Computer scientist Tony Hsieh made millions off the dot-com boom. But he didn't make his mark until he built Zappos — a customer service company that "happens to sell shoes." Now Zappos is worth over a billion dollars and known for its completely unorthodox management style. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Mike Bolos and Jason Grohowski, who brought the office desk closer to the light by creating Deskview, a portable desk that attaches to a sheer window with a suction cup. (Original broadcast date: January 23, 2017).
Chet Pipkin was the kind of kid who loved to take things apart and put them back together. As a young man in the early 1980s, he started hanging out in mom-and-pop computer shops, where he realized he could meet a growing need by selling the cables that connect computers to printers. That simple idea became the main ingredient in Chet's secret sauce: instead of making his own computers, he would make the accessories needed to make them work. Belkin International eventually grew into a massive manufacturer of electronic goods — last year, it sold to a subsidiary of Foxconn for more than $800 million. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," how Clay McCabe decided to rebrand his dad's zipper repair business into Zipper Rescue, a repair kit that helps people fix their broken zippers at home.
Susan Tynan's experience in the ephemeral e-market of LivingSocial made her want to start a business that she could touch and feel. After being charged $1600 to frame four posters at her local framing store, she decided to create a mail-order framing company that offers fewer designs at lower prices. Framebridge is now five years old and still feeling growing pains, but is slowly reshaping the rules of a rigid industry. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Len Testa, who created an app that uses real-time data to help people avoid long lines at Orlando area theme parks. (Original broadcast date: November 27, 2017)
John Foley started climbing the rungs of the corporate ladder at a young age, first as a fast food server and eventually as an e-commerce executive. Still, at 40, he couldn't climb out of bed fast enough to make it to his favorite spin class. John couldn't understand why there wasn't a way to bring the intensity and motivation of a boutique fitness class into the home. Having never worked in the exercise industry, he teamed up with a few friends to create a high-tech stationary bicycle called the Peloton Bike. Today, Peloton has sold close to half a million bikes, with a valuation as high as 4 billion dollars. Recorded live in New York City.
At age 22, Whitney Wolfe helped launch Tinder, one of the world's most popular dating apps. But a few years later, she left Tinder and filed a lawsuit against the company alleging sexual harassment. The ensuing attention from the media – and cyberbullying from strangers – prompted her to launch Bumble, a dating app where women make the first move. Today, the Bumble app has been downloaded close to 30 million times. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Michael Dixon, whose business Mobile Vinyl Recorders uses portable record lathes to cut vinyl at parties, weddings, and music festivals. (Original broadcast date: October 16, 2017)
In 1970, George Zimmer was a college graduate with no real job prospects and little direction. That's when his father, an executive at a boy's clothing company, asked him to go on an important business trip to Asia. It was that trip that propelled him into the world of men's apparel. In 1973, the first Men's Wearhouse opened in Houston with little fanfare. But by the mid-80s, George Zimmer managed to carve out a distinct niche in the market – a place where men could buy a good quality suit, at "everyday low prices," along with all the shirts, ties, socks, and shoes they need. With George as the face of the brand, Men's Wearhouse became a multi-billion dollar empire with hundreds of stores across the U.S. But then, in 2013, a bitter battle forced him to give it all up. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with two brothers from Guinea, West Africa who founded a company that makes Ginjan, a spicy-sweet juice from their childhood that mixes pineapple and ginger.
In the 1960s, Alice Waters studied abroad in France – and discovered a culinary world far from the processed food popular in America. When she returned to California, she tried to find restaurants to recreate her experiences abroad, but she couldn't. In 1971, she opened a small restaurant in Berkeley called Chez Panisse, where she focused on serving fresh, local ingredients. Just a few years later, Chez Panisse was named one of the best restaurants in America, and became one of the hottest locations for fine dining in the Bay Area. Despite her success, Alice chose not to turn Chez Panisse into a restaurant empire. Instead, she continued to insist on cooking with food raised locally, sustainably, and ethically. Today, most chefs agree Alice Waters and Chez Panisse sparked the farm-to-table movement in the restaurant industry. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," how Piersten Gaines took the trauma out of salon visits for women with highly textured hair.
