people to understand.
Frustrated, she decided to write one herself. After the release of her book, she started classes in a high school computer lab to teach interested students. For a few years, it looked as though Lynda Weinman has discovered a real money maker.
But whatever profits her company made soon disappeared during the dot-com crash. Weinman stayed in business, mortgaging her house and laying off most of her staff to stay afloat. But, that didn’t deter her.
Today Lynda is one of the most successful online education companies in the world.
The ecommerce giant was started in 1995 by Iranian businessman, Pierre Omidyar, as a small sales website operated from his living room.
Omidyar’s first sale on the site was a broken laser pointer which he put up as an experiment. Ebay was initially a free project, but after Omidyar’s internet bill started to shoot up, he decided to charge merchants to host their goods on the platform. After that, eBay blew up.
Unlike most new businesses, ebay was a success almost from the beginning. Only a year after it was founded, it was generating millions of dollars in sales and thousands of dollars in profits for its founder.
In the late 70s, John Mackey and Renee Lawson, an idealistic couple in their early 20s, decided to open a natural foods store in Austin, Texas.
The road to success for Whole Foods was not a smooth one by any means. John and Renee were evicted for storing food items in their apartment and were forced to lived in their store and had to take showers with the store’s dishwasher. Even after the store was up and running, they still faced discouraging setbacks. In 1981, a flood wiped out the store’s equipment and inventory. The uninsured Whole Foods lost half a million dollars.
Thanks to their loyal staff and customers, the store was able to clean up and repair their equipment and their creditors trusted them enough to give them time to pay back their debts. High quality products and some very valuable employees enabled the company to grow increasingly popular over the years.
Today, there’s a Whole Foods in nearly every city.
Ben and Jerry’s
Best friends, Ben and Jerry, were unhappy with their lives. Ben Cohen dreamed of being a successful potter. But despite his most earnest attempts, his pottery still went unsold. He hopped from one menial job to another, frustrated with how he was living.
Not far away, Ben’s best friend from Junior High, Jerry Greenfield, was stuck in a similarly unhappy situation. He’d been rejected from medical school for the second year in a row and was unsure of what to do next.
The two friends reconnected and decided to start a business. They chose ice-cream because it was relatively cheap to make and sell. Like most major businesses, unexpected obstacles meant they nearly closed down before they could make a profit. They had no employees for a long time and the fire service had to be called to their first store because sunlight melted the plastic they’d stretched across the holes in the roof.
Ben and Jerry’s is now one of the most successful ice-cream companies in the world. The business was sold to Unilever in 2000 and regularly records revenue of a quarter of a billion dollars.
Big Lessons For Small Businesses
So what lessons can you learn from the creation of these megabusinesses?
Firstly, don’t give up. Lynda Weinman believed in her business and stuck with it even through the dot-com crash. Her perseverance paid off years later when her web-learning platform became profitable again.
When considering which business to start, make sure you’ve identified a real need. All successful businesses do this, though some are better at it than others. Pierre Omidyar’s company was an almost instant success because he had an idea that nobody else did. Sure, it’s certainly more difficult to do this today, but it’s far from impossible.
Always treat your customers and business partners with respect. Without the help of their customers and their patient creditors, Whole Foods would have almost certainly gone out of business. Treating your business associates with kindness costs nothing, but could be your lifeline when you least expect it.
Lastly, never stop learning. Ben and Jerry learned to make their famous ice-cream by signing up for a home-based course from Penn State. When their business started to pick up, they learned how to run it by reading 20 cent brochures from the Small Business Administration.
No one can tell you whether or not to start a small business. But, being in a country like the US, there can never be a better place to try. Perhaps your business won’t be as successful as you hope. Or maybe it’ll be incredibly profitable and will provide employment to many people in your community.
With small business partners like Veem, your business’ journey will certainly be smoother sailing than most.
At Veem we’re proud to be built specifically for businesses like yours. Because we know every dollar out of your company goes right back into the economy, you receive the same customer service and transparency the big companies get, without the headache-inducing fees.
Think of these valuable lessons from the these founders, sign up for a Veem account and take the plunge. You have nothing to lose.