30 Best Startup Case Studies to Read

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30 Best Case Studies to Read

Anything that gives you a competitive edge in business is worth the effort that you put in. One incredibly effective way to get that edge is to read through industry relevant case studies. These will help you finesse your approach to business growth and teach you valuable lessons that others had to learn the hard way. Hopefully, they will teach you what pitfalls to avoid and how to avoid them, as well as some of the best practices for developing your brand, growing a community, and increasing sales.

So, we have put together a list of 30 of the best case studies to help guide you through the ins and outs of creating a super successful business.

The Power of Community

  1. Duolingo

With a team of less than 40 people Duolingo have rapidly expanded. In the past year alone they’ve launched 39 new language courses. How are they scaling so quickly? The answer is actually fairly simple. They built communities.

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  1. DietBetter

Dieting is a big industry. Everything from diet supplements to meal replacement and organic food. But that doesn’t stop many companies from failing.They are selling quick fixes and they end up going through customers quickly. Diet Better though have been quickly growing, so how do you do it right?

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  1. Foursquare

When Foursquare launched in 2009, CEO Dennis Crowley noticed something special happening. Although they had thousands of users and were poised for growth, some of them were doing incredible things: contributing hundreds of edits at a time and spending hours every week on the app.

Dennis realized that they should recognize and engage these users right away, and he created a special designation for them and gave them tools to connect with one another. These became Foursquare’s superusers.

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  1. MassRoots

MassRoots is an example of a community that has been built around something larger than just return on investment. It is about creating a community that provides value that goes deeper.

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  1. Moz

Letting your community grow and develop itself. Moz is a great example of letting community projects serving a greater function and not only adding additional value to the business but also helping it to organically grow and develop further community.

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  1. Shapeways

A great way to share information and consistently develop your product in the rght direction is through a community based approach. This allows you to get to grips with what your customers actually want, figure out what would be useful to them and develop hit products that will succeed and take your business to the next level.

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  1. Trello

Strengthen your community network through engaging a communication tool like Slack to build channels and foster collaboration through instant messaging.

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The Power of Failure

Most startups fail, and yet this industry doesn’t talk about failure nearly enough. Here are five case studies that focus on startups that nearly succeeded, they outline what the companies did wrong and hopefully will provide insight into how you can avoid making those same mistakes.

  1. Fab

Fab was once known as ‘the world’s fastest growing startup’ and was valued at over at $1 billion before it ultimately crashed. Fab underwent a variety of changes as a gay social network, a daily flash sales site, to ‘the world’s design store’, before finally be sold off to PCH, for a reported $15 million in cash and stock. This case study talks through the details of when your startup should pivot or persevere.

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  1. Webvan

At its peak, in 1999, it was valued at $1.2 billion. Two years later they filed for bankruptcy, laid off 2000 employees, and closed up shop. You could argue that they were simply ahead of their time. Their service offered home delivery for groceries – a service that is now very opular with consumers. This case study looks a little deeper though and argues that this was not where their main problems came from.

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  1. Pretty Young Professionals

You might be familiar with The Muse which is an online business dedicated to helping female entrepreneurs. It doesn’t this by offering advice, mentorship and helping woman source the right career opportunities for them. However, you probably won’t be familiar with Pretty Young Professional. This was the predecessor, the first iteration of The Muse. Ths startup fell apart due to bad communication, legal issues, and infighting among the team.

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  1. TutorSpree

The premise was simple, help parents and students find good quality tutors for their kids. And it looked like it was going fine, after only three years of operating, by 2013, they had over 7000 tutors signed up and their platform had raised over $1.5million. A few months later though they closed down after. This case study explores a few of the errors this company made and how they went from hero to zero quite so quickly.

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  1. 99 Dresses

Niki Durkin launched 99 Dresses with nothing but a vision and some retty fierce determination. However, setback after setback, from co-founders bailing to investments failing and every problem in between beset the startup. She talks through how they overcame each problem, and how after each period of initial success a new problem arose and knocked them down. This is an illuminating case study of how even if you do everything right, it still might not work out.

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The Power Of Design

  1. Pop Tip

Kelsey Falter is a young entrepreneur with background in branding, marketing, and front-end development. She had successfully translated her skills into a design-focused startup PopTip which aimed to provide quick customer feedback through polls on social media. It was her understanding of the importance of design which has lead to her success. PopTip had gotten investments in the sum of $2.41M from Scott Belsky(founder of Behance) and Jared Hecht (co-founder of GroupMe) and a number of other investors. The company was acquired by Palantir Technologies in 2014.

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  1. Dan Birman – UBER

In this case study, Dan Birman talks about identifying customer demands and adapting designs to solve particular problems. He talks through the process of redesigning an app around consumer requirements and how that can have a dramatic effect on the companies growth and help build a strong loyal customer base.

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  1. Wacom

Wacom’s product is directly related to design, and so it’s not exactly surprising that they pay a lot of attention to the importance of it. Wacom targets two very different group of customers. Firstly, creative professionals who need more advanced tools. The second is the general public interested in more entry-level tools.

These two audiences though are very different, so how can you cater to both. Well that was the problem that they faced with their designer Tobias Schneider.

