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10 Insanely successful businesses that started small

Follow the stories of small businesses that grew into vast companies controlling even bigger fortunes
Editorial team

/ Last updated on 28th October 2017

When we think of today’s industry leaders – be it Samsung, Walmart or JcPenney – rarely do we remember that they were all once just another up-and-coming startup, looking to hit it big.

Related: Secrets to success from 10 of the world’s richest entrepreneurs

In fact, most of these giant businesses had less than stellar beginnings, launching their business on a shoestring and slowly climbing their way to the top. Here’s our countdown of top 10 businesses that started small, but are now incredibly lucrative.

10. Johnny Cupcakes

This business started by selling t-shirts, sweaters, shorts and undergarments in a bakery-themed retail shop. The initial investment was $6,700. The firm is now worth $3.8 Million. The first store opened in 2005 and the founder, Johnny Earle, soon found himself on the list of ‘Best Entrepreneurs 25 and Under’ in 2008.

9. Adventure Life

Adventure Life offers group tours and vacation packages for its customers. In 2008, it had revenue of $11 Million; the start-up costs, however, were very low. These included $3,000 for brochures, $11,500 for ads in 1999 and £33,500 in 2000.

8. Paragon Space Development

Paragon Space, which is now worth £8 million in 2008, started with an initial investment which includes $30,000 for computers and lab equipment, £600 per month for office and lab premises, and $20,000 for yearly travel.

7. Chobani Yogurt

The #1 selling yoghurt in the United States was founded in 2005 by Hamdi Ulukaya. However, his ex-wife claims that he stole the recipe and paid $40,000 for it. The founder used a loan of under $1 million to buttress the initial start-up costs. The company is now worth $1.1 billion.

6. Sweet Leaf Tea

With its current value of $12 Million, Sweet Leaf Tea was founded in 1998 with a $100,000 initial investment. The company broke even in its third year and reported revenue of £300,000.

5. Tokyo Joe’s

Earning revenue of $22 Million per year, Tokyo Joe’s was started off in 1996 with an initial cost of $330,000. Tokyo Joe’s is famous for consistently bringing nutritious and delicious food to customers’ tables.

4. Tarte Cosmetics

Tarte Cosmetics offers a wide variety of make-up products including brushes and body products. It was established in 1999 by Maureen Kelly in New York. The start-up cost was $18,000 and now the company grosses $12 million (2008 figures).

3. Edible Arrangements

This company changed the way people send gifts. They specialise in fresh fruit arrangements and offer a wide variety of speciality fruit gift items and gift boxes. Tariq Farid founded this company in 1999 with an initial investment of $100,000 and the company is now worth $19.4 million.

2. Facebook

Now worth over $200 Billion, Mark Zuckerberg started the world’s biggest social network when he was still in university. According to various reports, the idea was allegedly stolen from twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss who eventually sued Mark.


We have saved the best for last: ZARA. It was founded in 1975 by Amancio Ortega. The big retail giant opened up several stores across the globe. The founder’s estimated worth is reported to be $65 billion.

Related: 7 key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs

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