From the largest global corporations to the tiniest mom-and-pop shops, every business begins with an idea — and someone brave enough to believe in it.
Some of the world's most successful entrepreneurs never planned on owning their own business until a single moment inspired them to change their life and the lives of countless others. While starting a new company might seem like risky business, it's that very risk that makes it worth doing.
When the right idea comes along, it can be more powerful than anyone — even the person who came up with it — could ever imagine.
Not only do these six entrepreneurs show genius can strike at any time and any place, but their successful businesses prove that even the smallest spark can set an entire industry on fire.
1. Payal Kadakia, Founder and CEO of ClassPass
They say: "Do what you love," and Payal Kadakia did ... but only after she couldn't. A lifelong dancer, she wanted to try a new ballet class in New York but, after an hour of scouring the internet, she didn't find a class that both met her needs and fit her budget.
"In that moment, I realized the pain point that most people must face in finding [exercise] classes to take, and staying connected to their hobbies and passions even when they are motivated to do so," she told A Plus via email. "I wanted to create something to alleviate that friction."
Two weeks later, Kadakia quit her job to start Classtivity, the earliest iteration of ClassPass, a monthly membership service that allows users to attend single fitness classes at numerous studios.
Since revolutionizing the way many people — including herself — work out, Kadakia said, "I haven't looked back."
2. Greg Marsh, Founder and CEO of KeyMe
Greg Marsh proves the best ideas often begin at home, or rather, just outside of it.
After moving from San Francisco to New York to attend Columbia Business School, Marsh couldn't help but notice his wife's tendency to forget her keys and, consequently, get locked out of their apartment. Each time, she'd have to spend hours and hundreds of dollars on a locksmith.
"It was such a horrendous customer experience, [but] it got my wheels spinning on how to come up with a better solution," Marsh told A Plus via email. "The more I researched the locksmith industry, the more convinced I became that it was ripe for disruption." After discussing his business idea with some robotics engineers, Marsh dropped out of school and founded KeyMe, a startup that lets users store, share, and duplicate their physical keys using digital scans.
More than 1 million keys and $30 million in funding later, KeyMe has come a long way — and Marsh shows no signs of stopping. Besides allowing users to store secure digital copies of their keys, the company has recently deployed self-service kiosks across the country to make instant physical copies.
"An idea is worthless without proper execution," he told A Plus. "To build something great you need great people … Without a doubt, the single most important element to helping us build our company has been the team."
3. Eric and Seema Brodie, Co-Founders of BikeBus
Seema and Eric Brodie
For Eric and Seema Brodie, an entrepreneurial power couple, their "a-ha" moment began — where else? — at the dinner table.
During a family discussion, the topic of transportation, and Eric's experience as an attorney dealing with such matters, came up. "We just started thinking about the transportation realm and how our dreaded commutes every day are so painful," Seema Brodie told A Plus. "Everybody experiences it who commutes — not only in a car, but on public transportation where it's crowded in the mornings and the afternoons." The Brodies wanted to make those commutes less painful — figuratively speaking, anyway — by enabling people to work out on their way to work.
After spending a few hours trying to figure out how to put a gym in a moving vehicle, the couple decided to go on separate walks. They reunited on the boardwalk in Asbury Grove. "We were … holding hands, talking about the future, and all of a sudden that spark — that eureka moment — happened," Seema Brodie said. "We were like, 'Wouldn't it be incredible if we could come up with something that is so unique? Well, let's just do it.'" That unique idea was BikeBus, a one-of-a-kind mobile spin class that plans to rev up long commutes between Boston suburbs and the city.
"It's pretty important that even though the idea might be crazy, you have to enjoy what you're doing. We're probably having the most fun that we've ever had in our working lives doing this," Eric Brodie added. "It's the first time we've been entrepreneurs with our own skin in the game, so to speak … I think it would be a lot harder and a lot more stressful if we weren't enjoying it."
4. Ben Hindman, Co-Founder and CEO of Splash
Unlike many entrepreneurs, Hindman didn't have his eureka moment until after he and CTO/Co-founder Brett Boskoff started their business. Splash first began as a no-frills, logistics-focused technology for event planners. "We basically launched a website to promote our events, and it was just a very simple URL 'check out this event' kind of thing," Hindman told A Plus.
It wasn't until after he and his team created the website that they realized other people might want to use it as well. "So we made it so that anyone could create a similar website to the one we created … We made it very changeable, malleable, but no matter what, it always looked cool," he added.
After launching that "simple" event website builder, Hindman was surprised when big brands like Spotify, the NBA, and Nike all started using it. "It was so weird that they needed something so simple. That was kind of the 'huh' moment," Hindman said. "It just became clear that they needed this. That very simple website turned into a company that's growing really fast."
As Hindman has developed the original website into a complete event marketing software solution, he's learned the most through hands-on experience — and encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to do the same. "Don't listen to what people say," he said. "Watch what they do."
5. Marcela Sapone and Jessica Beck, Co-Founders of Hello Alfred
Marcela Sapone and Jessica Beck were inspired to start Hello Alfred — a weekly personal butler service named after Batman's famous assistant — when they asked themselves a pretty loaded question: "How are we going to have a family, a career, and a personal life?"
"We didn't know so we reached out to other women for answers. We called women in venture capital, media, and tech," the co-founders told A Plus via email. "We found that they all had a similar answer and that was: help." Often, that help came in the form of a nanny or personal assistant, but Beck and Sapone knew everyone didn't have pockets as deep as Bruce Wayne's. They wanted to take that luxury expense and make it accessible to more people.
"At 27 years old, we couldn't afford personal assistants," they said. "So we booked help together." Using Craigslist, they found their first "Alfred," who was actually named Jenny. She took care of their basic, yet nonetheless time-consuming, chores like picking up dry cleaning, letting in a cleaner, and grocery shopping. "We trusted her to make decisions for us, and we gave her keys to our homes and split the cost," Beck and Sapone added. "Next thing we knew, our neighbors wanted to get involved."
Once the women realized their assistant-sharing idea had enormous potential, Hello Alfred was born.
6. Leslie Feinberg and Brooke Siem, Co-Founders of Prohibition Bakery
Gabi Porter for Zagat
Leslie Feinberg and Brooke Siem, co-founders of Prohibition Bakery and co-authors of an aptly named companion cookbook, decided to drown their sorrows of getting laid off in the "Great Publishing Purge of 2008" with booze and baked goods. They never imagined they'd end up swimming in cash.
Feinberg was bartending at night and surfing online job boards during the day, every day, when her friend Brooke Siem messaged her on Gchat. Siem asked Feinberg if she wanted to sell alcohol-infused cupcakes together. "As someone who had always loved baking and boozing, I immediately said yes," Feinberg told A Plus.
At first, their side business was just a welcome distraction that happened to make some extra cash until Siem and Feinberg made their first delivery. "We both realized that this wasn't a fun idea, but an incredible opportunity," Feinberg said. "Watching the reactions of everyone ... freaking out after their first bites was revelatory."
"I remember walking back to the train afterward, a little giddy from the whole experience — and then suddenly becoming absolutely terrified," she added. "It was in that moment that I realized I had tried going about things all the 'conventional' ways … and that it was time to move on and create a career for myself. I spent so many years thinking of 'moving on' as quitting, but in that moment, I realized that sometimes the smartest thing to do is to start over."
These six entrepreneurs show that one moment of accidental brilliance can pave the way to achieving your dreams. While it might seem impossible at first, as long as you believe in yourself, you can — and will — do anything.
Who knows? Your next idea could be a million dollar one.
Your path to possible can start today.
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