Pandora Internet Radio started out of the Music Genome Project, an ambitious idea to identify the many, many characteristics of music so that people could create custom radio stations with the music they liked and nothing they don't. When buyers like Barnes and Noble and Tower Records passed on the technology, Pandora went into business as a radio station for itself.
Tim Westergren was supposed to the musical third of the original three-man team, but stayed with the company and ended up as CEO. Today, Pandora has 81 million users and $900 million in annual revenue.
iCracked: AJ Forsythe
AJ Forsythe started iCracked, an iPhone repair service, from his college dorm room at California Polytechnic State University. He taught himself how to fix his own phone using parts ordered from Chinese ecommerce site Alibaba, and decided it had the makings of a solid business. He had his frat brothers help market the first version of iCracked with flyers made in MS Paint, and the rest is history.
Today, iCracked sends one of its 1,600 certified "iTechs" across the country straight to customers on demand to help them fix their phones for a flat $100. Interestingly, iCracked takes none of that money from the techs — they just sell them the parts to do the fixing. It's working, too, as iCracked boasts that it makes $25 million in annual revenue.
Coffee Meets Bagel: Arum, Dawoon, and Soo Kang
The Kang sisters — Arum, Dawoon, and Soo — decided to start a company together in 2011 after Arum finished her degree at Harvard Business School. After kicking ideas around, they landed on Coffee Meets Bagel, a free dating app that gives people a single solitary match every day, with additional features for sale.
Getaround founder Jessica Scorpio's BA degree is in Political Science, but she started the company after attending Singularity University, a Silicon Valley program designed to inspire young leaders to tackle global problems. Google founder Larry Page challenged Scorpio's class to pick an idea that could impact a billion people in ten years.
Getaround was founded on a simple concept: If you don't drive your car every day, why not rent it out to others? That concept has led Getaround to $45 million in venture funding, and the company has estimated that it makes car owners $8,000 a year while saving people without their own cars $8,000 on rentals and gas.
Teespring was founded by Walker Williams and Evan Stites-Clayton while they were seniors at Brown University: They wanted to make t-shirts to commemorate the closing of a favorite bar, but didn't want to lay out the money.
These days, Teespring is a site where artists can crowdfund the creation of their own designs, with $56.9 million in funding and over 200 employees. Williams serves as CEO and is in charge of maintaining user experience, while Stites-Clayton is CTO.
Tilt: Tony Beshara
Tony Beshara came up with the idea for Dvelo, while working as a microloans collection agent in Africa. The original idea was to let people make small loans to charitable causes in the region, but people started using it their own way. He brought on a co-founder (Khaled Hussein) in 2011, changed the name to Crowdtilt, and went out into the world with a system for letting anybody pool money together for anything — parties, meals, houses, whatever.
One more name change later, and Tilt is still around, funded at $37 million, and used by ESPN to let Fantasy Football players put together a prize pot.
Sprig: Gagan Biyani
Sprig has a deliciously simple concept. Drivers load their cars up with the pre-selected meals of the day until a customer hails one down with an app — almost like a Lyft. The customer gets their food, and the Sprig driver rides off to the next one.
And speaking of Lyft, Sprig founder Gagan Biyani — who holds a BA in Economics from UC Berkeley — is a former advisor to the car sharing company. While working a late night, someone on his team asked if the Lyft model could be applied to food, and boom. Sprig was born.
Today, Sprig has $11.7 million in funding and over 30 full-time employees. In fact, Sprig's first hire was Google's former executive chef, Nate Keller.
NerdWallet: Tim Chen
NerdWallet was founded in 2009 by former financial analyst Tim Chen and former JPMorgan Chase banker Jacob Gibson, with the goal of helping customers make better decisions about their money. The company got started when Chen needed a new credit card, and so set up a spreadsheet of 1,000 offers, turning him into the go-to credit card guru for coworkers and friends.