32 Examples of Strange and Successful Online Businesses
Interesting case studies that prove you can sell almost anything
What’s a better way to teach than by providing examples?
While I am in the personal development business, these days my students and clients crave practicality more than anything else.
So, this is the perfect article for me to write. I’m here to serve and hopefully, I can over-deliver.
Here are 32 case studies featuring a wide variety of successful businesses that people started with just their laptops*
Please note that I am not affiliated with any of these businesses nor do I receive compensation from any of them in any form. This is for educational purposes only, so enjoy!
A couple of friends sold $170k worth of spicy honey in 10 months.
Incredibly, they launched their first product from idea to offer in 30 days.
I think I’d like to try the spicy maple myself.
A couple named Cinnamon and Jason sell $600k per year of doll clothing patterns.
Yes, these guys figured out how to sell PDFs of mini clothing patterns, most of their products are digital downloads.
30-year-old Jessica Geier took revenues for her juice company from $8,000 per month to $96,000 per month in 2 months!
At the beginning she was struggling to come up with her first good tasting juice, stating that she felt nauseous.
She felt like she was a failure right from the start. But she persisted, and soon enough, her unpasteurized juice blends were selling like crazy!
Although the website now seems to be gone, this business has a fantastic story behind it.
The founder was an ex-con who did jail time for most of his 20’s.
After getting out of prison, he decided to go to college. While studying as an engineering student, he began to sell hiking gear to national park enthusiasts online.
At his peak, he was earning $80k per month in revenue selling shirts, bags, and hats.
Alex Ikonn and his wife Mimi sell hair extensions, with YouTube serving as their primary marketing channel.
Their YouTube channel was started in 2010 and since then has amassed 1,474,246 subscribers and 173,657,125 total video views.
While they haven’t disclosed their exact numbers, Shopify has confirmed that they are a 7-figure revenue business.
This is a great business to get into, as our Instagram culture takes over the world of beauty.
Jonah, a 17-year-old competitive swimmer from Denver, Colorado, started this watch store that made over 13k per month within a year.
He attributes his success to understanding and adjusting to his customers’ preferences and becoming a servant to his customers rather than trying to be a master.
Pretty impressive for such a young man!
A mechanical engineer/foodie and a freelance designer combined their skills to invent a magical souse chef robot that syncs with your smartphone to cook for you at your convenience.
They made $200,000+ in preorder sales in less than a month.
I think it looks pretty cool, but how the heck does it work?
In less than a year, bearded founder Eric Bandholz built his company that sells beard maintenance products.
It went from $0 to $120k per month in revenues by the end of the first year!
I have a beard myself, but I doubt that I’d grow it that long.
This family-run clothing company got its start when they raised $47k on Kickstarter for no-show socks.
They ended up expanding their product line and becoming a 7-figure business.
After being featured on Reddit, they made $400k in a single day.
This company started by two hot sauce fans exploded when they were featured in a Buzzfeed article and received 10,000+ orders.
They had a few manufacturing problems and had to go through 3 different manufacturers to be able to supply their customers with high-quality product.
I love sriracha myself and eat it with almost every meal. Maybe I’ll have to pick up a bottle or two of this.
Milicent Armstrong, a trained interior designer, was inspired by accessories she found in a market during her trip to Istanbul, Turkey.
The accessories she found were repurposed from intricately designed Turkish carpets.
She was so inspired, she decided to model the idea for designer bags and shoes.
While the business started slow, she has been able to double her sales every single year.
Tracey Hicks started All Things Real Estate after 13 years as a professional realtor.
She got the idea of a creating a notebook for homebuyers when she noticed her clients were having trouble keeping track of which houses they had already seen!
Tracey realized that her notebooks could double as marketing material for other realtors, and so All Things Real Estate was born.
It’s incredible how one random idea sparked the creation of a successful business.
This hit indie game by Snowman (a development studio based in Toronto) has gotten hundreds of thousands of downloads, and it is priced at $4.99 on the Apple App store.
