brian armstrong coinbase

The Best Startups are Controversial

Since the dawn of startups, entrepreneurs are the first to challenge the status quo to what is conventionally seen as successful. In turn, the most successful startups are driven by a mindset that seeks to have business ambitions beyond conventional means and intends to disrupt industry standards.

Here are wildly successful startups that were once controversial:

Andreeson Horowitz

Marc Andreessen, center, with Ben Horowitz, right, and John O’Farrell, the venture capital firm’s third general partner (credit: Peter DaSilva)

Not necessarily a startup but Andreeson Horowitz (a16z) has become one of the most well known venture capital firms within the last decade having invested in the likes of Lyft, Coinbase, Github, AirBnb, Slack and so much more. Founded in 2009, the firm positioned itself against top firms liek Sequoia and Benchmark by taking big bets on technical founders and investing massive sums in internet companies. Many in the industry teased them at the time but the fund has grown to over $20 billion under management.


Airbnb co-founders Brian Chesky (right), Nathan Blecharczyk (center), and Joe Gebbia (left)

Founded in 2008, AirBnb is a built a marketplace to provide accommodations at a much cheaper rate than hotels by allowing everyday homeowners to rent out spare bedrooms. It disrupted a $500 billion a year industry and currently has over 5.6 million lodging listings across the world.


Competing against Big Auto is not easy. Tesla has experienced players with deep bags and political power, yet against all odds Tesla became the largest automotive brand in the world. Currently best known for its electric cars, Tesla also manufactures solar panels for residential houses.


Recently, there has been an increase in clinical depression cases and suicides caused by mental health issues, which is the major hurdle in achieving development goals. Headspace is an online healthcare company founded in 2010 which emphasizes the importance of mental fitness, guiding audio mindfulness training and meditation sessions.


bias Lutke (left) and Daniel Weinand (right) are co-founders of Shopify

Tobi Lütke and some friends launched the company in 2006 which now more than 1 million merchants in 175 countries using Shopify, including big brands such as Heinz, Allbirds, and Rebecca Minkoff.

In his 2018 letter to shareholders, Lütke warned of the risk of mega-companies consolidating power, and in a question-and-answer session on Twitter in 2019 he remarked, “Amazon is trying to build an empire, and Shopify is trying to arm the rebels.” Shopify continues to position itself as anti-amazon standing empowering the small business and standing up against giant conglomerates.


Coinbase co-founders Fred Ehrsam (left) and Brian Armstrong.PHOTO: JOSH VALCARCEL/WIRED

Currently a $50 billion company, Coinbase has recently taken a stand against the SEC. Coinbase has been proactively engaging with the SEC about a Lend program which would allow users to earn interest on their cyrpto. Earlier this month, after months of effort by Coinbase to engage productively, the SEC delivered what’s called a Wells notice to Coinbase about the Lend program. A Wells notice is the official way a regulator tells a company that it intends to sue the company in court.

Despite this warning, Coinbase has gone ahead and launched the Lend program to many of its users and is standing up as a platform who supports the average investor.

The Bottom Line

All these companies have one thing in common: the founders believed in an unpopular opinion and stuck behind it more many years until it became the new norm.

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