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From Startups to Superstars – Learning from Others’ Success

Beginning a startup is a risky venture, and many people give up on it too quickly, not knowing they could have succeeded if they hung on a bit longer.

As with any risky venture, it’s important to research other startups before launching your own.

Look critically at startups that have come before, especially those similar to yours, and what caused them to succeed or fail. Many of today’s most successful startups began as small, relatively unknown companies, so be encouraged if you’re just getting started. Like them, you can become a business superstar.

Blizzard Entertainment

Blizzard Entertainment is the company behind the immensely popular game World of Warcraft. However, they weren’t always as successful as they are currently. Blizzard Entertainment’s user numbers plummeted from over 12 million in 2010 to only 5.5 million in 2015, as the popularity of World of Warcraft declined.

Blizzard’s numbers have held steady at 5.5 million for over a year now, causing some to think the company and its games are dead. Yet Blizzard’s entrepreneurs are tenacious people; falling numbers simply inspired the company to rethink its strategy.

Although World of Warcraft was Blizzard’s “golden brainchild,” so to speak, the company has expanded into the eSports industry, creating games such as Heroes of the Storm, Starcraft, and Diablo. In Heroes of the Storm, for example, gamers can choose from a variety of male and female heroes with a plethora of skills.


Each hero has a role such as warrior, assassin, or specialist, and users play with each other online to increase their chances of progressing through the game. Different battlegrounds and ranks are available, making the game feel like a combination of extreme sports and role-playing.

Blizzard has also expanded its reach to gamers interested in trading cards. Hearthstone is its newest trading card game, which unlike traditional trading card games, is played online. Thus, Hearthstone has a huge advantage over traditional games, where players have to buy decks of cards in stores, and shuffle through them to find the cards they need, sometimes having no luck.

Blizzard Entertainment just turned 25, and the company’s willingness to revamp itself is what has kept it alive so long. Unlike similar companies that focus on one type of entertainment or try to make one or two types as big as possible, Blizzard is focused on pulling in as many users and speaking to as many interests as possible. As a startup, you can learn to do the same even if your service or product has a specific target audience.


Currently, Pandora is one of the most popular music streaming services available. It tailors itself to individual listeners’ music tastes, creating stations just for them. No longer do listeners have to shuffle through endless radio stations hoping their favorite songs will play, or scroll through thousands of iPod selections to find what they’re in the mood for.

Pandora learns each user’s favorite genres and singers, but doesn’t jumble them together like an iPod or other device. Instead, as a listener you could potentially have your own rock, classical, or country station, plus sub-stations for favorite artists or bands like Reba McEntire, Celtic Woman, or ‘70s rock groups.


Pandora works because it’s highly personalized, and because it puts users in total control. As a result, they’ve achieved deep brand loyalty in the few years they have existed. As a startup, you may not offer as many choices as the music industry. However, you can offer levels of personalization competing companies haven’t reached.

Let’s say you own an online bookstore and café, where users can read books online and order hard copies, or order treats to be shipped to their doors. Offer as many food and drink choices as possible – drink mixes, coffee pods for Keurig, and several different pastries or candies.

Learn which authors your customers like and send them personalized information such as, “The last book you read and enjoyed was X legal thriller. Now try Y legal thriller by this author, who is similar to your favorite because…”


Part of the allure of workouts is recording them – how many steps you’ve taken or calories you’ve burned, or how high your heart rate is. MapMyFitness, which has over 13 million users, employs GPS technology to map and record workouts.

What started as a simple fitness tracker has evolved into an app containing several fitness calculators, a nutrition-tracking app, and much more. Under Armour recently acquired the startup for $150 million, ensuring its customer reach will explode in 2017.


MapMyFitness is successful because it’s device agnostic. In other words, it’s not tied to a specific device like many fitness trackers. It’s compatible with more than 200 devices including FitBit and Garmin.

Also, unlike competing trackers, MapMyFitness doesn’t stop tracking and recording no matter what kind of workout you’re doing. Other trackers don’t track steps or calories on a treadmill or stationary bike because they assume the user is not really working.

MapMyFitness does not discriminate among machine or workout types, so you’ll always know exactly how much work you’ve done and always feel the accomplishment you crave.


Despite its name, ShoeDazzle is not only about shoes. It’s an online platform designed to help women find shoes, accessories, and clothing perfect for their personal styles. ShoeDazzle hasn’t been around as long as Blizzard Entertainment, but is coming up on its first decade, having begun in 2009.

ShoeDazzle lets users create personalized style profiles; after the profiles are finished, stylists choose clothing, shoes, and accessories from a huge variety to meet individualized tastes. The company offers 25% off regular retail prices and members-only benefits; users are often attracted to ShoeDazzle’s exclusivity. In addition, ShoeDazzle offers a VIP membership, which further personalizes users’ shopping experiences.

However, not every part of ShoeDazzle has been successful. Up until 2011, it used a subscription model, but subscriptions are no longer available. Instead, current users can only shop as basic customers or VIP members, limiting their access to certain offers.

As you begin your own startup, take a cue from where ShoeDazzle dropped the ball. Don’t be afraid to innovate, but when it comes to your business’ basic underpinnings, don’t fix what isn’t broken.

Apartment List

America is full of college students, 20-somethings, and 30-somethings who are more than ready to leave their families’ homes and find their own apartments. Enter Apartment List, a startup that promises to help users find the ideal apartment.

Rather than paging through millions of listings and calling or emailing hundreds of landlords, users can surf Apartment List using one large online map where listings have been consolidated.


With Apartment List, a user can put in any city, zip code, or general area and find top apartments for rent. This eliminates the unpleasant task of visiting unsuitable apartments.

Apartment List has partnered with several popular real estate sites such as Zillow to give their users the home hunting experiences they need. Apartment List mixes and matches options with a user until he or she is ready to lease. Once the lease is complete, the user is invited to leave a testimonial, which increases traffic.

Partnering with Zillow and other sites gives the company more apartment options; they have not had to reinvent the wheel. As a new startup owner, build your network so you always have plenty of choices to offer.

As a startup, you won’t be able to imitate what every successful business in your field is doing. However, devoting significant time to research and choosing your strategies carefully will ensure you succeed more often than you fail.

The more you know in your first year, the more successful your startup will be in 5 – 10 years. You might become a superstar in your field, one other companies are eager to watch and imitate.

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