15 Notable Tech Startups That Became Global Giants

Starting a business from scratch is not for the faint of heart. It involves ingenuity, hard work, dedication, and a little luck to bring a business concept to life. Getting a tech startup off the ground also requires innovation and technical knowledge. Some of the most successful tech startups in history weren’t offshoots of more extensive, established corporations. Instead, they started with an idea that grew to amazing heights. It’s amazing to consider the modest beginnings of these tech startups.

1. Amazon

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The site started as an online bookseller in the mid-1990s, operating out of the garage belonging to company founder Jeff Bezos. Today, the retailer sells almost everything under the sun, including Hyundai automobiles. Amazon also has its cloud computing platform, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Kuiper Systems, and a satellite broadband network. It’s a far cry from selling books from a garage.

2. Apple

Apple company
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Apple Computers started in 1976 as a collaboration among Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne. They sold the Apple I microcomputer which they built in Jobs’ garage. While the company was still in its infancy, Wayne sold his ownership stake to his partners. Since then, Apple has grown into one of the biggest tech companies worldwide, boasting products like the iPhone, iPad, and Mac line of desktop and laptop computers.

3. Dropbox

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Dropbox, the cloud storage company, started in 2007 in response to a problem its founder, Drew Houston, had and needed to solve. When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate commuted to work, he often forgot to bring his flash drive, which held the documents and files he needed for his job. Houston’s frustration with his forgetfulness drove him to write the code for what would eventually become Dropbox.

4. GitHub

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GitHub may not be a known quantity for non-techies, but anyone interested in software development is familiar with the open-source platform that allows software developers to create, store, and share their code with other developers. The company was founded in 2007 by Scott Chacon, P. J. Hyett, Tom Preston-Werner, and Chris Wanstrath and went live in 2008. In 2018, Microsoft acquired GitHub for $7.5 billion but remained independent. As of late 2021, over 73 million developers were active on GitHub, with companies like Reddit, Shopify, and Netflix using the service.

5. Google

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The name that has become synonymous with search engines wasn’t always the tech giant it is today. Google started in 1995 with two computer science students at Stanford University, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. They developed BackRub, an early search engine that could track and record internet data. After some early investments from people like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google debuted in 2009 and has been going strong since.

6. Hewlett Packard

Hewlett Packard
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Hewlett Packard (HP) has been around for so long it’s hard to believe such a large organization began as an early-tech startup. Developing a friendship while they were students at Stanford University in the 1930s, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started the company in 1939 after they graduated, with the two of them working from a rented garage creating sound equipment. Since then, HP has branched into desktop and laptop computers and traditional 3D printers.

7. HubSpot

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In 2004, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah were graduate students at MIT. Together, they developed a line of software products designed to assist businesses with sales, customer service, marketing solutions, and online educational resources. Since opening its first office in 2005, HubSpot has more than 7,400 employees in 12 worldwide locations and over 194,000 customers in more than 120 countries.

8. Imgur

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If you’ve enjoyed seeing witty and downright hilarious viral memes and GIFs on Reddit, Facebook, and other social media sites, they likely originated from Imgur. This site facilitates image hosting and sharing online, as well as the creation of memes and GIFs. Imgur is the brainchild of Alan Schaaf, who created the service in 2009 while studying computer science at Ohio University.

9. Instagram

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Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom developed Instagram, a popular photo and video social media platform, in the late 2000s. Instagram, a fusion of “instant camera” and “telegram,” became available on the iTunes App Store in 2010 and to Android users in 2012. Just a few months later, Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion. Since then, the site has launched the careers of countless influencers and so-called Instagram models.

10. Khan Academy

Khan Academy
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What started as long-distance math tutoring sessions between cousins in 2004 eventually became a full-fledged non-profit educational website. Sal Khan’s after-work online tutoring sessions became so popular within his extended family that he started recording YouTube tutorials. By 2009, he quit his full-time job with a hedge fund to operate Khan Academy full-time. Today, students, parents, and educators use the site to obtain information on various subjects for all grade levels.

11. Mailchimp

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Launched in 2001 as an automated email and marketing software, founders Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius offered small businesses a platform that put them on the same level as their bigger corporate counterparts. After Mailchimp cultivated a worldwide customer base in the millions, Intuit, the financial software company, purchased the company in 2021 for $5.7 billion.

12. Pinterest

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The idea for Pinterest was born after Ben Silbermann and his friend Paul Sciarra created an online catalog called Tote. The site wasn’t successful, but when they partnered with their friend Evan Sharp, Pinterest went from being a concept to a live beta site in 2010. After a year of slow growth, word-of-mouth promotion from users propelled it into a highly successful online image display board. Today, users can find content on the site ranging from fashion to hobbies to recipes.

13. Spotify

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Before Spotify’s inception, music listeners often used sites like Napster, Morpheus, and Kazaa to download, share, and listen to their favorite songs. To combat the spread of piracy while still providing music to the masses, founders Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon developed Spotify in 2006 and went live in 2008. Today, the streaming service is available in dozens of countries and has millions of listeners.

14. Twitch

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Twitch, the wildly popular video game streaming platform, started as justin.tv in 2005. Justin.tv allowed users to stream their lives 24/7. After several swatting incidents, Justin Kan, the site’s founder, shifted his company’s focus to real-time streaming of video game players in action. Since then, video game streaming has become a big business, and Twitch has millions of users watching video game streamers on YouTube each month.

15. WhatsApp

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Brian Acton and Jan Koum worked at Yahoo for several years before leaving the company. After Koum bought an iPhone in early 2009, the pair, inspired by Apple’s App Store, decided to develop an application of their own. They created an app that would show the current status of each of their contacts, such as “At work, free, busy,” etc., and called it WhatsApp. Used by billions of people worldwide to communicate with each other, Acton and Koum sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for $19.3 billion.

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