In the Google Play Store, it has gotten millions of downloads and monetizes via in-app purchases.
To tell you the truth, I once published a game on the App Store with my brother, but it never panned out. It’s called Bird Surge.
Oh well! Some things don’t work out, so we need to keep working until they do.
Four strangers-turned-friends gave up stable and promising careers in their 20’s to create a YouTube channel revolving around one idea: saying YES!
How many of us have dozens, if not hundreds of people and beliefs in our lives telling us that we can’t do something? We all have that little voice inside of us that says that we can.
These four incredible dudes have used this theory to mingle with billionaires and celebrities, perform insane stunts against all the odds, and meet the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau.
Their channel has over 3M subscribers, which can easily be monetized into a 7-figure business.
Sarah Hannington was looking for custom candy prints for Valentine’s day, and when she couldn’t find any online she started her own!
The amazing thing to me is that she’s a full time marketing professional by day and a full-time mother and still able to run this complicated business (although it is seasonal, so that helps).
Her revenues come mostly from large B2B sales from clients such as JCrew and Victoria’s Secret. Pretty impressive!
When subscription boxes were first starting to become popular in 2010, this beauty company capitalized on the opportunity.
Offering personalized beauty packages at $10 a box, their business exploded! In 2014, the brand reported $125 million in annual sales.
Hmm, I wonder if my girlfriend would be interested in this?
Chris Rothe and his brother are third-generation commercial bookbinders, and they’re starting to take over the family business started by their grandfather.
While Chris’ father and grandfather grew the B2b arm of the business, focusing on regional corporations, Chris wanted to branch out in a different direction.
He created a B2C branch of the company which began reaching customers from around the globe!
I don’t know about you, but I can definitely tell that all these guys are related.
Katie Bartlett (a chocolatier) and Kyle Wilson (a coffee maker) combined their talents to produce decadent chocolate sourced from exotic chocolate bean locales.
Their business allows them to make enough money whereas they get to travel the world and make tasty chocolate! Who wouldn’t love that?
People say their chocolate is comparable to fine wine. I say, why not enjoy both wine and chocolate?
Incredibly, this wedding blog and dress listing service that welcomes 6 million yearly visitors was started by someone who never had a real wedding!
Eight years ago, Emily Newman and her husband eloped, yet today her business to selling wedding courses and is massively successful.
She has sold her $700 course to thousands of wedding planners and counting.
Now that is amazing!
This soon-to-be grandma entrepreneur launched a fancy butter-like soap and bath bomb business.
As part of her efforts, she actually hand delivers bath bombs to customers by taking road trips around New Zealand. I think that’s a pretty unique combination of online and offline branding.
Here is a picture she showed off of one of her best months in the early days of her business:
That is USD 52500 in revenue for those of you who don’t feel like doing the conversion.
A mother of two toddlers, Laura Thomas, quit her full-time job to start a wedding photography business.
When she realized that her business was becoming too time-consuming, she created photo presets, which are kind of like the professional version of Instagram filters, to speed things up.
Laura found that people loved the presets so much, she decided to sell them to other photographers instead of doing photography herself!
She has now built a community of over 30k photographers on Pinterest, many of whom are customers.
With the growing popularity of CrossFit, entrepreneur Peter Keller and his partner saw an opportunity.
They began selling fitness equipment made specifically for CrossFit and home gyms, and 65% of their sales come from online.
While starting as a side business, these guys have been able to take Fringe Sports from $100k per year to $3 million per year in only three years!
This Australian pop-culture inspired clothing company was founded by James Lillis in 2009.
They started out selling $10 leggings, and have since expanded to selling all kinds of clothing articles of interesting design (see picture above).
Today Black Milk Clothing is a multi-million dollar company.
Their products are sold all over the world, and they employ over 150 people!
This baby brand has sold their stuff in over 196 countries and counting, all thanks to their online presence.
Peta and Charles Stinson wanted all of their baby clothing to be made of organic material. I think it looks nice!
Like most of these success stories, this business was started as a side-hustle.
Never let a full-time job stop you from pursuing your business idea part-time.
