10 Great Companies that Started Out Selling Something Else

Good companies start by selling what people want. Great companies adapt to what people want and start selling what they’re going to want.

As you’ll find in this post, sometimes that means completely changing your product or service. Here are 10 great companies that started as something completely different than what they’re known for today.

Companies Started by Selling Something Else

Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company#1 3M

Formerly known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3 M’s, get it?), 3M started in 1902 as a mining company that sold a popular mineral to grinding wheel manufacturers.

From a mineral, they began selling sandpaper, then masking tape, then “Scotch Tape”, and today they sell over 55,000 different products including everything from car care products to touch screens.

#2 Abercrombie & Fitch

Founded in 1892 by David Abercrombie and Ezra H. Fitch, Abercrombie & Fitch started as a sporting goods shop and outfitter.

They didn’t become a clothing store until The Limited acquired them in 1988. Now they have over 300 stores in the U.S. and they’re expanding internationally.

#3 Avon

David H. McConnell started Avon in 1886 as door-to-door book salesman. Sales were tough at first but he realized that he could gain women’s attention by offering perfume samples.

Soon those perfume samples became more popular than the books, so he founded the California Perfume Company in New York, NY and it eventually became Avon.

Colgate Jar Toothpaste#4 Colgate

Colgate was originally founded in 1806 by a soap and candle maker named William Colgate. They started by selling soap, candles, and starch.

Colgate didn’t start selling toothpaste until 1873 and they sold it by the jar.

#5 Flickr

In 2004, Flickr started as a chat room with real-time photo sharing for the web-based multiplayer game, Game Neverending. Soon thereafter, they shelved Game Neverending, expanded the uploading and filing of photos, and buried the chat room.

In March 2005, Yahoo! acquired Flickr for $35 million.

#6 Microsoft

Bill Gates and Paul Allen started what eventually became Microsoft in 1968 when a local computer company gave the 13-year-olds access to a computer. They were quickly banned after they learned how to hack the system and crash the files. But the company ultimately re-hired them to find bugs and fix weaknesses in their systems.

Over the next five years they received sporadic programming gigs until Gates enrolled at Harvard. One year in, Allen showed Gates the latest issue of Popular Electronics featuring the Altair 8800 and Allen convinced Gates to drop out so they could develop software for personal computers.

Nintendo Playing Cards#7 Nintendo

Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo in 1889 as a playing card company. The game, Hanafuda, became very popular in Japan but they knew the market wasn’t that big. So they began to experiment in other industries. Between 1963 and 1968, Nintendo set up a taxi company, a hotel chain, a TV network, and a food company.

Finally, in 1974, Nintendo entered the video-gaming industry and today they’re third most valuable listed company in Japan.

#8 Nokia

Nokia got its start in 1865 as a paper mill – the original communications technology. In 1868, Frederick Idestam opened his second pulp mill near the town of Nokia, Finland.

After a century of mergers and acquisitions, Nokia entered the mobile communication in the 1980s with the Mobira Talkman.

#9 Twitter

Twitter originated from a “daylong brainstorming session” between Jack Dorsey and his podcasting company, Odeo, with the goal of creating an online SMS service to communicate within a small group. It was codenamed, Twttr, after being inspired by Flickr.

At first, it was used internally by Odeo employees and they launched Twitter to the public on July 15, 2006.

Wrigley History Chewing Gum#10 Wrigley

Like Colgate, the William Wrigley Jr. Company started by selling soap and baking powder in 1891. Like Avon, William Wrigley began by selling his products door-to-door and he enticed his customers by packaging each can of baking powder with chewing gum.

The chewing gum steadily became more popular than the baking powder. Today several brands of chewing gum are owned by Wrigley, including Juicy Fruit, Extra, Orbit, Hubba Bubba, and 5.

Bonus: Google

Mark my words, years from now our generation will be saying, “Remember when Google was just a search engine?” And we’ll be like, “Yeah, dude, I remember the first time I used it back in middle school.”

What’s the Point?

One of the biggest excuses young people give for not starting a business is, “I don’t have an idea yet.”

They’re just sitting back and waiting for that big idea. You know, that one-in-a-million idea. They think it’ll fall out of the sky and into their lap when they least expect it. And that’s when they’ll get started.

If you want to be successful, just start selling something, anything. Figure out what people are buying and sell it to them. Michael started his journey by selling Pokémon cards to his schoolmates as an 8-year-old.

What you’re selling will likely change over time, but the principles will stay the same.

Do you know of other companies that started out selling something completely different?


The team at retireat21 have joined the Broadband Search Team. They will continue to write for the blog with all your favourite content about the internet, internet business and entrepreneurshipRead more...

Top Young Entrepreneaurs

The official Retire at 21 Young Rich List, you can see the top earning websites in the world run by young entrepreneurs as young as 17.Read more...

Top Young Bloggers


10 World Famous Companies that Started in Garages

When I was growing up, my dad and I used the garage to build step stools, hot plates, and derby cars. As it turns out, a garage is also a great place to start a company. To better understand how to build a world famous company, you need to dive into how other entrepreneurs have created theirs. Here are ten of the world’s most gigantic businesses that started in garages...Read more...

30 Most Successful College Dropouts In History

There are many young entrepreneur dropouts. To celebrate us dropouts I compiled a list updated with the top entrepreneurs who dropped out of college and still managed to crush it in business.Read more...