entertainment

11 Niche Websites That Started Small And Ended Up Being Worth Huge Amounts

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  • The Internet Is Providing More Opportunity For Entrepreneurs Than Ever Before
  • You Don't Have To Build The Next Facebook In Order To Have A Successful Website


Building A Website Has The Potential To Transform Your Business

Whether you build a social media platform, an eCommerce store or even a simple blog, building a website gives you the ability to reach a worldwide audience.

And you don't have to build the next Amazon or Facebook in order to achieve success online.

Here are 11 examples of websites and online companies that have acquired huge valuations through their online presence...and a number of them did it from scratch.

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1TechCrunch.com Was A Blog That Sold For $40million

In 2005, at the age of 35, Michael Arrington, like so many others at the time, started a blog. The difference with his blog and that of everyone else at the time is that 6 years later he sold it for $40million - how did he do it?

He focussed on a subject that meant a great deal to him and was passionate about. This is a key yet often overlooked concept when starting a business and is the one thing Arrington attributes to his success.

In a competitive space like blogging those who made it were the ones that didn't give up. Those who just wanted to monetise their online content quickly always gave up too soon.

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When your work is a labor of love like TechCrunch was for the former lawyer you gave yourself every chance of making it big.

A Californian working as a Merger and Acquisitions lawyer, Arrington was uniquely placed to oversee some of the most exciting technology companies in the world emerge.

His 2006 post that announced Google's acquisition of YouTube went viral and was a game changer for the blog that was originally intended to be a hobby.

His insight and thorough reporting of these internet startups together allowed him to quit his day job and by 2010 the site was making $10million in revenue.

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2Scott DeLong Sold ViralNova For $100m

Amongst content websites startups Scott DeLong has achieved legendary status as one of the biggest success stories in recent years in content marketing and he did it pretty much by himself.

DeLong had been building websites for a number of years with some success but it wasn't until he decided to shamelessly promote his content with the most "click-baity" headlines and images that his business took off.

Remember those Facebook ads you saw 6 or 7 years ago that would read, "You won't believe what this lottery millionaire couple did next". He was one of the pioneers of those annoying yet "clickworthy" articles we all hated ourselves for clicking on.

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Back in 2014 when the site was launched he was one of the few that was applying the viral strategy to social media and doing it successfully.

Nowadays Facebook tend to limit the reach of posts they deem to be "clickbait" because of people like DeLong but back then it was like printing money.

He only had two other content writers as he was working 16-hour days churning out content and managing the huge amount of traffic overloading his servers.

Within six months of launch the web developer was generating hundreds of thousands of dollars per month before he decided to sell up for a reported $100million.

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3Zulily.com Started In 2009 And Sold For $2.4bn In 2015

Co-Founders Darrell Cavens and Mark Vadon admit to being like an "old married couple". The best friends who met during their time at the startup Blue Nile in the 90s are similar to Apple's famous founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

CEO Cavens is the technical one with a reputation for delivering high quality software systems and Vadon is the "Steve Jobs" type with a focus on the bigger picture of the company.

In 2009, with both me bringing up young families they realised that there was room for another player in the online retailing space with a specific focus on young mothers.

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With over 4 million babies being born every year the pair knew that if they got the eCommerce site right they would see a high percentage of repeat purchases which is the lifeblood of any online retailer.

In order to differentiate from Amazon the company took a novel approach to their business model with flash sales. The site holds auctions for their merchandise which changed everyday and once the orders came in they would purchase the item from a wholesaler. At no point do the company hold any inventory.

With a custom content management system, ZuStudio, the company have been able to target their audience and by 2011 their revenue was $142.5million and was bought by QVC for $2.4billion in 2015.

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4Paul Chapman Started A Million Dollar Website In 2016

“If you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die”. These wise words from investment guru Warren Buffet were what inspired Trevor Chapman as a penniless student to take a risk with his life.

Chapman was working 12 hour days as a door to door salesman when he realised that his efforts were not going to scale and he didn't want to be doing it for the next 40 years of his life.