Bernie Rothrock retired after teaching for 30 years and took over managing his brother-in-law’s alpaca ranch.
After his brother-in-law passed away and the alpaca market crashed, he got an innovative idea.
You see, alpacas hate the heat of summer, so you have to sheer their wool every summer season. It’s a painless process, and the alpacas are thankful for it.
Bernie decided to sell socks and other garments made of the wool, as it is softer than sheep’s wool and much warmer.
He named the business after two of the alpacas, Maximus and Penelope.
John Lee Dumas and his partner Kate are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses.
Thanks to their successful podcast and email list with tens of thousands of subscribers, they’re able to generate over one hundred thousand dollars per month with their educational products.
That’s incredible when you think about the fact that they don’t sell any physical products!
But you don’t have to be an entrepreneurial expert like in the last example to start an education business.
Luis Pelayo built a business by simply teaching Spanish lessons online.
He was a winner of Thinkific’s (an online course hosting site) 30-in-30 challenge when he got over 70 students to register for his courses in under 30 days.
If you have skills you want to teach that others will pay to learn, you can do the same thing that Luis did!
Justin Brooke founded a digital advertising training company called Ad Skills, which helps marketers gain the skills they need to serve great ads online that will resonate with people.
He was able to build a multiple 6-figure business from his online courses.
Here’s what he had to say about online courses during an interview with Thinkific:
“Everybody’s great at something. Some people know how to make a grilled cheese like nobody else’s business. Some people know how to fold t-shirts like nobody else’s business. Some people know how to clean a house. Everybody knows something. I have seen a guy make 6 figures in 90 days from a course about how to make fried pork rinds,” says Justin.
“So don’t discount your knowledge. There’s something that you know how to teach. It’s not going to cost you much. And today, you have tools like Thinkific. It’s a no-brainer.”
James Altucher, podcaster, author, and entrepreneur is an example in this list of successful online businesses.
His book, Choose Yourself! has sold over 1 million copies as of 2018.
The most important point is that James is self-published, meaning that he plays on the same playing field as the rest of us. That in itself should be inspiring to you.
Anyone can self-publish and make their book a #1 bestseller on Amazon if they have an excellent book and marketing strategy.
Okay, pretty much everyone interested in online business knows Gary Vaynerchuk by now.
But how many of us remember his Wine Library days?
He recorded over 1000 episodes and grew his family’s brick and mortar store from $3MM to $60MM with guerrilla-style online marketing.
Props to you Gary. I never wish to have your success; I want to work to have the qualities that made you successful.
Andrew Ferebee has accomplished incredible feats with his business online.
He has self-published and sold three best-selling books on Amazon, and built a 7-figure online coaching business teaching men how to gain more success, freedom, and happiness in their lives.
Andrew is a guy that I would love to have as a mentor, as he is quite a bit older and more experienced than me.
Why am I promoting him if he is a “competitor”? Because I’m more concerned with the global movement of transforming people’s lives than my business succeeding over his.
He adds a lot to the personal development movement, so if you’re a man, you should follow him if you don’t follow me first.
This online business has only one goal: teach people how to become #1 masters of Microsoft Excel in their organizations.
Imagine that such a simple idea has led to over $20k per month in revenue!
The founder, John Michaloudis, (correct me if I’m wrong) made most of his the sales primarily utilizing free webinars and excel guides. Simply awesome.
*Businesses, especially million dollar businesses, don’t come from laptops.
Something about this question gives me the feeling that the asker is searching for a get-rich-quick scheme.
News Flash: Getting rich quick on purpose doesn’t exist. At least not with a mindset focused on grabbing easy money.
What do all these businesses have in common? All of their founders had the right mindset.
They all focused on delivering unique value to the right market through a low-cost medium (the internet).
This single Quora answer alone took me over 4 hours of focused effort to write.
So, I hope these 32 case studies have helped you realize that success is business is not as easy as flipping open your laptop and printing money.
It takes quality work, discipline, focus, time, patience, and persistence to build an online business.