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30 big companies that started with little to no funding

  • 30 big companies that started with little to no funding

    There are many ways to start a new business. You can apply to be part of a fancy incubator, where they’ll help you prove your concept, teach you how to run a company, and give you access to venture capital firms looking to fund up-and-comers. Or you could swing for the VCs and bank lenders on your own, raising cash in rounds until you have enough to get by.

    You could also bootstrap. This military-sounding term sounds similar to the phrase “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” because that’s pretty much what it is. Bootstrapping entrepreneurs start a business on a small budget and take little to no funding, typically doing everything themselves until their business gets off the ground. The success stories become the stuff of legends: The tech titans who started with a little operation in a garage, the chain restaurants that blossom from a tiny loan, or the mega-apps that start as a passion project.

    Stacker compiled the amazing stories of 30 big-time companies that started with less than $100,000 and zero or very little outside funding. Read on to see how many of these major names you recognize.

    ALSO: Successful U.S. companies started by immigrants

  • MailChimp

    Regular podcast listeners have probably heard ads for MailChimp, a company that makes marketing software for small businesses, and is most famous for its e-newsletter service. The company was founded in 2000 in Atlanta, and built up slowly, with zero outside funding. Today, the company makes $400 million annually.  

  • Spanx

    Another Atlanta business fairytale, shapewear company Spanx was founded by Sara Blakely. When Oprah wanted to include Spanx on an episode of her show in 2000, Blakely had to call in favors to fake a full-time workforce for the camera—while in actuality, her only employee was herself. Today, Blakely is worth $1 billion.  

  • Google

    In 1995, Stanford students Larry Page and Sergey Brin worked from their dorm rooms to build a search engine they named Backrub. You probably know it by its current name: Google. It wasn’t until 1998 that someone cut the duo a check for $100,000, which gave birth to Google Inc. It was only enough money for them to move their operations into a small Menlo Park garage, but business eventually boomed, making Google one of the biggest companies in the world.  

  • Craigslist

    In 1995, Craig Newmark sent an email to friends inviting them to an event. As he began sending more group emails—about job postings, and so on—people began to ask to be copied on his list. Newmark decided to start a site for all of these classified postings, Craigslist, which eventually became the 20th biggest website in the United States.  

  • GoPro

    Beloved by photographers and adventurists, GoPro was founded Nick Woodman and his wife. They raised the money to start their camera company by selling shell jewelry and belts, along with a small loan from his parents. Since then, the $1 billion company has gone public.  

  • Apple

    Apple, which has one of the most famous founding stories, was a prime example of bootstrapping. Steve Job and Steve Wozniak used a garage as office space, selling a calculator (in the case of Wozniak) and a car (in the case of Jobs) to fund their operation. This year, Apple became the first public U.S. company to cross into $1 trillion valuation.  

  • Quest Nutrition

    Tom Bilyeu started making protein bars in his kitchen with former colleagues. Once they had a viable product, Bilyeu sent 1,000 handwritten letters, along with sample protein bars, to fitness influencers. Today, Quest Nutrition, sells far more than just bars, with a line of protein powders, pasta, chips, and more.  

  • GoFundMe

    Ironically, the founders of GoFundMe were, well, not funded. Co-founders Brad Damphousse and Andrew Ballester bootstrapped their company, which is now valued at $600 million.  

  • Cards Against Humanity

    Eight high-school pals from Chicago created the cult hit game “Cards Against Humanity,” which many call an “R-rated” (or sometimes even “X-rated”) “Apples to Apples.” They gave the game away for free for two years before running a $15,000 crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Now, it’s a wildly popular card game, particularly among millennials, with countless extension packs.  


  • SurveyMonkey

    Top online survey and polling company SurveyMonkey began in 1999 as a part-time project of Ryan Finley. His team didn’t raise any financing until nearly a decade later. This year, the company filed to go public.