If Major Brands Stuck to Their Original Business Model

McDonald’s, YouTube, Samsung and more

Rocky Blessey-Bragg
May 15 · 6 min read
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Illustration licensed from VectorStock.com (adapted)

I love a good origin story and that’s partly what motivated this piece. I knew a handful of major companies that began as something entirely different, but they changed, they grew and now we consume them daily. I like stories like that — they're a testament to the demands of the times and resilience and adaptability of the company. So, the following are major brands you’re most likely familiar with, but they didn’t begin as we know them now. I’ve taken the liberty of renaming them to fit their original models.

McDonald’s

McDonald’s is fast-food, but had Ray Kroc not come along, McDonald’s would have only been sharing its goodness with the county of San Bernardino, California. Kroc at the time, the exclusive distributor of the Multimixer (a milkshake mixing machine) visited the McDonald brothers in 1954, became their franchise agent and opened up the first restaurant for McDonald’s System, Inc., a predecessor of McDonald’s Corp. in Des Plaines, Illinois in April 1955. McDonald’s acquired the rights to the brother’s company in 1961 for $2.7 million.

AKA: S.B. Burger’s Exclusive

Amazon

Thanks to a $250,000 investment from his parents, Jeff Bezos was able to turn his garage sale of books into the multi-billion dollar enterprise, Amazon, visible everywhere in capitalist America. Bezos sought to grow the company at unprecedented speeds, and this ambition led to lots of obstacles for distribution centers along the way, but I think it’s safe to say that he won in the end, and continues to.

AKA: We Got Books!

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Illustration licensed from VectorStock.com (adapted)

Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton’s heritage as a trunk maker preceded the founding of the company we know today. In the mid-1830s, Louis traveled to Paris, and at this time, horse-drawn carriages, boats, and trains were the main modes of transportation. Baggage was handled roughly, so Louis found an opportunity in this market, capitalizing on the need to pack and protect the traveler’s valuables.

AKA: Trunk Tetris

Victoria’s Secret

Roy Raymond and his wife, Gaye, wanted to invent a place where men and women can feel comfortable shopping for lingerie after Roy felt humiliated walking into department stores to buy his wife lingerie. O, his poor crippled masculinity. But, Victoria’s Secret has become a major success; it’s a shame that business put a strain on him and his wife’s relationship, pushing him to leave and personally invest in a children’s clothing company.

It bombed.

AKA: Victor’s Secret — Get Me Outta’ Here

YouTube

Well, these lonely guys had the right idea about how to reach the biggest amount of people. Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim’s original concept was a dating website where users could post videos of themselves and watch as the marketing led to dates. Unfortunately, it gained no real ground and fortunately, the Superbowl Halftime fiasco of Janet Jackson became the new focus: creating a website for sharing videos as accessible as possible. But, we’ve upgraded from the shameless dating video service YouTube once was, to reaction videos of Youtube Videos…

AKA: OkStupid

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Illustration licensed from VectorStock.com (adapted)

Abercrombie and Fitch

Abercrombie & Fitch started in 1891, selling sporting goods; the outdoorsmen apparel, guns, tackle, and other merchandise were the image of wealth and luxury. When it grew, the company limited its new stores to downtown areas of large cities and to resort areas. It then widened its appeal by moving away from the outdoors focus and adding less-expensive items to its usual stock and by moving into the suburbs, where other stores had been building for some time.

AKA: Dress, Bait, and Tackle

TGI Fridays

The first Friday’s restaurant opened up on March 15th, 1965, in New York, behind the dream of Alan Stillman, a perfume seller, who envisioned a place that would entice local, single women in his neighborhood to dine at his restaurant. Wishful thinking, but T.G.I. Friday’s has become a very successful business nonetheless, opening restaurants internationally.

AKA: Hopeless Romantic’s Anonymous

NASCAR

Yes, the origins of NASCAR are rooted in prohibition bootlegging; in order to transport illegal whiskey in the dark of night, vehicles were souped-up for greater speed, handling, and storage capacity to hold as much liquor as possible. They looked seemingly ordinary on the outside. But, Runners — aka, drivers — used this ordinary presentation to evade suspicion during the day, while practicing late into the night, paving roads after dark, repeating daring, top-speed maneuvers to outrun authorities when it came time for the real delivery. These high-performance cars became pretty popular in the 1930s and eventually broke ground as the roots of stock cars for NASCAR in 1947.

Who would have thought?

AKA: Hoodrat Driving School

Kelloggs

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg changed breakfast forever. Kellogg was a Seventh-day Adventist, a branch of Christianity that advocated a strict vegetarian diet devoid of alcohol, caffeine, or meat. In addition, Kellogg was a fervent believer of abstinence and believed sex and masturbation were unhealthy and abnormal. In his book, Plain Facts for Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life, he described what he saw as the negative effects of masturbation. He cited mood swings, bad posture, acne, baldness, stiff joints, palpitations as well as a taste for spicy food to be the side effects of the ‘double abominable’ crime. There is much speculation that the creation of a ‘bland — originally sugar-less — ordinary cereal’ was motivated by the need to suppress such potential sexual impulses.

AKA: Purity Chex — The Cereal for Sinners

Samsung

Samsung was originally founded as a grocery trading store in the late 1930s by Lee Byung-Chull. He started by trading noodles and other goods produced in and around the city and exporting them to China. In the mid-1950s, he expanded his business into textiles and opened the largest woolen mill in Korea. Lee sought protection for his country following the war and centered his work around industrialization. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 1970’s that Lee entered the electronics market.

We’re all grateful that he did.

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Illustration licensed from VectorStock.com (adapted)

AKA: Oodles of Noodles 2.0

Nintendo

Nintendo set out to dominate the trading cards market with Hanafuda, Japanese playing cards adorned with flowers, nature scenes, and symbols. They became incredibly popular. So, if something isn’t broke, don't fix it, right? Wrong. In the 1960s, their popularity declined and a man named Hiroshi Yamauchi took over Nintendo. But, it was the grandson of the company’s original creator, Fusajiro, that took the company to the market of toys and amusement arcades that we know Nintendo as today. In the 1970’s fast-moving technology and the influences of major companies like Atari, Mattel and Taito propelled Nintendo into the success it has today. This start was just the beginning of the multi-billion-dollar enterprise it is today.

AKA: Hanafuda Trading Cards

Hasbro

Hasbro began in the early 1920s with Henry, Hilal, and Herman Hassenfeld, brothers who had emigrated to the United States from Poland. The brothers — who went on to recruit other family members to work their ‘company’ — started off by selling cloth leftovers remade into hat liners and pencil box covers. At one point — because of market demand and conditions — one of the brothers even took the company into manufacturing pencils. It wasn’t until the late 1930’s that Hasbro began to make toys. You might remember their classic — and the first toy to be advertised on television — Mr. Potato Head.

AKA: Excess Cloth — We have cloth. That’s about it.


If you know of any other interesting startup stories, add them in the comments. I found all of these particularly interesting and inspirational for beginning anything in the face of discouragement, flat-out rejection, or a lack of demand. It just goes to show that anyone beginning anything must possess an endurance for rejection and openness for change and adaptability. Every good business begins with a plan and passion, but successful businesses see opportunities to meet a need.

The Startup

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Rocky Blessey-Bragg

Written by

High School English Teacher. Story Teller. Transformative work in education. PhD Candidate. Olympic Weightlifter. Cat Dad

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +708K people. Follow to join our community.

Rocky Blessey-Bragg

Written by

High School English Teacher. Story Teller. Transformative work in education. PhD Candidate. Olympic Weightlifter. Cat Dad

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +708K people. Follow to join our community.

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