How to make money in your attic and 13 other examples from the Expectation-Realty category


We all know that Coca-Cola was created as medicine. The American pharmacist Stith Pemberton, who, in 1886, developed the recipe for coca leaf tincture, could not have imagined the success his brainchild would have.

In the first years, the company was unprofitable. Pemberton managed to earn no more than $50 a year on the sale of the tincture. Production costs were more – about $70-80. Part of the money went to buy ingredients, and the rest went to bottle design and advertising.

The medicinal tincture might have been forgotten if not for the enterprising nature of one of Pemberton’s partners. A certain Mr. Venable once decided to mix Coca-Cola with soda. The sweet, mood-enhancing “fizz” appealed to Americans. Today Coca-Cola is one of the most expensive and popular brands in the world.

Similar success stories can be found in the digital sphere. This material is dedicated to the amazing startups that thought of “adding soda. Read it and be inspired!


Social networks and messengers

In the niche of social networks and messengers, there are a dozen projects that have dramatically changed the concept after creation. Some of them have sunk into oblivion, while others have managed to adjust to the needs of users. Let’s see what developers surprised the public.


The clearest example of “what did and what did not” in the social networking niche is Facebook. The success story of Mark Zuckerberg and his brainchild is familiar to many from the movie The Social Network.

The Harvard sophomore was refused permission to create a directory with student contact information and photos because, in the opinion of management, such a project contradicted the adopted privacy policy. Zuckerberg freaked out and created Facemash, where he uploaded photos of Harvard students, hacking into the university’s network. To attract an audience to the project, Mark added a fun feature – choose which of the two pictures he liked best. Facemash attracted 450 users in a few hours, and the photos garnered more than 22,000 views.

The project was shut down and Zuckerberg even tried to get expelled, but the student managed to defend his rights. A few months later, Mark Zuckerberg launched a prototype of Facebook, What became of the social network today, you already know.

What was intended: an online university directory of student data.

What came out of it: an international social network.


Today, Twitter is one of the top five most popular social networks. The platform has become a haven for Western media personalities, politicians and businessmen. Despite the limited message size – only 280 characters – the social network is often used to promote commercial interests and implement PR actions. In 2016, Bloomberg Intelligence valued Twitter at $16.7 billion.

Odeo created Twitter in early 2006. Microblogging service could have remained an internal corporate messenger if not for the South by Southwest festival in 2007. The developers organized an interesting performance – two large monitors were placed in the lobbies where the festival was held, which broadcasted fresh tweets. The audience – musicians, filmmakers, and bloggers – perceived the new social network positively. Investment and traffic flowed into the startup.

What they envisioned: a corporate messenger.

What came out: a microblogging service.


Twitter’s success made many app and service developers itch. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, American entrepreneurs and programmers, were no exception. They got the idea to create a similarly cool project, but with a different concept.

Their first project, Burbn, an app that allowed users to share photos, didn’t resonate with the audience. But Systrom and Krieger didn’t give up and kept working on the project. After hundreds of sleepless nights, the developers presented a new product – a social network for visuals Instagram. The app appeared on the App Store in October 2010. Two years after its launch, Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion.

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Instagram has become popular among media personalities – actors, artists, musicians, showmen, models, and bloggers. The latter, by the way, profit from Instagram just like that. This year, the most expensive user of Insta was the American model Kylie Jenner. The businesswoman wants 1 million dollars and not a cent less to publish her advertising post. Well, good luck.

What was conceived: an app with a photo sharing function for whiskey lovers.

What it turned out to be: a social network.


Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away… No, in 1973 and in Canada. Daniel Stewart Butterfield was born. This guy had three passions: music, programming and games. After receiving a good education at Cambridge, Butterfield began to implement his own projects. One of them was the corporate messenger Slack.

Slack was originally conceived as a messaging service for the online game Glitch, created by Butterfield’s company Tiny Speck. The game was launched, but a year later it was safely dead, and it never resonated with the audience. To squeeze something out of the unsuccessful startup, Butterfield invested the rest of his money into the development of Slack. This project worked out for him – in 15 months, the value of the messenger has grown to $1 billion. Last year, Slack was valued at $5 billion, and the number of users passed the mark of 1.5 million.

What was conceived: a messenger in an online game.

What came out: a corporate messenger.


If you devote at least 5 hours a day to computer games, you probably know about the Twitch platform. It is a kind of social network for gamers. Every day the platform registers about 15 million unique visitors. Twitch content is specific – mostly it’s broadcasts of gameplay and eSports tournaments held in different parts of the world.

Twitch was originally conceived as a social and digital experiment. On the site, users could follow the life of the project’s founder, Justin Kahn. Some time after its launch, the developers gave users the ability to stream their own videos. In 2014, Amazon bought Twitch for $1 billion. Today, the social network for gamers continues to grow and evolve, attracting new users and sponsoring cyber tournaments.

What was conceived: a streaming platform with a push model of communication.

What we got: A streaming social network.


App creators also sometimes had no idea what their project could evolve into. Let’s take a look at who conceived what and what they got in the end.


The Uber app was originally created for San Francisco business people. Users could call a cab – an executive class car – in two clicks and comfortably get from point A to point B.

But time passed, the number of users increased, and the popularity of the application grew. In 2012, Uber began its global expansion. Representatives are opening in Europe, the Middle East, South America and even Russia. In addition to passenger transportation, Uber launches new directions – transportation of children, disabled people and animals, delivery of pizza and food from restaurants, car rental, trips on motorcycles and mopeds, water transport, helicopter flights.

