10 Side Hustles
That Grew Into
the Real Deal
By David Lidsky
Brownie Wise, a secretary at an aviation company,
sold brooms via home parties for extra cash; soon
she began hawking Tupperware, and others
caught on to her “party plan” as a sales technique.
The impact: Wise is an early progenitor of
today’s gig economy. Party businesses, like
jewelry-focused Stella & Dot, continue to thrive.
Pierre Omidyar, an engineer at proto-smartphone
maker General Magic, set up a site called Auction-Web so he could learn about online marketplaces.
The impact: As early web users flocked to buy
and sell collectibles, Omidyar quit his job to professionalize what became eBay, which to this day
enables people to have a side gig peddling wares.
The chipmaking startup that put silicon in Silicon
Valley also pioneered the practice of allowing its
executives to invest, advise, and launch startups
on the side that might benefit Fairchild.
The impact: The Valley still thrives on these symbiotic networks, and more than 90 public firms,
worth more than $2 trillion, have ties to Fairchild.
Hedge-fund analyst Sal Khan tutored his cousin in
math via Yahoo until family demand for his teaching led him to move over to You Tube in 2006.
The impact: Khan left his job in 2009 to build his
education nonprofit. His videos have been viewed
1. 25 billion times, making him an inspiration to
anyone using social media to do what they love.
Art Fry, a product developer at 3M, wanted a better bookmark for his church hymnal. Using 3M’s
sanctioned “15% time” to pursue wild ideas, he
experimented with weak glue on paper.
The impact: 3M sells 50 billion of the iconic stick-ies annually, and companies like HP and Google
encourage 3M-style free time for employees.
Jack Dorsey and Noah Glass made a simple SMS-messaging tool called Twttr while working for a
podcasting startup called Odeo. When Odeo
stalled, the company bet on Dorsey’s project.
The impact: Every “pivot” aspires to be this
good. Dorsey is CEO of Twitter ($13 billion market
cap) and Square ($11.4B): Neither is a side gig.
Steve Wozniak, an HP engineer, and Steve Jobs,
an Atari employee, built a personal computer in
Wozniak’s kitchen. HP wasn’t interested in the PC,
and Atari CEO Nolan Bushnell declined to invest.
The impact: By leaving to see the project
through, the two Steves changed the world,
inspiring two generations of garage startups.
A team of Facebook developers and designers
built a working prototype of what they called the
“awesome button” during a July 2007 hackathon.
The impact: CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t
approve “Like” until February 2009, but things
worked out okay. Meanwhile, scores of companies
today employ Facebook-style product sprints.
While working for NASA and the Air Force,
nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson invented an
environmentally friendly heat pump that he
quickly realized was also a really cool water pistol.
The impact: The Super Soaker sold 200 million
units in its first decade, and Johnson continues to
work on thermoelectric energy inventions.
In the 1950s, Bing Crosby imported 100% blue
agave tequila into the U.S. In a similar “spirit,”
George Clooney and pals launched a tequila brand
in 2013 and sold it in June for up to $1 billion.
The impact: As actors’ salaries come down and
movie attendance wanes, stars (e.g., Gwyneth
and Reese) use startups to control their destiny.
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