8 incredible businesses that started out as side hustles

August 26, 2021

Businesses that started as side hustle

You’ve probably heard the term ‘side hustle’ plenty over the past few years. People have engaged in this practice for centuries. But it’s recently gained even more fame as millions of 9 to 5ers use the internet to bring in extra income.

A survey by Bankrate found that nearly 50% of full-time workers participate in some kind of side hustle outside of their everyday jobs. These ‘hustles’ range from starting and monetizing blogs to working as freelance writers, photographers, delivery drivers, and everything in between.

Many of the people engaging in side hustle activities harbor aspirations to eventually drop their day jobs altogether and turn their side hustles into thriving and profitable businesses. While this is no easy feat, it is achievable. 

In fact, many of the world’s top entrepreneurs and big businesses started as side hustles, including the 8 entities we’ll discuss in this article!

Steve Jobs of Apple Inc

There are few success stories more iconic than that of the legendary tech startup Apple. However, did you know two young men with high school diplomas and a will to succeed started the company? 

Steve Jobs and his high school friend Steve Wozniak worked together in Jobs’ parents’ garage building computers in their spare time in the 1970s. Jobs worked at Atari, and Wozniak worked at Hewlett Packard. 

Their passion project culminated in the creation of the Apple I in 1976. Within 5 years, they had created one of the fastest-growing tech companies in the industry. Apple experienced ups and downs over the years, with Jobs leaving in the 80s and returning in 1997. His return propelled Apple to icon status. The company is so well-known today that it enjoys a market value of over $2 trillion.

Andrew Mason of Groupon

Andrew Mason was busy obtaining his degree in Public Policy at the University of Chicago when he began working on The Point. This innovative platform introduced the concept of donating funds towards a specific cause of the world. 

The platform allowed its users to collectively raise funds towards a common goal. But if the goal didn’t reach a certain number of supporters or garner enough funds, it got abandoned and nobody was charged. 

This ‘tipping point’ concept carried over into Mason’s next enterprise, Groupon, which he founded with his partners, Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell. Today, Groupon is the world’s most renowned online coupon purchasing platform, offering services in 15 countries worldwide.

Eren Bali of Udemy

Eren Bali was working as a freelance web developer in Turkey during the mid 2000s. While working for numerous clients, he was also working on a side hustle developing software that could create a live virtual classroom. He saw great potential in his idea, so he saved his money and moved to Silicon Valley to expand it.

Once Bali had moved to California, he teamed up with two other partners to found the pioneering online education provider Udemy. 

The website launched in 2010, after Bali and his partners had tried in vain to secure funding from investors more than 30 times. Luckily, the platform’s immediate success allowed them to raise millions of dollars within a few months. 

Today, Udemy is valued at well over $2 billion, and offers virtual education opportunities to learners across the globe.

Kevin Plank of Under Armour

Kevin Plank attended the University of Maryland in the mid 1990s, where he was also a football player. He became frustrated with having to wear the same heavy, uncomfortable football shirts under his team gear on game and practice days. A discomfort that inspired him to design and create an athletic undershirt that could keep him dry and comfortable during practice sessions. 

He struck on a great business idea, and soon started to manufacture and sell shirts to other athletes, driving along the east coast for a year during college to sell his creations from the boot of his car. 

They were a hit, and he soon progressed from making individual sales to selling his gear to professional sports teams. Within a few years, Under Armour was operating from a large warehouse and HQ office. Today the company rakes in a whopping $4 billion each year.


Etsy started out as a humble team-created side hustle designed to market all things crafty, handmade, and unique. The online platform launched in 2005 as a small marketplace for artisans to market their creations. 

It grew rapidly as many people gravitated to the platform, both to sell what they had made and to buy from their fellow creators. Etsy was earning millions in revenues in just a few years, reaching an IPO of $100 million by mid 2016.

Alon Cohen and Adi Tatarko of Houzz

Nearly everyone has heard of Houzz, the iconic home improvement platform packed with interior and exterior design ideas. Houzz also offers a home professional directory, a forum, an eCommerce portal, and much more. All of which was added since the site launched in 2009 by Alon Cohen and Adi Tatarko, a husband and wife team. 

They initially created the website as a way to seek contractors on the internet. But their side hustle quickly grew to epic proportions. As of 2017, Houzz was worth a whopping $4 billion and counting.

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger of Instagram

Instagram is arguably the world’s largest, most widely used social media platform. Despite its current fame, the site began as a side hustle started by Systrom and Krieger in 2010. 

Their goal was to create a check-in app like Foursquare with photography capabilities. This creation was initially called Burnbn, and operated from a hired desk in a shared office during their personal hours.

Competing with Foursquare proved to be challenging. Burbn didn’t take off for a long time. It was only when its founders changed its name to Instagram and focused almost entirely on mobile photography that the app began growing. 

Just a few years later, Facebook bought the app for $1 billion, and Instagram has more than 1 billion active monthly users today.

Sal Khan of Khan Academy

Sal Khan started Khan Academy back in 2004 as a way to provide one of his family members with distanced tutoring. His creation worked well, and when other people voiced an interest in his lessons, he made them available to the public. Thousands of people were soon watching his videos and requesting more, leading Khan to focus on online education full time.

The entrepreneur designed a website that offered free online courses, accepted donations, and attracted millions of users—10 million and counting to date. Khan and his executive employees are well compensated. But the platform’s listed as a non-profit organization to ensure the focus remains on providing affordable education.


Many small businesses have become extremely successful thanks to the hard work and dedication of their founders. Today, all you need is a dream, a laptop and a stable internet connection to stand a chance of turning your side hustle into a highly successful business!

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