5 Lesser-known Entrepreneurs that Made it Big

What do most entrepreneurs have in common? Many of them start out small, face daunting odds, and if they are lucky, create something that lasts. Luck may not have everything to do with it however. Below are 5 entrepreneurs that made it big. Each succeeded through different circumstances, but all are now considered industry leaders.

Adam D’Angelo Quora

D’Angelo and fellow founder Charlie Cheever both started out as Facebook employees. In 2010, both decided to quit their jobs to pursue their own start up idea. Realizing that there weren’t any high quality question and answer sites on the web, D’Angelo created one that provides incentives for people to share specialist knowledge.

D’Angelo had been serving as Chief Technology Officer at Facebook for several years before he decided to break out on his own. He had led the Platform and Data Development teams at the company and oversaw product design and architecture. With experience like that under his belt, there is little question how Quora can boast $11 million in funding.

Todd Pedersen Vivint

Earlier this year, Forbes gave home security and automation company Vivint the number 46 spot on the America’s Most Promising Companies list. The man behind the company, Todd Pedersen was recently given Utah’s 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year award by the Mountain West Capital Network in Utah.

Pederson dropped out of college back in the 90’s to work on the company he had designed as a class project. Pederson was always entrepreneurial minded, and after being rejected for a position at a pest control company, he decided to start something on his own. With a couple of his buddies, Pedersen started selling pest control in competition with the company that had rejected him. The first summer, he and his 10 other workers far surpassed their goal, earning $80,000.

Pedersen officially started his own security company in 1999 and with the help of a few big investors (including Goldman Sachs) the company quickly evolved. It branched out into new markets, including home automation and solar energy. Today, Vivint serves over 700,000 customers and was recently acquired by Blackstone for $2 billion.

Aaron Levie and Dylan Smith Box.net

Starting out as a project for their business class, Levie and Smith’s company Box.net now boasts approximately 15 million users. The company’s service is an online collaboration tool that allows companies to securely send information back and forth. Since its origins, the company has raked in $300 million in funding from venture capital firms. Last year, sales in the company grew by 150 percent and the overall value of the company sits at around 1 billion.

Levie and Smith dropped out of college back in 2005 and moved to San Francisco to work on the company. After receiving initial funding from big name investors, including Mark Cuban, they were well on their way. Initially focusing on smaller companies, Box.net has in a short time transformed into a billion dollar company.

Tony Hsieh Zappos.com

Hseih first became involved in Zappos.com when Nick Swinmurn persuaded him to join him on the idea. Swimhurn came up with the idea for a one-stop shoe company after a bad experience shopping for shoes at the mall. Hseih helped provide the financial boost the company needed to get off the ground. He was able to do so, having made millions selling LinkExchange to Microsoft the year before Swinmurn approached him. Starting in 1999, by 2003 the company was projecting $65 million in sales.

The company has now reached into the billions for gross sales. It recently moved to new headquarters in downtown Las Vegas and has frequently made the list for “best companies to work for”.

Liz Lange Liz Lange Maternity

Liz Lange’s idea to sell sophisticated maternity wear was quickly shot down by several retailers. Not discouraged, Lange borrowed money from family and friends and opened a small office in New York City. She started out selling clothes to women by appointment, but word of her products quickly spread, and the company grew. In 2001, she reported $3 million plus in sales.

Lange now boasts three flagship boutiques and a Liz Lange Target line. Since the company started back in 1997, it has grown exponentially, and is now in its sixteenth year. Lange now spends her time lecturing around the country and writing a monthly column for Prevention magazine. None of it would have happened if she believed the initial critics.