His solution was to start a drop shipping company and in late 2016 he had built the eCommerce website LDSman.com.

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After some initial testing of products within a few days Chapman was raking it in. After two weeks he had first $10,000 day.

Within 3 months the site had hit its first $1million in sales. Even Chapman couldn't believe the insane level of growth that his site was generating especially when there was no real specialisation in the online store.

From garden plants to fidget spinners - if it was a popular item LDSman.com would be stocking it and it was working.

LDSman.com's rapid success did not go unnoticed as the entrepreneur was offered a buyout of around $3million, which he rejected.

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5College Dropout Sean Kelly Started A Million Dollar ECommerce Company At 22

At the age of 22 Sean Kelly is now running the succesful eCommerce site jerseychampion.com which just turned over $1.2million last year.

The student turned entrepreneur started the website in May 2016, which has gone on to double in revenue year on year.

Whilst the youngster has achieved tremendous success in such a short space of time his future didn't always look as bright as it does now.

Kelly dropped out of Rutgers University after failing his math class in his freshman year and decided to pursue a career online.

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Inspired by his father who already had a business online, he realised that there was a potential for selling home-made Jerseys that had an old-school hip-hop culture theme online.

After hiring a designer and setting up a Shopify website the college dropout took to marketing his innovative product.

Kelly knew his unique brand would be popular with sports stars and hip hop artists which led him to leveraging Instagram as the sites primary marketing platform.

For most drop-shippers getting big names to promote their products would cost thousands but due to appeal of the product very often artists like Lil Pump and Soulja Boy would do it for free.

In his first year he managed to sell $245,000 worth of inventory which grew to $450,000 in year 2 and $1.2million in year 3.

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6Aaron Patzer Sold Mint.com For $170 Million In 2 Years

Personal Finance has always been a competitive sector, even back in 2007 when Mint.com was founded it was dominated by the likes of Microsoft and Quicken.

During his 20s Aaron Patzer was working as a software engineer for a number of startups where he saw an opportunity for a personal finance app that was simple to use and fully featured.

He quickly assembled a team to put his idea into reality and whilst his product was superior it was the way that the 27-year-old marketed his new company that resulted in the rapid growth.

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With a more than competitive product Patzer just needed one thing...customers.

What Mint.com achieved better than most startups and was arguably the key ingredient to their success was their content marketing.

The company built an online community similar to that of Reddit but purely dedicated to personal finance. Rather than discussing the benefits of their product they gave general advice on finance for the layman.

Their content started to rank high on Google and it was being shared by thousands on social media which was still in their early days. Their strategy worked as traffic exploded and by 2009 Patzer sold the company for $170m.

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7Personal Finance Blogger Makes $1million Per Year

In 2012 Michelle Schroeder-Gardner had just graduated with a Finance MBA. She was broke and had around $38,000 of student debt to her name.

Desperate not to be saddled with debt for the rest of her life, Michelle started blogging about personal finance and what she had learnt during her time as a student.

The Blog, MakingSenseOfCents.com, was started in late 2011 and while it took a little time in acquiring traffic the more that the hard working graduate learnt about different traffic sources and search engine optimisation the more popular her blog became.

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Within 7 months Michelle had paid off her student debt and was well on her way to making a full time income from the blog.

Within a few years the site had grown far beyond Michelle's expectations as at the age of 28 she earning over $100,000 per month.

The entrepreneur now travels the world whilst maintaining her blogging site and earns well over $1,000,000 a year and is an inspiration in the blogging space that goes to show if you go about things the right way blogging can be a lucrative endeavour.

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8Chewy.com Is The First ECommerce Site That Sold For Over $1billion

Chewy.com is a favourite for pet lovers around the world but for those who don't have any four legged friends at home they may be unaware of the companies extraordinary story of success.

As the brainchild of Ryan Cohen in 2011, Chewy.com was originally started as a response to the poor customer experience that Cohen had when shopping for his poodle.