Their redesign was more than successful as it brought in 300% increase in overall traffic.

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  1. Netflix

When Netflix rolled out there new interface in 2011 there was a loud user backlash. However, what they came t realise after meticulous A/B testing was that those angry loud unhappy users were definitely the minority. The results kept showing that user engagement had actually grown.

This case study is an example of just how important having a great designed website is for your company to grow, but also outlines the importance of testing your design with users and trusting in the statistics, no matter how loudly a few users protest.

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  1. New York Times App

This case study gives a detailed insight into how difficult it is to introduce even small new feature into a reputed company whilst highlighting the importance of adapting, changing and developing designs to create the best user experience which is vital to the continuing growth of the company.

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  1. Optimizely

There is no point in doing a redesign if it doesn’t provide a measurable improvement in business.

Just before Optimizely launched a new website design, they needed to make sure that the redesign actually performed better. So they tested it against the old version on a portion of their traffic.

The update beat the old design massively, with a nearly 50% increase in traffic through the website and a 30% increase in engagement!

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  1. Harry’s

Shaving gear and mens grooming is a vast market estimated to exceed the value of $2.4 billion and is almost entirely dominated by the likes of Wilkinson Sword, Shick, and Gillette.

Well, at least it had been, until Andy Katz-Mayfield and Jeff Raider decided to offer a new experience in facial shaving.

Their approach is not unlike Apple’s — Harry’s differentiate with beautiful branding, product design (ergonomically designed handles with five-blade razors for a smooth and easy shave), add to this the high level of quality control and their eye for detail and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that almost all of their customes reorder.

Their marketing stems on storytelling which wouldn’t be possible without the co-founders’ experience with cracking markets with cool branding.

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The Power of Lean

  1. Dropbox

By applying the principles from Eric Ries’s Lean Startup blog, Dropbox was able to cut costs and build a more engaged customer base. This ultimately led to Dropbox going from 100,000 users to over 4,000,000 in less than 15 months.

Drew Houston, CEO and Founder had the company iterate their product much more frequently in order to test what customers really wanted which allowed them to buid a service that almost seemed tailored…

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  1. Wealth Front

Wealthfront simplifies and makes easier a problem that investment managers often face. Most investors use mutual or index funds but lack access to top hedge funds and money managers. Wealthfront solves this problem by vetting managers and makes it possible to provide the scale necessary to make these managers accessible to regular investors. Wealthfront practices continuous deployment in an SEC-regulated environment where risks and costs of failure are very high. Founded in 2009, the company now manages over $200M and processes over $2M a day.

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  1. Grockit

Grockit was founded in 2007 and now has a user bases spanning over 150 countries worldwide. The principle is to enable social learning specifically in preparation of tests for example, SATs. The key behind their success is another lean functioning principle. Agile development to quickly and continuously release new products that the consumer wants. This means they remain relevant and continuously offer value above and beyond.

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  1. IMVU

Founded in 2004, IMVU is the world’s largest 3D chat and dress-up community. This community allows members to meet new people with similar interests, chat, create and play games together. One essential point of their success is the continuus experimental development of new product features and processes.

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  1. Votizen

An interesting thing to look at when understanding Votizen is the pivots that David Binetti made to get the company to the point it is at now. It started off as a sort of social network of verified voters pivoting to something more official and in that way more specifically addressing a specific problem, allowing American voters to join the first social lobbying platform in American history. Votizen’s tools led to the first bill driven into the US Senate by social media alone.

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  1. Aardvark

This case study highlights the importance of MVP, minimum viable products. Aardvark, a company subsequently acquired by Google, developed a social search engine. Aardvark tested its concept by very cleverly building a series of MVPs each designed in some ways t to solve a particular customer problem. By doing this they were able to identify the problems that were important to their customers, and those that were not. Developing all these solutions into what became Aardvark in the 6th iteration.

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Other Case Studies

  1. Right Now

Founded by Greg Gianforte in 1997, RightNow Technologies is a software company that was acquired by Oracle for $1.5 billion in 2012. Though he eventually raised venture capital financing, Greg began with as little as $5,000 of his own money and continued to rely on personal savings and friends and family for the next two years.

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  1. Endeca

Endeca was acquired by Oracle in 2011 for $1.1 billion. In the below presentation, Endeca Founder Steve Papa discusses his path to securing the funding that helped make the company a success. Steve also shares key lessons learned, such as the significance of macroeconomics and how fundraising efforts start long before you are actually pitching to investors.

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  1. Patient Ping

In this video, founder and CEO of Patient Ping, Jay Desai, describes their value proposition and how they are targeting their market.

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  1. Drupal

This is a case study that truly exemplifies how disruptive open source platforms and co-creation can be in their fields if this is part of your business model. This video is presented by none other than Dries Buyraert, the founder of Drupal which is the largest open source project of today.

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  1. Cylent

In many startups, the early phase of development is entirely focused on getting the product offering and value proposition right. Everyone works really hard to build the new offering, get customer acceptance and begin to generate revenue. Founders focus their hiring on the skills that are needed to accomplish these goals. And if they work really hard, and are lucky (luck’s important) they might just make it through this early phase with a team that performs well. In these situations, the company’s culture becomes loosely defined by the founder’s personalities.

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