Steve Madden fell in love with the shoe business in the 1970's, when he sold platform shoes at a neighborhood store in Long Island, New York. That was in high school. About 15 years later, he struck out on his own, designing and selling shoes with a high-end look at affordable prices. As his business – and his ambitions — began to grow, he got involved in a securities fraud scheme and wound up serving two and-a-half years in prison. In 2005, he returned to Steve Madden, where he helped the company grow into a business valued at $3 billion. PLUS, for our postscript "How You Built That," how Chris Dimino turned a school design project into the Keyboard Waffle Iron, which makes waffles in the shape of a computer keyboard.
In 1972, Maureen and Tony Wheeler bought a beat-up car and drove from London "as far east as we could go." They wound up in Australia, by way of Afghanistan, India and Thailand. Their notes on how to travel on a shoestring became a book, which grew into Lonely Planet — the largest travel guide publisher in the world. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," an update with Melanie Colón, a frustrated renter who created an easier way to communicate with noisy neighbors, called Apt App. (Original broadcast date: May 8, 2017)
For many of us, chicken salad is just another sandwich filling, but Stacy Brown turned it into a $75 million business. In 2007, she was a divorced mother of three looking for a way to make ends meet. So she started making chicken salad in her kitchen and selling it out of a basket, door-to-door. She eventually turned that home operation into Chicken Salad Chick, and took her recipes to cities across the U.S. Today, Chicken Salad Chick is one of the fastest growing companies in the country. PLUS, for our postscript "How You Built That," how Dan Kurzrock and Jordan Schwartz up-cycled beer grain into ReGrained nutrition bars.
In 2006, John Zimmer was a college student and ride-hailing wasn't yet "a thing." But a class on green cities got him thinking about the glut of underused cars on the road. Eventually, he co-founded Lyft, a company that has helped make ride-hailing a fixture of American urban living. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," an update with Kyle Ewing, who almost set fire to his living room making Terraslate, a tough waterproof paper.
After noticing more and more people sign up for yoga in the late 1990s, Chip Wilson bet everything on an athletic apparel company aimed toward young professional women. What started as a small pop-up store in Vancouver eventually became the multibillion-dollar brand Lululemon Athletica, spawning a new fashion trend and forever changing what women wear at the gym. PLUS, for our postscript "How You Built That," how Mike Sorentino developed the EyePatch Case, an iPhone case that cleans and protects the phone's built-in cameras.
In 1997, after going for a long run, Seth Goldman was frustrated with the sugar-filled drinks at the corner market. So he brewed up a beverage in his kitchen, and turned it into Honest Tea. PLUS, for our postscript "How You Built That," we check back in with Jaya Iyer for an update on Svaha Inc., a unique apparel brand that focuses on STEM-themed clothing for babies, kids, and adults. (Original broadcast date: January 16, 2017)
We are incredibly saddened by the loss of the brilliant designer and entrepreneur Kate Spade. We are grateful she and her husband Andy Spade shared their story with us in 2017. The origins of the Kate Spade brand can be drawn back to a 1991 conversation at a Mexican restaurant, when Andy asked Kate, "What's missing in designer handbags?" Kate's answer was a simple modern-shaped handbag that launched the iconic fashion brand.
In 2000, Mariam Naficy sold her first company, an online cosmetics store called Eve.com, for $110 million. Several years later, she got the entrepreneurial itch once again: she founded Minted, an online stationery store that solicits designs from artists all over the world. Today Minted is one of the biggest crowdsourcing platforms on the Internet. PLUS for our postscript, "How You Built That," how Vanessa and Casey White turned their grandfather's pierogi recipe into Jaju Pierogi.
As a kid, Troy Carter dreamed of being a rapper, but soon discovered he was a better manager than a musician. He took Lady Gaga from obscurity to stardom – helping shape both her music and her brand. Then he turned his gift for spotting talent to spotting investment opportunities with his company Atom Factory. PLUS, for our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Robyn Gerber for an update on Parkarr, a mobile app that helps drivers find street-parking.
In the 1960s, Bob Moore read a book about an old grain mill and was inspired to start his own. Using giant quartz stones from the 19th century, he made dozens of different cereals and flours, positioning his company at the forefront of the health food boom. Today, Bob's Red Mill has grown into a $100 million business – and at nearly 90, Bob goes to work at the mill every day. PLUS, for our postscript, "How You Built That," how Mike Bolos and Jason Grohowski created the portable desk, Deskview.
Barbara Corcoran grew up in a poor Irish Catholic family in Jersey – with nine brothers and sisters. But she used her charisma to conquer the streets of Manhattan and build the real estate company, The Corcoran Group. She then reinvented herself as a shark – on Shark Tank
Andrew Holder for NPR
Andrew Holder for NPR
Real Estate Mogul: Barbara Corcoran
Barbara Corcoran grew up in a working-class Irish Catholic family in Jersey – with nine brothers and sisters. But she used her charisma to conquer the streets of Manhattan and build the real estate company, The Corcoran Group. She then reinvented herself as a shark – on Shark Tank. PLUS, for our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Aryel Rivero and Vanessa Clavijo for an update on their business, Gift Wrap My Face, which designs and prints custom gift wrapping featuring the faces of people you love. (Original broadcast date: April 24, 2017)
Brothers Patrick and John Collison founded and sold their first company before they turned 20. They created software to help eBay users manage inventory online, which set them on a path to help make e-commerce frictionless. Today, John and Patrick are the founders of Stripe, a software company that uses just a few lines of code to power the payment system of companies like Lyft, Warby Parker and Target. Plus, for our postscript "How You Built That," how Robert Armstrong turned his grandma's cookie recipe into "G Mommas," buttery, bite-sized pecan-chocolate-chip cookies that are now sold in stores across the Southeast U.S.
