Some of the biggest businesses in the world didn’t always look like they do now. Many began as a simple idea from one person before growing into a multi-million dollar company. Often, an entrepreneur’s first idea doesn’t always work out. When this happens, a successful leader will adapt the business into something else. They learn from their mistakes and create something new and better in its wake.
In addition to that, the market (and the world) changes at such a fast rate. Companies must adapt to compete in an ever changing world. A product that sold millions one year, may no longer be relevant five years down the line. The best businesses change with consumer habits. Better yet, great businesses force the change themselves. History is littered with companies that couldn’t, or wouldn’t change. They are relegated to the depths of time.
However, the best businesses embraced the change and molded their companies into something else. The modern world is constantly evolving. Businesses can now run virtual offices with Regus or interact with customers online. Both were impossible ten years ago and companies are forced to adapt. This list features just some of the companies that started life as something entirely different. The entrepreneurs behind each of these companies slowly learned more about their customers. They listened to them and figured out what they really wanted. In turn, they became hugely successful.
There are a couple of ‘rags to riches’ stories in this list, but Marriot Hotels is perhaps the most impressive. The luxury hotel and restaurant chain began as a humble root beer stand. It shows the true entrepreneur spirit behind the business. At a young age, Marriot’s founder began selling root beers on the street. This business genius turned a small idea into a huge hotel chain.
Taco Bell follows a similar story. Now a huge commercial giant, the restaurant chain began as hot dog stand. The product remains fairly similar, they still sell fast food. However, we’re including it here because of its impressive transformation. Taco Bell shows the true scale of what can be achieved. From the smallest hot dog stand, to an enormous multinational restaurant chain.
The world’s biggest website devoted to images was recently sold to Yahoo in a multi-billion dollar deal. However, hosting images was not the original intention of Flickr. Instead, it was an online chat room (remember chat rooms?) It also featured a multi-player online game. It was relatively popular, but when they morphed it to an image hosting site, everything changed. Flickr filled a gap in the market and finally found a business model that worked.
The makers of the Wii, Mario and the legendary N64 games console have always been in the game business. However, it looked very different back at the start. Nintendo had humble beginnings making simple playing cards. They have always had a knack for entertaining people. When the world of electronics opened up new entertainment possibilities, Nintendo acted fast. They introduced one of the first major games consoles and have never looked back.
Samsung demonstrates perhaps the wildest change on this list. The electronics giant is responsible for some of the most highly powered mobile phones on the market. They make TVs, tablets and are developing smartwatches. The South Korean conglomerate had a very different origin, however. They originally exported noodles and dry fish. Samsung’s entrepreneurial leader began as a trading company, shifting noodles to China and Japan.
Back in the late 19th century, Wrigleys was busy making and packaging soap. When sweet shops began to boom in late Victorian England, they quickly took advantage. Utilising its factories and production lines, it changed from soap to gum. With over 100 years of business since, we think Wrigleys made the right decision here.
Colgate is another company that specialised in soap making. Clearly a popular practice in the 1800s, factory owners began to look elsewhere for profits. Colgate found theirs by dominating the toothpaste market.
The credit card company looked very different back when it first started. That’s because its employees would ride across America on horses. The giant money lender was instead delivering parcels. American Express started up as a rival to the American Postal Service which was notoriously slow. By harnessing the power of horses, American Express became a major competitor. It began raising capital by delivering faster than the Postal Service. It also began making connections across the country. It soon morphed into money lending and never looked back.
NASCAR began where many startups have done since: the pub. During the Prohibition in America, people in the Deep South began manufacturing liquor illegally. What began as a way of keeping themselves busy (and drunk) soon grew into something larger. In order to outrun policemen they developed suped up cars. This could help them get away quickly with gallons of illegal liquor. Their boredom soon led to racing in these highly charged cars. It became something of a spectator sport and went on to be one of the biggest motor events in the world.
The mobile phone company is responsible for some of the most indestructible phones on the planet. The company’s ethos was always about communication. The original product looked rather different, however. Nokia originally developed paper. When letter writing was the biggest form of communication, this made good sense. Nokia were quick to see the potential of mobile technology and changed business plans quickly.
Avon have always had the same mentality and marketing plan. To this day, they are one of the few remaining companies that effectively employ door-to-door sales. They rely on the community to help sell its products and host Avon parties. It’s a unique concept that shifts serious amounts of perfume. This wasn’t always their main product though. The original product was books. The technique was the same, books were sold door to door. The community were encouraged to get together to form groups and exchange books. The marketing technique works to this day. Avon were also smart enough to move online, as cash only businesses began losing money.
The iconic jewellery shop began almost by accident. The owner originally sold stationery. In fact, if you go into any Tiffany outlet, you’ll still see stationery on sale in remembrance. Only when a customer pointed out the handmade jewellery the owner was wearing did they begin to change.
When starting a business, you can never predict what will happen. No one has the answers right at the start. You just jump in and figure it out! Follow the market and listen to your customers. That’s what the smart people behind these companies did.