The most successful companies in the world are in tech. Apple, a company co-founded by Steve Jobs in 1976 to sell personal computers and now sells an array of electronic devices, became the first in the world to be valued at a trillion dollars in 2018. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, now worth almost $200 billion, is trading positions with another tech founder Elon Musk as the richest man in the world. Other billionaires such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin, and Larry Ellison are all in the tech industry.
Looking at this list of successes, it seems that a career in tech will be lucrative. It can catapult a regular person into celebrity status. However, not everyone gets to build wealth off of tech. For every successful tech company founder are dozens of startups who fail.
A good product is not always enough to make a venture a success. There are other important things required to turn a startup into a billion- or trillion-dollar company. In fact, many successful tech companies right now found themselves at some point on the verge of bankruptcy. However, they pulled themselves together, developed an effective cash flow strategy to remain afloat, innovating with new products and services, launched clever campaigns, and maybe a bit of luck.
Here are some tech companies that almost disappeared before becoming a global success.
Apple’s history was eventful, to say the least. After creating a harmonious relationship with Microsoft, the two companies turned into bitter rivals. At some point in the late ‘80s, it pushed Jobs out of the CEO role. By 1997, Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy. It was valued at just 88 cents and was operating at a loss. They brought Jobs back to the CEO role. Gates agreed to invest $150 million into the company co-founded by a man he has a professional rivalry with. Now, Apple is one of the most valued companies in the world.
Another company that almost went out is Airbnb. Right now, it is hard to imagine a world without Airbnb. So many people rely on it for lodging and business.
However, when it was founded in 2008, there was no market for it. The then startup struggled to find an investor in Silicon Valley. Because they strongly believed in their vision, the team behind the platform took it upon themselves to find other streams of revenue to keep the small company afloat. The people behind it were creating custom cereal boxes to fund its platform.
The same cereal boxes might have saved it from failure. The founders of the company wanted to get into the startup acceleration program Y Combinator. They recount that the initial interview with Paul Graham, the man behind Y Combinator, did not go well, but when they handed him a cereal box and told him that that was how they were funding the platform, he was impressed. After entering Y Combinator, Airbnb grew quickly and became the billion-dollar apartment-rental company we know now.
Reddit was launched in 2005. Back then it had, like any other new website, zero visitors. After a while, its founders realized that they had to do something to draw people into the platform. What they did was created a bunch of fake accounts and opened fake discussions to encourage genuine users to sign up. And, they did.
The strategy to fake their way to the top was a huge success. Eventually, new users started trickling in and real conversations about absolutely any subject under the sun were being started. Now, Reddit is one of the most visited platforms in the world with over 52 million daily active users. Even Gates, Musk, and other famous personalities occasionally show up for AMAs (Ask Me Anything) or promote new products. Reddit is now valued at $6 billion.
Polaroid was a product of its time. It was a successful camera and film company in its heydays but, as digital took hold, it failed to keep up with the times. For a while, Polaroid was headed in the same direction as Blockbuster and, in 2001, filed for bankruptcy.
The company realized that it needed a major pivot if it wanted to survive the modern world. Instead of creating a new line of products, it leveraged its biggest strength: the brand.
Polaroid was an icon from the past and, until now, is thought of fondly by old and young consumers alike. The company entered license agreements with others that share similar visions and values.
One of its most successful partnerships is with C&A Marketing, a leader in the photo industry. The two manufactured a new line of Polaroid-branded cameras designed to appeal to consumers who enjoy the retro style.
The moral of the story is to never give up. Having a few rough patches in your venture does not automatically make it a failure. Maybe it is a prerequisite of exciting things to come.