From Alibaba to Zoopla, James Hind, co-founder of Carwow, outlines his list of entrepreneurial bright sparks that are helping inspire a new generation of founders
The startup industry is awash with entrepreneurs trying to launch the next big thing onto the tech scene. But given the high failure rates for startups, it's always good to have others to look to for inspiration. Fortunately, there are those who have soared to the heady heights of success without so much as a backward glance and these can provide some valuable encouragement for digital entrepreneurs that are just starting out.
Being the founder of two billion-dollar companies makes Elon Musk an easy pick for the top of this list. The Canadian-American engineer and inventor founded SpaceX, a company that designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. He is also co-founder, product architect and CEO of Tesla Motors, as well as being co-founder of a number of other high-profile tech companies, including PayPal, SolarCity, OpenAI and Zip2. His estimated net worth is $12.7bn, something I'm sure all tech entrepreneurs would like to aim for.
Musk's drive and sheer determination in the business world is truly admirable and his ability to juggle multiple enterprises concurrently is really phenomenal. It isn't just his financial success that should be celebrated though. Often hailed as the 'real life Iron Man', the 45-year-old is at the helm of some truly groundbreaking developments in the tech, space and motoring sectors that could have a significant and positive impact on the world.
This 51-year-old Chinese entrepreneur is the founder of the e-commerce firm Alibaba Group, of which the global trade marketplace Alibaba.com is probably the most well-known subsidiary. Back in September 2014, Alibaba become one of the most valuable tech companies in the world after raising $25bn in its IPO, the largest ever initial public offering in the financial history of the US. Since Ma has very deservedly graced the front cover of Forbes and achieved a number of accolades, including a place on numerous wealth and inspirational lists and being interviewed by President Barack Obama himself.
One of the most inspirational aspects of Ma's back story is the number of knock-backs he experienced before he made it big. He often tells of a time in the mid-1990s when he applied for 30 different jobs and got rejected, including a position at KFC where 23 of 24 applicants were accepted and he wasn't. Despite this, his desire to succeed and learn about the web propelled him into the very early startup scene; now his digital empire has set the benchmark that every other entrepreneur dreams of meeting.
There aren't many people who haven't heard of Zoopla in this day and age; it's a shining example of how powerful an internet business can become when properly executed. The housing market was far from stable when Zoopla was first launched by founder Alex Chesterman but that didn't stop the site from going from strength-to-strength and investors handing over money. Buyers, sellers and even those just wanting a general nose at the properties out there flocked to the site in their millions within the first year. Zoopla's success is down to how flawlessly it address the property intelligence needs of millions of consumers.
Even the most regular news-craving visitors of Mashable may not know how it came to be, but Pete Cashmore is the brains behind the hugely popular blog, which now attracts 45 million unique visitors per month. Founded in 2005 by the then 19-year-old Pete Cashmore, as a blog that covered social media and technology news that he started from his parents’ home in Aberdeen, it has since grown to have around 28 million social media followers and has one of the most engaged online news communities there is.
Mashable is now one of the go-to spots on the web for entertainment, lifestyle, tech and business news and has attracted just shy of $50m worth of investment to date. As a result, Cashmore has now achieved near celebrity status and has time and time again been named on high-profile lists celebrating influential people.
Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish
Notonthehighstreet.com was founded in 2006 by Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish to deliver unique and creative items to online shoppers. It's now a hugely popular e-commerce marketplace where thousands of creators of truly original products can easily sell their wares to the mass market. The talented entrepreneurs have won numerous awards and have gone from working at a kitchen table to large, modern offices with a team of more than 200 people in Richmond. Last year, notonthehighstreet.com’s turnover was a cool £156m and both of its founders have been awarded MBEs for services to small business and enterprise.
Tucker and Cornish's story is one that all budding tech entrepreneurs should take note of: many of us start our ventures in back bedrooms, sheds, at kitchen tables or – like me – an attic without realising just how big our businesses could become. Yet all you need is a business model that is going to address a specific demand and your idea could soon become a national or even international success story.