It doesn’t matter what level you are– you can always start your own business. The entrepreneurs on this list all have different backgrounds and stories that all led them to success. Whether they stumbled into business by accident or failed several times before figuring out, these inspiring ecommerce stories will remind you that even you could end up on this inspiring list one day.
Jessica Alba’s Ecommerce Startup Story: The Honest Company
When Jessica Alba was pregnant she read a book called Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home by Christopher Gavigan. In the book, Alba learned that most products are toxic, even baby products. Knowing she was going to be a mom, she knew that she had a responsibility to care for her baby and came up with the idea to create The Honest Company. Alba once said, “I was really inspired by my children. Being a mom and wanting the best, healthiest environment for my child to grow up in.” The Honest Company provides non-toxic baby products such as diapers and baby wipes.
The company originally started as a subscription service but over the years grew into an ecommerce store. As popularity continued to grow, an expansion into physical retail soon developed. According to The Wall Street Journal, in 2015 a new round of funding meant that the company was valued at $1.7 billion. Today, the company has recently hired a new CEO, Nick Vlahos, who is expected to transition the company into an omni-channel brand.
The big takeaway in Alba’s ecommerce startup story is to find an underserved market. She knew from experience that it was difficult finding an organic baby product company that she could trust. With her company, she developed a new niche to cater to an underserved market which led to her rapid success. She also grew the company’s sales channels as her business grew.
Jeff Bezo’s Ecommerce Startup Story: Amazon
Jeff Bezos quit his executive job at a hedge fund company to start a company because he saw that the internet was growing at a fast rate. Bezos once said, “The wake up call was finding this startling statistic that web usage in the spring of 1994 was growing at 2,300 percent a year. You know, things just don’t grow that fast. It’s highly unusual, and that started me about thinking, “What kind of business plan might make sense in the context of that growth?”
He started his online venture in his garage. Amazon originally began as a bookstore. During the holiday season, he started introducing other products like toys to boost his holiday sales. Eventually, Amazon became ‘the everything store’ selling every product imaginable on a single website. However, he introduced other products into his store slowly. Today, Amazon has their own line of branded products but also allows other sellers to sell their products on his marketplace. This strategy also allowed Amazon to grow even quicker.
The main takeaway from Amazon’s ecommerce startup story is to grow into a mega brand. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Start with a singular niche focus. Once you have a massive audience, start expanding into other product categories that are still relevant. For example, you can start as jewelry company and expand into accessories, then fashion, and so forth. Another key takeaway from Amazon’s story is that by allowing other sellers access to selling on their platform they were able to offer their customers a greater selection of products while also making money off of the sellers’ monthly fees as well.
Sara Blakely’ Ecommerce Startup Story: Spanx
Sara Blakely always jokes that her butt was her inspiration when creating Spanx. The idea was born out of a desire to have something to wear underneath her clothing, that wouldn’t create lines, specifically her white pants. She didn’t have a background in business or fashion and was selling fax machines door to door at the time. She took all her savings, approximately $5000, and went all in to start Spanx. She kept calling hosiery mills and was rejected by several companies. She noticed that men were creating women’s undergarments and had never actually worn the products to know why they weren’t working. However, she knew she had a great idea. At the time she couldn’t afford a lawyer to write up a patent for her so she bought a book and learned how to write it herself. Shortly afterward, she found someone who would work with her to create her idea as he had daughters who thought the idea was a great one. Those daughters ended up convincing their dad to help her.
Today Sara Blakely combines her physical retail presence with an online store. Her personal net worth is $1.03 billion as she’s the sole owner of Spanx, making her the youngest self-made female billionaire in the United States.
The main takeaway from Sara Blakely’s story is that you need to be resourceful in order to succeed. When she first started her business, she sought out manufacturers to create her product and kept searching until she found one that believed in her. When she didn’t have the financial resources to hire a lawyer, she took it upon herself to learn how to create her own patent. She didn’t let obstacles get in the way of her success. She was always able to find the workaround in order to achieve her goals.
Jack Ma’s Ecommerce Startup Story: Alibaba
Jack Ma didn’t seem like the type to be born for success. He grew up poor, was unemployable, he also got into China’s worst university after failing the entrance exam twice. However, his ability to overcome adversity eventually paved way for him to create a multi-billion empire. After two failed business ventures, he rounded up his friends and asked if they would invest in his business – Alibaba. The company quickly grew. Soon after, they were receiving investments from major companies worldwide. Alibaba’s IPO was the biggest one ever recorded at $25 billion.
Today Jack Ma is estimated to be worth $29.6 billion. He’s considered a celebrity in China as he’s helped countless small businesses grow into massive empires. Jack Ma once said, “Help young people. Help small guys. Because small guys will be big. Young people will have the seeds you bury in their minds, and when they grow up, they will change the world.” In 2016, Alibaba went on to make approximately $14.6 billion USD in revenue. All of Oberlo’s store owners use one of Ma’s brands – AliExpress – to dropship products to build their own successful businesses.
The main takeaway from Jack Ma’s ecommerce startup story is don’t let obstacles stand in your way. Jack Ma failed two entrance exams before getting accepted into university his third time around. Two of his businesses failed before he created a billion dollar empire. He had to ask for investments from friends before getting investments from major banks, Yahoo and other notable companies. He wasn’t born with special privileges. He worked hard, believed in himself and didn’t give up. Another takeaway is that if you help others make money, you’ll make money too.
Michelle Phan’s Ecommerce Startup Story: Ipsy
Michelle Phan’s began her career as a YouTuber where she’d regularly post beauty-related videos on her channel. When she started her channel in 2007, 40,000 people watched her video in the first week. Her channel eventually went on to have over 8 million subscribers. As her audience base grew, she noticed that people were constantly asking for the best products for them leading to the birth of ipsy. Ipsy is a beauty subscription service where customers get full-sized samples of products tailored to them in a beauty bag each month. Phan has said, “All of the development I do is with the help of business advisors who are more like my best friends than just business people. They helped me as I created Ipsy back in 2011…”
In 2013, she launched em cosmetics with L’Oreal. Phan ended up taking her cosmetics brand back from L’Oreal and is set to relaunch her brand April 17 where she’ll be selling eye liners and lip glosses. Today Phan is estimated to be worth approximately $500 million. She was also included in Forbes Top 30 Under 30 in 2015.
The main takeaway from Phan’s ecommerce startup story is to grow an audience organically before starting a business. Once you’ve built up an audience and understand what their needs are you’ll be better able to sell them your product because you’ll understand their specific needs better than anyone else. You’ll also have a huge audience that you can easily market your products too giving your business a big boost.
Michael Dubin’s Ecommerce Startup Story: Dollar Shave Club
You might not recognize Michael Dubin’s name but you’ve definitely seen his viral video. His brand, Dollar Shave Club, exploded in popularity after his infamous video where he talks about the service his company offers. Dollar Shave Club is a subscription service that sells razors for a dollar.
In 2016, Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion in cash. Dubin is still the CEO of the company.
The main takeaway from his ecommerce startup story is to make your brand stand out from the competition. His business model was unique as most don’t sell razors for one dollar. His video was funny and no one had really seen company videos like it before.
What are your favorite startup stories? Share your stories below!