At the height of the first dot-com boom, Selina Tobaccowala and college friend Al Lieb were determined to start a tech company. After a few false starts, they landed on the idea for Evite—an on-line invitation business that within its first year, attracted a million followers and $37 million in investment. When the tech bubble burst, Selina and Al were forced to lay off dozens of employees before selling Evite in 2001. But the company has survived to this day, and Selina remains a role model for women in tech. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," Jamia Ramsey describes how her frustration with pink ballerina tights led her to create Blendz, apparel for dancers that matches darker skin tones.
Luke Holden grew up in Maine, working on lobster boats and in his father's lobster processing plant. But his parents pushed him to find a more stable career, so after college, he moved to New York and got a job in finance. One of the things he missed most about home was lobster rolls, so he decided to open his own lobster shack as a side project. Luke posted an ad on Craigslist looking for help, and linked up with Ben Conniff, a history major with a passion for food but no restaurant experience. Ben and Luke opened a 200-square-foot take-out restaurant in the East Village in 2009. Ten years later, Luke's Lobster has over 500 employees, and more than 40 locations in the U.S. and in Asia. This show was recorded live at the Back Bay Events Center in Boston.
Daymond John grew up during the 1980s in the heart of hip hop culture: Hollis, Queens. In his early 20s, he was working at Red Lobster and trying to figure out how to start a business. Eventually, he stumbled on the idea of making clothes for fans of rap music. In 1992, he started FUBU (For Us By Us) and began selling hats outside of a local mall. Three years later, FUBU was bringing in $350 million in sales. Today, he's a judge on Shark Tank, and a motivational speaker and author. PLUS in our post-script "How You Built That," we check back with Loren and Lisa Poncia who turned a 100 year-old family business into an organic beef supplier: Stemple Creek Ranch.
In 2000, Lara Merriken was 32, recently divorced, and without a job when she decided to make energy bars by mixing cherries, dates, and almonds in her Cuisinart. Eventually, she perfected the recipe and launched her company: LÄRABAR. After just two years, the company was bringing in millions in revenue. In 2008, she sold to General Mills, but stayed on to help grow LÄRABAR into one of the biggest energy bar brands in the U.S. PLUS in our post-script "How You Built That," we check back with Gerry Stellenberg who combined his knack for technology with his love of pinball to create a company for modern pinball enthusiasts called Multimorphic.
Alex Blumberg made his early career by helping build two of the most successful shows in radio and podcasting: Planet Money and This American Life. In 2014, convinced that podcasts could make money, he walked away from the safe umbrella of public media to start a new media company with co-founder Matt Lieber. Every doubt, triumph and humiliation of building the business was documented on the podcast Startup, which included the back-and-forth over how the company got its name: Gimlet. Many more successful podcasts followed, and five years after launch, Gimlet sold to Spotify for roughly $200 million. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," after years of researching how women's shoes wreak havoc on the joints, Casey Kerrigan quit her job in medicine to start 3D printing more comfortable designs: Oesh Shoes.
For Christina Tosi, baking wasn't just a delicious childhood hobby – it was a daily creative outlet and a way to blow off steam. After college, she went to culinary school and honed her pastry technique at high-end restaurants in NYC. But she also craved the opportunity to make unfussy, nostalgic desserts like the ones she grew up eating. So in 2008, Christina opened her first Milk Bar bakery in the East Village, with the help of her mentor, Momofuku chef David Chang. Soon, people from around the country were calling her up, begging for her gooey pies, confetti birthday cakes, and pretzel-potato-chip cookies. Today, Milk Bar has spread to 16 locations, and reportedly brings in tens of millions of dollars a year. This show was recorded live at The Town Hall in New York City.
When Carley Roney and David Liu got married, they had a seat-of-the-pants celebration on a sweltering Washington rooftop. They never planned to go into the wedding business, but soon saw an opportunity in the market for a fresh approach to wedding planning. In 1996, they founded The Knot, a website with an irreverent attitude about "the big day." The Knot weathered the dot.com bust, a stock market meltdown, and eventually grew into the lifestyle brand XO Group, valued at $500 million. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Tyson Walters who got so tired of his St. Bernard shedding everywhere that he created a zip-up body suit for dogs: the Shed Defender.
The very first time Tristan Walker shaved, he woke up the next morning with razor bumps all over his face. "I was like, what is this?" he remembers saying. "I am never shaving again—ever." He soon discovered that like him, many men of color were frustrated by the lack of shaving products for coarse or curly hair. Fifteen years after that first disastrous shave, and after countless meetings with doubtful investors, Tristan launched Bevel, a subscription shaving system built around a single-blade razor. Eventually his brand Walker & Company grew to include 36 hair and beauty products, used by millions of men and women across the U.S. In 2018, Walker & Company was sold to Proctor & Gamble, and Tristan became P&G's first black CEO. Recorded live in Washington, D.C.
Andy Puddicombe is not your typical entrepreneur – in his early twenties, he gave away everything he owned to train as a Buddhist monk. But after ten years, he decided he wanted to bring the benefits of his meditation techniques to more people. While running a meditation clinic in London, Andy met Rich Pierson, who had burned out on his job at a high-powered London ad agency. Together, they founded Headspace in 2010. Nine years later, Headspace's guided meditation app has users in 190 countries and an annual revenue of over $100 million. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," how a quick fix to a broken pair of sunglasses inspired Jensen Brehm and Nikolai Paloni to create an armless set of shades: Ombraz Sunglasses.
In 2010, Katrina Lake recruited 20 friends for an experiment: she wanted to see if she could choose clothes for them that accurately matched their style and personality. That idea sparked Stitch Fix, an online personal shopping service that aims to take the guesswork out of shopping. Today, it has about three million customers and brings in more than a billion dollars in annual revenue. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Justin Li, who created wearable equipment to keep cool and hydrated called IcePlate.