The college dropout decided that there was an opportunity for a customer focussed online pet shop after reading about Jeff Bezos' 1997 Amazon shareholder letter.

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After collaborating with Michael Day to cofound the company the pair's obsession with the customer experience led them to a level of growth that was nothing short of staggering.

Just two years later the company's yearly revenue was $26 million and by 2017 it was over $2billion.

It turns out that pet owners making amazing repeat purchasers and they tend to go for the ones where they had the best experience.

In 2017 PetSmart acquired Chewy.com for $3.35billion making them the biggest ever sale of an eCommerce brand.

It's fair to say Cohen's poodle is well looked after now.

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9Million Dollar Sports Blog Started By Mitch Wilson Is Worth Millions

Mitch Wilson is living his dream life in Maui, Hawaii thanks to what started off as a joke email to his circle friends.

The email detailed "Miami Mitch's" picks over the weekend for the college football games they all loved. Mitch picked the winner and the reasons why. How did his friends react?

They loved it. In fact Mitch's friends recommended he start a blog that gave his recommendations on a daily basis.

Buoyed by the enthusiasm, sportschatplace.com was born.

Rather than slapping some Google Adsense ads on the site the entrepreneur realised the power of authenticity and set out to grow his audience organically. It took longer but was more powerful.

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After building up an email list of around 10,000 members over the first few years, Mitch started to monetise his site by offering "premium picks". The best bets that he thought would come in.

Within days, hundreds had signed up and Mitch's income was up well over $10,000.

With its search engine ranking improving the site was ripe for monetisation. The tipster started to income affilliates links and adverts in addition to his premium picks.

The site gets approximately 1.5million visitors a month and is valued over $1million.

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10Small Business Bloggers Now Make $7.1million A Year

In 2013 David Waring and Marc Prosser started a blog about their number one passion in life...small businesses.

Rather than creating generic content like most do (ahem) they decided to deliver high quality articles written by experts in their relative fields. The website fitsmallbusiness.com would offer entrepreneurs a unique and detailed look at how others addressed the day to day challenges that all businesses face.

The genius of having high quality long form content is that the time spent on the site was high which led their content to skyrocket up the Google rankings.

Another key to the pairs approach and to make them stand out was the absence of display ads on their site. They wanted their readers to engage in all of their content rather than having them there long enough to click on an ad.

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However, the site had to make money somehow. How did the pair decide to monetise the blog? Through affiliate marketing.

By making deals with other companies who they believed and had built a relationship with, members of the blog were assured that they could rely on quality recommendations knowing that the blog had set the high standards.

As of 2018, fitsmallbusiness.com reported $7.1million in annual revenue with a staff of around 70. As of 2020 the staff has doubled so it would be fair to say that their income has too.

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11The Million Dollar Home Page - An Innovative Approach To Advertising

Back in September 2005 Alex Tew was a broke student who, like many of his peers, just wanted to make some cash as quick as possible to fund his lifestyle.

After some brainstorming, which included the "Gum Slinger" (a used gum holder) he decided on building a website with a simple yet effective twist.

The site would be comprised of a "board" which consisted of 1,000,000 pixels. Can you see where this is going?

Tew was offering businesses a chance to purchase pixel space on the board. $1 per pixel and minimum order of $100.

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It was a bold strategy considering the site had no traffic.

However it was the sheer cheekiness and boldness of the strategy that gave the site the PR that it required to take off.

When the BBC and the Guardian picked up on the story sales took off almost immediately, with companies like eBay, HostGator all wanting a piece of the online real estate.

By January 2006 all the space had been sold off and Tew was a millionaire.

The site is still up today, check it out here.

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What Are You Waiting For?

The primary takeaway from these articles is to get started now!

In the words of Viral Nova's Scott Delong, "If you want to start a site, just do it. Don't over plan it. Launch today, adapt tomorrow. Your plan will need to evolve anyway".

No one knows how far the internet is going to grow and in 50 years time we may be looking back at this period and regard it as the best time to have started a website and built an online presence.

Don't let that opportunity pass.

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