Welcome to Biz Brainstorms –
My name's Connor. I send a weekly email with business ideas, trends, and stories.
These emails are designed to be skimmed. Enjoy. 🧠 ☕️
Here's a reminder to anyone trying to build something great:
Some of the biggest & best companies in the world were started by accident.
This is why I am a firm believer that activity > direction when starting a business.
Here are 8 examples of million (sometimes billion) dollar companies started accidentally:
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Guinness Book of World Records
Started by Guinness beer, The Guinness Book of World Records was a way to informally record drinking records in bars.
But, with a decline in book sales in recent years (and beer), they had to create a new business model — selling clout.
They now market & sell to organizations looking for PR opportunities (like the largest awareness ribbon created for Breast Cancer Awareness Month)
Here's a good NPR podcast on the full business model.
Outcome: The world record book alone employs over 400+ people & does an estimated $105.8M/yr
In 1919, Henry Ford bought a sawmill to produce wood parts for his plants.
There was a ton of waste during the production process. So, Ford teamed up with Edward G. Kingsford to change that.
It was Kingford's idea to convert the excess waste into "blocks of reconstituted charcoal"
Outcome: Kingsford Charcoal is the #1 Charcoal company in the U.S. today. They convert one million tons of wood waste into charcoal briquets every year and do $27M+ in revenue.
Slack is the poster child in the software world for reaching a $1B valuation in only 8 months with no advertising or CMO.
But Stewart Butterfield (founder of Slack & Flickr) didn't set out to build a messaging app. His real goal was to build games.
Butterfield was building a game called Tiny Speck. He even raised 15.7M from Accel and Andresson Horowitz. After 2 years, the product failed.
But they built Slack (which stands for Searchable Log of All Communication and Knowledge) during the time to help their developers and team communicate while building Tiny Speck.
And... well, the rest is history.
Outcome: Slack sold to Salesforce in 2021 for 27.7B and did over 902 million in sales in 2021.
Michelin Star Restaurants
Back in the 1900's Michelin tires were born.
But... there was a big problem at the time. They were a french company... and the French only had 3,000 drivers on the road.
3,000 drivers = 12,000 tires = a not so great business.
So, the Michelin Tyre company invented the Michelin Red Guide – a travel guide which quickly sold 35,000 copies. This guide included destinations, repair shops, and knowing the French obsession for cuisine... restaurants.
In 1936, they even introduced their famed 3-star system.
Their current guide includes over 20,000 independently reviewed restaurants, only 10% of whom have a star.
According to some Michelin star chefs, the reception of a star is huge for business:
Outcome: Well, to be honest, the Michelin Star business is actually unprofitable. But Michelin considers it a marketing expense. They actually lose $15M/yr on it. But that's pennies compared to their tire business bringing in €23.8B/y
Bonus: There are 137 3-star Michelin restaurants in the world
Bridgestone Tires and... Golfballs?
OK, I have no idea what's up with tire companies not wanting to be tire companies.
But... it's working?
While most people know Bridgestone for their car tires, they are also one of the largest golf ball producers in the world.
In 1935, they were looking to expand their product line and realized that tires and golfballs have nearly the same materials required for both products. So, they entered the market.
Outcome: Bridgestone Tires did 24.7B in 2021 but their golfball business also does an estimated $60.9M.
William Wrigley Jr. originally started out with selling soap for his father and eventually went on to sell baking powder.
To reward large buyers he gave them chewing gum as a premium.
After realizing that the chewing gum was far more popular than the baking powder/soap he was selling, he went all in on chewing gum.
Wrigley Jr. was also a marketing genius – shifting the public perception of gum being something considered rude to claiming that "gum could soothe not only nervous stomachs but stressed-out minds, making the product more patent medicine than candy".
Also, original Wrigley ads were pretty hilariously disturbing.
Outcome: In 2008 Wrigley’s was acquired by Mars for $23B.
Stacy's Pita Chips
Stacy Madison and her husband owned a sandwich cart in Boston.
At the end of every day, they'd take leftover day-old pita bread, chop it up and bake it for customers as they waited in line.
Turns out, customers wanted the free chips a whole lot more.
It wasn't until the cold Boston winters when the food cart slowed on foot traffic outdoors that she began really selling pre-packed pita chips to convenience stores.
Outcome: They sold to Pepsi in 2006 after hitting $65M in sales for $243M
If you've ever shopped online, there's a 99% chance you bought on a Shopify built store.
But despite their massive success, Shopify didn‘t start as all-in-one commerce platform.
The original idea was to sell snowboards online.
But, limited by lack of commerce software products at the time, Tobias Lütke set out to build there own website builder for e-commerce stores.
Outcome: Shopify is worth $55B and did $5.6B in revenue last year
✌️ See y'all next week,
PS – This was a new format. What did y'all think? Any feedback is appreciated.
Let me know what you think of today‘s edition:
PPS – During the research of this newsletter, I learned that Walgreens invented the Milkshake & used to sell prescription Whiskey during the prohibition.