Today, Uber is present in 76 countries, and the company’s turnover this fall approached the $70 billion mark.

What was conceived: a premium cab app.

What we got: a passenger transportation and food delivery service.


In the spring of 2011 a Stanford University student, Evan Spiegel, introduced an unusual app to his classmates. It allowed to exchange instant messages with photos and videos that were deleted within a minute after being sent. There was a lot of interest in the project, as many people at the time were getting into the idea of Instagram.

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A full-fledged iOS application was released in July 2011. A little later a version for Android was created. Last year the maximum attendance of the application was registered – 166 million daily active users. The concept of the project remained the same, but in addition to the application, the company branded Snap began to produce special glasses for recording short videos and their broadcasting in the social network.

What was conceived: an application for sharing photos and videos with a limited shelf life.

What came out: a messenger, a production of glasses for recording and publishing videos.


The now popular cross-platform app WhatsApp used to be… an address book. You couldn’t exchange text messages, photos or videos in it. A couple of months after its launch, the developers introduced a new feature – statuses. When the statuses were changed, users were notified from the address book. The audience appreciated such an improvement, and the company had to refine the product, pulling out a full-fledged messenger.

In 2014, Facebook bought the development for $19 billion. Today, the app is used by more than 1 billion people, sending 55 billion messages every day.

What was intended: an address book.

What came out of it: a messenger.


“What’s that track? Shazam!” Ever heard that one? Today a cross-platform application for music recognition is used by almost every smartphone owner. But not many people know that the project could have been safely stalled right after its launch.

The developers – Chris Barton, Diraj Mukherjee and Phillip Ingelbrecht – originally wanted to create a product that would unite music lovers and radio stations. It was back in 1999. But after participating in a business training, the concept had to be revised – the risk that competitors would create a program that would recognize music from any source was great.

In 2002, Shazam was launched in the UK. At the time, users had to call a short number, hold the phone up to the music source for 30 seconds and wait for a message with the artist’s name and the song title. The service was chargeable. If a song could not be recognized, no money was deducted from the account.

In 2008, an app for iOS was released. It became free, but users had to view ads in the interface. A little later, the company released an application for Android. Today, the Shazam database contains information on 11 million tracks.

What was planned: a mobile service to recognize songs broadcasted on the radio.

What we got: a music recognition application.



There are some interesting products in the services niche that have changed dramatically since launch. Here’s a list of those daredevils.


In 2016, Russian developers from NtechLab presented an innovative service that allowed to find VKontakte users by photos. To find a person in the social network, it was enough to upload their photo and wait a couple of minutes. Within a few months, the service’s audience grew to 1 million users, and the startup attracted the attention of investors and… authorities.

This fall, the service ceased to exist – the project was transformed into a full-fledged facial recognition technology, a line of solutions for the government and various business sectors.

Are you already caught up in harassment mania? That’s right, now you shouldn’t smile at hidden cameras.

What was conceived: a service to find VKontakte users by photo.

What we got: Identity verification technology.

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How much does it cost to produce quality visual content shot on a professional camera? Not at all. That is the concept the creators of the service Unsplash embodied in reality.

The idea of creating a photo bank with free photos came from the Canadian startup Crew. The guys simply uploaded the remaining files from the photo shoot to the website and allowed to use them in any way and anywhere. They told the HackerNews news portal about the project… and voilà.

Today Unsplash became a multimillion dollar site, uniting professional photographers and fans of quality visual content. There are more than 550,000 freely available photos in the database.

What was planned: a site for one-time placement of unnecessary photos.

What we got: a free photobank.


Groupon is a service for collective discounts. It has offices in more than 50 countries around the world. Groupon has a website and a cross-platform mobile application. In the third quarter of 2014, the company’s turnover exceeded $757 million.

Andrew Mason, the creator of the service, had no idea the startup would be such a success. In 2006, he simply created a social network in which people could meet each other and do something useful together – collect donations, sign petitions, organize charitable events. In 2007, a commercial component was added to the service, and charity became a secondary concern.

What was the idea: a social network.

What we got: a service of collective discounts + cross-platform application.


In the West, there is an analogue of Avito – the service is called Craiglist. The site was created back in 1995, but continues to function to this day. Users can post any electronic ads – real estate rental, car sales, dating, event management and more. The bulk of ads are free.

To develop the project, Craig had to quit his job at IBM. The main page’s “pre-doped” design – it is simply dotted with links – was the main thing of the service. It is remarkable, but even Facebook could not compete with Craiglist. The corporation tried to create a similar service, but six months after its launch it had to be shut down for lack of profitability.

Craigslist was recently valued at $1 billion.

What was conceived: a directory site with data about San Francisco businesses.

What came out of it: a listing service for individuals.


Airbnb is the largest service for short-term rentals around the world. The project exists in two formats: a website and a mobile app for Android and iOS. Since its inception in 2008, more than 150 million people have found housing through Airbnb.

The developers of the service, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, had no plans to open a business. They simply had nothing to pay their rent with, so they decided to rent out the attic in their apartment for a while. For this case, designers drew up a website, and as the TOC put forward the idea with “comfortable air mattresses and homemade breakfast. In fact, these two attributes formed the basis of the name of the project – AirBed&Breakfast – and its concept.

In two days, Chesky and Gebbia made $80 from renting the loft and received a slew of emails asking when their service would be available in London, Buenos Aires, and megacities in Japan. The project’s fate was sealed.

What they had in mind: a website to cover payments for housing.

What came out: a service for renting and renting accommodation around the world.

This concludes our list of startups that turned the idea upside down. If you liked the format, write in the comments about what to do next.

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