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From Uber to Shopify: Startups that changed everything in the 2010s

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  • The past decade was an eventful one for the startup world.
  • The rise of smartphones, online marketplaces, the sharing economy, and cheap access to the cloud have enabled entirely new business models — some more successful than others.
  • Business Insider spoke with five venture capitalists about the startups that had the biggest impact on the tech world throughout the 2010s. 
  • They noted that companies like Theranos and WeWork demonstrated the pitfalls of “founder worship” and the pursuit of growth at all costs.
  • But startups like Dollar Shave Club and Warby Parker stand out as companies that have successfully built direct relationships with consumers.
  • Stitch Fix and Rent The Runway are showing investors the promise of women-led ventures in an industry that grossly lacks diversity, while Shopify and Atlassian have proven that markets outside of Silicon Valley are taking off.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

The 2010s were a wild ride for startups and the investors who pumped money into them.

As the decade kicked off, smartphones were becoming ubiquitous, connecting billions of people to the internet — many for the first time — and paving the way for a wave of innovative business models.

Online marketplaces and sharing economy platforms — Amazon, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, and many more — demonstrated the power of network effects, and in doing so, completely changed how people and businesses interact with each other.

Companies seized on the stream of constant, real-time, location-based, and personalized data that consumers volunteered via a growing list of smart devices to provide them with faster and more convenient services.

Entrepreneurs had the wind at their backs, thanks to a flood of venture money and access to technical infrastructure —  Amazon Web Services — meaning they could spin up and scale up their startups like never before. Unicorns seemed to appear everywhere, and tech IPOs had investors excited.

But the tides began to turn in the second half of the decade as a flood of scandals chipped away at the idea that tech companies — and tech founders — are inherently good. Public investors became skeptical of the premium price attached to some tech companies, and the batch that went public in 2019 had a rough go of things.

Four months into 2020, the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has rocked the global economy and startup world, leading to at least 30,000 layoffs at venture-backed companies and even impacting unicorn tech darlings like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and Peloton as funding and sales have dried up. 

After speaking with five venture capitalists about how things have evolved since 2010, some clear lessons emerged — as well as some clear examples of those lessons. While it would be impossible to include every important startup, below are the companies that investors said have had the most impact on their industry in the past 10 years.

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