In the early 1980s, Ron Shaich bought a small, struggling Boston bakery chain called Au Bon Pain, and built it out to 250 locations nationwide. Ron then saw an opportunity to build something even bigger: Panera Bread. It was the start of "fast casual" – a new kind of eating experience, between fast food and restaurant dining. Today, Panera Bread has over 2,000 stores, and $5 billion in annual sales. Plus, for our postscript "How You Built That," how Tyson Walters got so tired of his St. Bernard shedding everywhere that he created the Shed Defender, a zip-up body suit for dogs that captures loose hair.
Jane Wurwand moved to Los Angeles with a suitcase and a beauty school diploma. She started what would become Dermalogica, an international beauty empire that set the standard for skin care. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Nick Gilson for an update on his company, Gilson Snowboards, a snowboard & ski company based in Pennsylvania. (Original broadcast date: October 24, 2016)
After selling their first small business and shuttering their second, former college roommates Niraj Shah and Steve Conine thought about getting "normal" jobs. But in the early 2000s, they stumbled across an unexpected trend: people were buying furniture online to get a wider selection. Within a few years, Niraj and Steve launched 250 different websites, selling everything from barstools to birdhouses. Eventually, they consolidated these sites into one giant brand: Wayfair. The company now carries more than 10 million items for home and last year brought in more than $4 billion in sales. Plus, for our postscript "How You Built That," how Carin Luna-Ostaseski fell in love with scotch and became the first American woman to create a Scotch whisky company.
Daymond John grew up during the 1980s in the heart of hip hop culture: Hollis, Queens. In his early 20s, he was working at Red Lobster and trying to figure out how to start a business. Eventually, he stumbled on the idea of making clothes for fans of rap music. In 1992, he started FUBU (For Us By Us) and began selling hats outside of a local mall. Three years later, FUBU was bringing in $350 million in sales. Today, he's a judge on Shark Tank, and a motivational speaker and author. Plus, for our postscript "How You Built That", how Len Testa created an app that uses real-time data to help people avoid long lines at theme parks.
In 2010, Katrina Lake recruited 20 friends for an experiment: she wanted to see if she could choose clothes for them that accurately matched their style and personality. That idea sparked Stitch Fix, an online personal shopping service that aims to take the guesswork out of shopping. Today, it has over two million customers and brings in nearly a billion dollars in annual revenue. Plus, for our postscript "How You Built That", how Brian Sonia-Wallace built "Rent Poet" — a poem-on-demand service for weddings, corporate gatherings, and other events.
Before he turned 40, Nolan Bushnell founded two brands that permanently shaped the way Americans amuse themselves: the iconic video game system Atari, and the frenetic family restaurant Chuck E. Cheese's.
Andrew Holder for NPR
Before he turned 40, Nolan Bushnell founded two brands that permanently shaped the way Americans amuse themselves: the iconic video game system Atari, and the frenetic family restaurant Chuck E. Cheese's. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," an update on H2OPS, a non-alcoholic take on craft-brewed – a fragrant sparkling water made with hops. (Original broadcast date: February 27, 2017)
In 2000, Lara Merriken was 32, recently divorced, and without a job when she decided to make energy bars by mixing cherries, dates, and almonds in her Cuisinart. Eventually, she perfected the recipe and launched her company: LÄRABAR. After just two years, the company was bringing in millions in revenue. In 2008, she sold to General Mills, but stayed on to help grow LÄRABAR into one of the biggest energy bar brands in the U.S. Plus, for our postscript "How You Built That", how two brothers from Guinea, West Africa founded a company that makes Ginjan, a spicy-sweet juice from their boyhood, which mixes pineapple and ginger.
When Carley Roney and David Liu got married, they had a seat-of-the-pants celebration on a sweltering Washington rooftop. They never planned to go into the wedding business, but soon saw an opportunity in the market for a fresh approach to wedding planning. In 1996, they founded The Knot, a website with an irreverent attitude about "the big day." The Knot weathered the dot.com bust, a stock market meltdown, and eventually grew into the lifestyle brand XO Group, valued at $500 million. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That," how Michael Dixon's business, Mobile Vinyl Recorders, uses portable record lathes to cut vinyl at parties, weddings, and music festivals.
Brian Scudamore didn't dream of a life hauling away other people's trash. But when he needed to pay for college, he bought a $700 pickup truck, painted his phone number on the side, and started hauling. Now 1-800-GOT-JUNK? makes close to $300 million in annual revenue. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That," an update on Bloomerent, an online service that helps couples save wedding costs by letting them share flower arrangements on the same weekend. (Original broadcast date: April 17, 2017)
Even as a kid, Jeni Britton Bauer knew she was going to start a business one day. But she had no idea that her love for perfume would inspire her to start experimenting with ice cream. After years of hustling, she eventually launched Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, a company that now has more than 30 stores nationally and touts unique flavors like Brambleberry Crisp and Lemon Buttermilk. Recorded live in Columbus, Ohio.
Live Episode! Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams: Jeni Britton Bauer
During the dot com boom of the late 1990s, Jimmy Wales was running an internet search company. That's when he began to experiment with the idea of an online encyclopedia. In 2001, Wales launched Wikipedia, a website where thousands of community members could contribute, edit, and monitor content on just about anything. Today, the non-profit has stayed true to its open source roots and is the fifth most visited website in the world. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," how Florence Wetterwald created Blabla dolls – eco-friendly knitted dolls made in Peru.
In 2008, it was nearly impossible to buy a fashionable, affordable pair of glasses online. That simple frustration inspired the idea behind Warby Parker – and disrupted the eyewear industry. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That," an update on Bellyak, a kayak where you lie on your belly and paddle with your hands. (Original broadcast date: December 26, 2016)