The dream of a side hustle seems alluring when you’re stuck at a desk all day doing work that bores you. When your boss asks you for the eighth time if you’ve completed those quarterly reports that you sent off days ago, you may start dreaming of launching your own thing.
The good news is that, now and then, the side project, free-time experimentation, brainstorm idea or pivot catches fire and becomes something big. Here are 10 that worked out pretty well:
1. Tupperware, 1947
Brownie Wise, a secretary at an aviation company, sold brooms via home parties for extra cash; soon she began hawking Tupperware, and others caught on to her “party plan” as a sales technique.
The impact: Wise is an early progenitor of today’s gig economy. Party businesses, like jewelry-focused Stella & Dot, continue to thrive.
2. Fairchild Semiconductor, 1957
The chipmaking startup that put silicon in Silicon Valley also pioneered the practice of allowing its executives to invest, advise and launch startups on the side that might benefit Fairchild.
The impact: The Valley still thrives on these symbiotic networks, and more than 90 public firms, worth more than $2 trillion, have ties to Fairchild.
3. Post-it Notes, 1974
Art Fry, a product developer at 3M, wanted a better bookmark for his church hymnal. Using 3M’s sanctioned “15% time” to pursue wild ideas, he experimented with weak glue on paper.
The impact: 3M sells 50 billion of the iconic stickies annually, and companies like HP and Google encourage 3M-style free time for employees.
4. Apple, 1976
Steve Wozniak, an HP engineer, and Steve Jobs, an Atari employee, built a personal computer in Wozniak’s kitchen. HP wasn’t interested in the PC, and Atari CEO Nolan Bushnell declined to invest.
The impact: By leaving to see the project through, the two Steves changed the world, inspiring two generations of garage startups.
5. Super Soaker, 1982
While working for NASA and the Air Force, nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson invented an environmentally friendly heat pump that he quickly realized was also a really cool water pistol.
The impact: The Super Soaker sold 200 million units in its first decade, and Johnson continues to work on thermoelectric energy inventions.
6. Ebay, 1995
Pierre Omidyar, an engineer at proto-smartphone maker General Magic, set up a site called AuctionWeb so he could learn about online marketplaces.
The impact: As early web users flocked to buy and sell collectibles, Omidyar quit his job to professionalize what became eBay, which to this day enables people to have a side gig peddling wares.
7. Khan Academy, 2003
Hedge-fund analyst Sal Khan tutored his cousin in math via Yahoo until family demand for his teaching led him to move over to YouTube in 2006.
The impact: Khan left his job in 2009 to build his education nonprofit. His videos have been viewed 1.25 billion times, making him an inspiration to anyone using social media to do what they love.
8. Twitter, 2006
Jack Dorsey and Noah Glass made a simple SMS-messaging tool called Twttr while working for a podcasting startup called Odeo. When Odeo stalled, the company bet on Dorsey’s project.
The impact: Every pivot aspires to be this good. Dorsey is CEO of Twitter ($13 billion market cap) and Square ($11.4B). Neither is a side gig, of course.
9. Facebook “like” button, 2007
A team of Facebook developers and designers built a working prototype of what they called the “awesome button” during a July 2007 hackathon.
The impact: CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t approve “Like” until February 2009, but things worked out OK. Meanwhile, scores of companies today employ Facebook-style product sprints.
10. Casamigos Tequila, 2017
In the 1950s, Bing Crosby imported 100 percent blue agave tequila into the U.S. In a similar spirit, George Clooney and pals launched a tequila brand in 2013 and sold it in June for up to $1 billion.
The impact: As actors’ salaries come down and movie attendance wanes, stars (e.g., Gwyneth Paltrow and Reese Witherspoon) use startups to control their destiny.