In the late 1980s, Curt Jones was working in a Kentucky lab, using liquid nitrogen to flash-freeze animal feed. He wondered if he could re-invigorate his favorite dessert by pouring droplets of ice cream into a vat of liquid nitrogen and – voila! – out came cold and creamy pellets that he soon branded Dippin' Dots. The novelty treat spread to fairs, stadiums and shopping malls, and eventually grew into a multi-million dollar brand. But a few years ago, Curt was forced to walk away after the company was hit with debt, recession and a punishing lawsuit. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," how Nadine Habayeb hopes to popularize puffed water lily seeds from India with her snack brand Bohana.
In the late 80s, brothers Bert and John Jacobs were living as nomads, traveling from college to college selling t-shirts out of their van. It wasn't a sustainable living – until one day, they created a new design. It was a simple sketch of a grinning face, with three words printed underneath: Life Is Good. The optimistic message was deeply personal to the brothers, who grew up in what they describe as a dysfunctional home – and it also resonated with customers, who started buying Life Is Good designs printed on just about anything, from towels to tire covers. Today, the Life Is Good Company has a reported annual revenue of $100 million. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," Jim Malone of CounterEv Furniture describes how he turns reclaimed wood from bowling alleys into tables and chairs for fast-casual restaurants.
Cotton muslin baby blankets are commonplace in Australia, where Raegan Moya-Jones grew up. But when she started a new life and family in NYC, she couldn't find them anywhere. So in 2006, she started the baby blanket company Aden + Anais, which now makes more than $100 million in annual revenue. We first ran this episode in 2017 – but about a year later, Raegan's role as leader and co-founder took a dramatic turn. She fills Guy in on what happened in this special updated episode. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Brian Sonia-Wallace, who started the business Rent Poet, and makes a living writing spontaneous poetry at weddings, corporate events, and other gatherings.
In 1983, two hippie farmers decided to sell homemade organic yogurt to help raise money for their educational farm in New Hampshire. As the enterprise grew into a business, it faced one near-death experience after another, but it never quite died. In fact it grew — into one of the most popular yogurt brands in the US. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Carin Luna-Ostaseski, who became the first American woman to start a Scotch whisky company after she created her own blend called SIA Scotch.
After high school, Marcia Kilgore moved to New York City with $300 in her pocket and no real plan. One step at a time, she became a successful serial entrepreneur. First, she used her high school bodybuilding experience to find work as a personal trainer. Then she taught herself to give facials, and eventually started her own spa and skincare line, Bliss. The spa became so popular that it was booked months in advance with a list of celebrity clientele. After selling her shares in Bliss, Marcia went on to start four new successful companies: Soap & Glory, FitFlop, Soaper Duper, and Beauty Pie. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Emma Cohen, who explains how she helped develop and market The Final Straw, a collapsible metal drinking straw.
In 2004, German programmer Tobias Lütke was living in Ottawa with his girlfriend. An avid snowboarder, he wanted to launch an online snowboard shop, but found the e-commerce software available at the time to be clunky and expensive. So he decided to write his own e-commerce software. After he launched his online snowboard business, called Snowdevil, other online merchants were so impressed with what he built that they started asking to license Tobi's software to run their own stores. Tobi and his co-founder realized that software had more potential than snowboards, so they launched the e-commerce platform Shopify in 2006. Since then, it has grown into a publicly-traded company with over 4,000 employees and $1 billion in revenue. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," after Barb Heilman invented a device that easily releases child car seat buckles, she started a business with her daughter Becca Davison called Unbuckle Me.
Angie and Dan Bastian weren't trying to disrupt an industry or build a massive company – they just wanted to put aside some money for their kids' college fund. In 2001, Dan stumbled across an internet ad touting kettle corn as a lucrative side-business, so he and Angie decided to take the plunge, investing $10,000 in equipment. At first, they popped kettle corn in front of local supermarkets in the Twin Cities and at Minnesota Vikings games. Eventually, they moved indoors to Trader Joe's, Target, and Costco – and got a crash course in how to run a business along the way. Angie's Kettle Corn eventually took on a bold new name: BOOMCHICKAPOP. And in 2017, the company was acquired for a reported $250 million. Recorded live in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In 1979, James Dyson had an idea for a new vacuum cleaner — one that didn't use bags. It took him five years to perfect the design, building more than 5,000 prototypes in his backyard shed. He then tried to convince the big vacuum brands to license his invention, but most wouldn't even take his calls. Eventually, he started his own company. Today, Dyson is one of the best-selling vacuum brands in the world, and James Dyson is a billionaire. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with television producer Mike Sorrentino, who created an iPhone case called EyePatch that cleans and protects the phone's camera.
In the early 1990s, Susan Griffin-Black was working for Esprit in San Francisco. On a business trip to London, she walked into a Covent Garden apothecary shop, picked up a bottle of lavender oil and took a whiff. The aroma — "like being in a beautiful garden" — literally changed her life. That was the inspiration to develop her own line of essential oil products. For 15 years, she and her husband and co-founder Brad Black barely scraped by, but the business eventually thrived. And though their marriage ultimately ended, their partnership continues. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That," Lia Heifetz of Barnacle Foods describes how she and her partners turned Alaskan bull kelp into pickles and salsa.
In 1989, college senior Wendy Kopp was trying to figure out how to improve public education in the US. For her senior thesis, she proposed creating a national teaching corps that would recruit recent college grads to teach in needy schools. One year later, she launched the nonprofit, Teach for America. Today, TFA has close to 60,000 alumni and continues to place thousands of teachers across the country. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with 19-year-old CEO Abby Kircher who turned a peanut butter obsession into Abby's Better Nut Butter.