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12 Amazing Bootstrapped Companies

by Daniel Tay 23 Jan 2014

There is a new American Dream, though it might be more accurate to call it the "Silicon Valley Dream" - Come to Silicon Valley with a world-changing idea, get funded, and change the world. But is it the only way that startups can achieve phenomenal success?

The startups in this list - many of them incredibly successful in their own right - certainly prove otherwise.

Here are 12 amazing startups that have bootstrapped their way to profitability.

1. Carbonmade

What is it? Carbonmade is an online portfolio service that helps you show off your work.

Why is it amazing? Originally conceived as a tool to create an online portfolio for himself, Dave Gorum, together with his "code wizard" Jason Nelson, ended up opening up this tool to the world due to popular demand. Come 2007, things were going well enough for the boys to drop their client work altogether and work on Carbonmade full time. Today, it is home to 500,000 incredible portfolios - not bad for something that started as a personal project!

2. Github

What is it? Github is a web-based hosting service for software development projects that use the Git revision control system. Say what? Think of it as the Wikipedia for programmers.

Why is it amazing? The founder, Tom Preston-Werner, turned down $300,000 from Microsoft back in 2008 in order to go full-time on GitHub. 5 years later, GitHub hit the 4 million user mark.

3. Clicky

What is it? Clicky is a tool that provides users with real-time traffic intelligence for their websites.

Why is it amazing? Clicky is run by just 2 people (!). The diminutive company did over $500,000 in revenue in 2009, and today has 150,000 customers, 15,000 of which are paying between $4.99-$24.99 monthly.

4. WooThemes

What is it? WooThemes is a WordPress theme and plugin provider with tons of free and commercial products available to jumpstart your website.

Why is it amazing? The founding trio - Adii Pienaar, Mark Forrester, and Magnus Jepson - started off as a virtual team. Today, half of the team works remotely from various European locations, while the other half is located in the Cape Town office. The result: From 2008 till 2011, they were generating revenue consistently, with a 10-15% month-on-month growth. Hurray for remote working! (Sorry, Marissa)

5. AppSumo

What is it? AppSumo is a daily deals website that promotes great products to make work fun.

Why is it amazing? AppSumo shot off like a rocket from the get-go, growing to 500,000 customers in just 18 months. Of course, this is not so surprising, since the founder is none other than Noah Kagan, formerly employee number 30 at Facebook.

6. Mailchimp

What is it? Mailchimp is an online email marketing solution to manage contacts, send emails and track results.

Why is it amazing? Early last year, Mailchimp posted some numbers on their blog while undergoing server spring cleaning - and they say it all. Here's a sample: In 2009, they had 100k users; in 2012, they had 1.2 million users in 158 countries. And another, for good measure: They deliver 2 billion emails per month (?!), and are still growing. Unbelievable.

7. 37Signals

What is it? 37Signals is a web application company that produces simple, focused software.

Why is it amazing? It's hard to pick just one reason why 37Signals is so amazing. One of these reasons would be that, to date, the company's talented partners, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (or DHH), have co-written three bestselling books: Getting Real, Rework, and Remote. These books continue to be an inspiration to forward-looking entrepreneurs and business owners worldwide. Another would be that DHH, you know, created an entire web development framework called Ruby on Rails.

8. Envato

What is it? Envato is an ecosystem of sites that help people be creative.

Why is it amazing? Envato Marketplaces, where creatives could sell their products, has been doing incredibly well, with the top seller (as of 2010) selling up to $500,000 in gross sales in under two years. Bear in mind that the founders, 3 designers and a physicist, had zero business experience starting out.

9. Litmus

What is it? Litmus is an application with email marketing testing and tracking tools, that help you send better looking and performing email.

Why is it amazing? Founded in 2005, by 2010 Litmus was significantly above $1m in revenue, and growing by about 10% per month. Pretty impressive for an application that was built in a dorm room by founder Paul Farnell, with just a used computer and a few hundred bucks (and over a single weekend at that).

10. BigCommerce

What is it? BigCommerce is an ecommerce software solution that gives you everything you need to sell online.

Why is it amazing? Despite tough competition from numerous other ecommerce platforms, BigCommerce has held their own admirably, seeing "hockey stick" growth in number of clients, at about 100% year-on-year. Their additional marketing services - which have set them apart from their competitors - have certainly played a big part in making this happen.

11. Braintree

What is it? Braintree performs online and mobile payments for companies around the globe.

Why is it amazing? Right from the start, Braintree founder Bryan Johnson decided to stick to the premium, rather than freemium, model. Turns out, customers are willing to pay for good service, and in 2010 Braintree generated $4.5m in revenue, in addition to doubling its customer base. Fun fact: 99% of their customers come through word-of-mouth. Braintree was acquired by PayPal in 2013 for a reported $800 million.

12. FreshBooks

What is it? Freshbooks is a cloud accounting service that helps service-based small business owners manage their time and expenses.

Why is it amazing? Mike McDerment, founder of FreshBooks, started off the first 24 months with 10 paying customers and revenues of $99 per month - not exactly success story material. Fast-forward to today, and over 5 million people have used FreshBooks, with paying customers in over 120 countries.

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