In the late 1980s, a New Zealand engineer named Keith Alexander wanted to buy a trampoline for his kids. After his wife said trampolines were too dangerous, Keith set out to design his own — a safer trampoline, without metal springs. He tinkered with and perfected the design over the course of a decade. But he was daunted by the challenge of bringing his invention to market — and he almost gave up. At that point Steve Holmes, a Canadian businessman, bought the patent to Keith's trampoline, and took a big risk to commercialize it. Today, Springfree Trampoline generates over $50 million in annual sales and has sold over 400,000 trampolines. PLUS in our postscript, "How You Built That," how Cyndi and Chris Hileman created a candle in a planter pot that can later be used to grow wildflowers.
In 1981, engineer Rod Canion left Texas Instruments and co-founded Compaq, which created the first IBM-compatible personal computer. This opened the door to an entire industry of PCs that could run the same software. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That," we check back in with Danica Lause, who turned a knitting hobby into Peekaboos Ponytail Hats: knit caps with strategically placed holes for a ponytail or bun. (Original broadcast date: May 22, 2017).
In early 2015, Jen Rubio was racing through an airport to catch a flight when her suitcase broke, leaving a trail of clothing behind her. She tried to replace it with a stylish, durable, affordable suitcase — but she couldn't find one. So she decided to create her own. In less than a year, Jen and her co-founder Steph Korey raised $2.5 million to build their dream travel brand: a line of sleek, direct-to-consumer suitcases simply called Away. Jen's hunch that the brand would emotionally resonate with young, jet-setting customers paid off. Today, Away has become a cult luggage brand that has sold more than one million suitcases. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," how Jon Maroney made sledding easier for adults and more dynamic for kids with a pair of sleds that strap to your legs.
In 2010, Logic the rapper, born as Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, released his first official mixtape titled "Young, Broke & Infamous." At 20 years old, Logic certainly was young and broke, and while crashing on a friend's couch, he poured himself into his music. Logic's career could have fizzled if it wasn't for Chris Zarou, a young college athlete-turned-manager who had no more experience in the music business than Logic. Undeterred, the two decided to work together, continuing to use free music and social media to build Logic's reputation as a talented, fast-flowing rapper with a hopeful message. In 2012, Logic signed to Def Jam Records and in 2014 dropped his debut album "Under Pressure," which shot to number 4 on the Billboard charts. His third album in 2017 went platinum and included the breakout single "1 800 273 8255." PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back in with Cassy Burnvoth who built a skincare company using an unlikely ingredient – beef tallow.
Like many classic technology stories, Squarespace started in a college dorm room. In 2003, 21-year-old Anthony Casalena created a website-building tool for himself. But after hearing some positive feedback from friends, he decided to put the tool online and start a business. For years, Anthony ran Squarespace almost entirely on his own but the stress took a toll and he reached the limits of what he could accomplish by himself. The journey to hiring a staff and scaling the company had its own set of growing pains for Anthony, including difficulty letting go of control, and learning how to manage other people. Today, Squarespace has grown to more than 800 employees, and valued at $1.7 billion. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," how Kate Westervelt took an overwhelming experience and turned it into a gift box for new moms – filled with essential items women need to recover from childbirth.
In 1983, Eileen Fisher signed up for a fashion trade show with no experience, no garments, no patterns or sketches – nothing but a few ideas for a women's clothing line focused on simplicity. Within three weeks, she came up with 12 pieces, a logo, and a name: Eileen Fisher. Today, the Eileen Fisher brand is still known for its elegant and minimalist designs, but it has grown to more than 60 locations and makes over $300 million in annual revenue. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Glenn Auerbach who invented nICE mug, a container made entirely from ice that keeps drinks cold.
In the 1970s, Roxanne Quimby was trying to live a simpler life – one that rejected the pursuit of material comforts. She moved to Maine, built a cabin in the woods, and lived off the grid. By the mid-80s, she met a recluse beekeeper named Burt Shavitz and offered to help him tend to his bees. As partners, Roxanne and Burt soon began selling their "Pure Maine Honey" at local markets, which evolved into candles made out of beeswax, and eventually lip balm and skin care products. Today Burt's Bees can be found in nearly every grocery store and drugstore around the U.S. PLUS, in our postscript "How You Built That," Leigh Isaacson explains how her sister's break up inspired them to create a dating app – for dog owners.
Blake Mycoskie started and sold four businesses before age 30. But only in Argentina did he discover the idea he'd want to pursue long term. After seeing a shoe drive for children, he came up with TOMS — part shoe business, part philanthropy. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That," we check back in with Dillon Hill, who built Gamers Gift to help bedbound and disabled patients enjoy a wide range of places and experiences through virtual reality.
In the mid-90s, David Neeleman wanted to launch a new airline. He had already co-created a regional airline out of Salt Lake City that was acquired by Southwest. And despite his admiration of Southwest's business model, Neeleman felt there was a market for a different kind of budget airline. He envisioned flights to cities other budget airlines avoided and excellent customer service, with high-tech amenities. In 2000, he launched JetBlue and in its first year, the company flew over 1 million people, and cultivated a loyal customer following. Then came the 2007 Valentine's Day ice storm. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," how Lisa Dalton turned a relationship mishap into a game-changing braille label that solves a daily problem for blind consumers.
When she was just 19 years old, Melanie Perkins dreamt of transforming the graphic design and publishing industries. But she started small, launching a site to make yearbook design simpler and more collaborative. Her success with that first venture — and an unexpected meeting with a VC investor — eventually landed her the backing to pursue her original idea, and the chance to take on software industry titans like Adobe and Microsoft. Today, Melanie's online design platform Canva is valued at over $1 billion, joining the list of Australia's "unicorn" companies. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That," how Tristan Corriveau collected used bars of soap from a hotel and recycled them into liquid soap with The One Gallon Soap Company.
When Andy Dunn was in business school, his housemate Brian Spaly created a new type of men's pants: stylish, tailored trousers that fit well in both the hips and thighs. Together, they started the men's clothing company Bonobos, which became an instant hit due to the pants' signature flair and innovative e-commerce experience. But within a few years, Andy hit challenging roadblocks, including a struggle with depression and a falling-out with his co-founder and friend. Despite many moments of crisis, Andy steered Bonobos to massive success, and in 2017, it was acquired by Walmart for a reported $310 million. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That," how Amy and Brady King created an easy-to-assemble portable shelter meant to provide natural disaster relief and help house people experiencing homelessness.
Jerry Murrell's mother used to tell him, you can always make money if you know how to make a good burger. In 1986 — after failing at a number of business ideas — Murrell opened a tiny burger joint in Northern Virginia with his four sons. Five Guys now has more than 1,500 locations worldwide and is one of the fastest growing restaurant chains in America. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That," we check back in with Hannah England, who turned a common parenting problem into Wash. It. Later. — a water-tight bag for soaking soiled baby clothes before they stain. (Original broadcast date: June 5, 2017)
Before Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice met, they shared a common belief: New York City gyms didn't have the kind of exercise classes they craved, and each of them wanted to change that. A fitness instructor introduced them over lunch in 2005, and before the meal was done they were set on opening a stationary bike studio, with a chic and aspirational vibe. A few months later, the first SoulCycle opened in upper Manhattan. Today, SoulCycle has cultivated a near-tribal devotion among its clients, with studios across the United States and Canada. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That," how "kid-preneur" Gabrielle Goodwin and her mom Rozalynn invented a double-face double snap barrette that doesn't slip out of little girls' hair, no matter how much they play around.