4 Successful Startups That Were Built Within Bigger Companies

Solid is a new product, and we’re just gearing up to get out of the beta. What you may not know is that Solid is built within Wisembly. While we still have a “startup mentality”, constantly innovating and trying to break barriers, we’re doing this with some comfort. Wisembly just celebrated its 5th birthday. When looking at big corporations, 5 years is relatively short. But for a startup, 5 years matter a lot.

Since I joined the team, I’ve been attuned to discovering other startups which, like us, were built within bigger companies. And as it turns out, there’s a big chance that you’ve unknowingly used tools and services that originated this way.


Trello, from Fog Creek Software


Trello is the result of a series of internal hackathons run by Fog Creek Software during the summer of 2010. The “Creek Weeks”, as they called it, were here to favor internal explorations for new products and ideas. The first prototype for Trello, then called Trellis, was made in January 2011.

The team soon started full-time development and brought the product to where it is today. In July 2014, Trello moved out of Fog Creek to become its own company. As of today, 4.75 million people all over the world use Trello for project management.


Slack, from Tiny Speck, a video game studio


The origins of Slack is one of those stories where a team had to create a tool for their own needs. At the time, Stewart Butterfield was leading a studio called Tiny Speck into the development of a MMORPG called Glitch. While creating the game, team members communicated via email. They had 50 mailing lists (50!) in order to make sure each message reached the right people in an organized fashion. Still, that was a lot of email for conversations that felt a lot like chats.

Part of the team then decided to develop a platform similar to what IRC offered, with one (big) added feature: the ability to message offline people. Once there, the need for internal emails was drastically reduced and soon enough, the team switched to using -and building- Slack full time. The rest, as they say, is history. Slack now hires hundreds of people in San Francisco, Vancouver and Dublin. At the time of writing, the service is used by 1.1 million people every day.


Flickr, from Ludicorp: same same, but different


Here’s one thing you may not know: Flickr and Slack share a similar story, and even have some protagonists in common. In 2004, a team (Ludicorp) was working on an MMORPG (Game Neverending). They had to develop a live-chat with photo-hosting capabilities to answer their own needs. After a while, the photo-hosting and sharing aspects gained importance and replaced the live-chat all together… Soon after, the project had grown to the fully-fledged web service known as Flickr. Yahoo acquired it for about $25 million just a year later, in 2005.

The initiator of Ludicorp and Flickr was no other than Stewart Butterfield. It feels safe to say that he’s the most successful MMORPG builder to never release an actual MMORPG.


Appear.in, Telenor hackathon turns out great



Appear.in is a simple video conferencing tool. It allows anyone to join a video chat room by clicking on a link. No install required. From the outside, appear.in looks like the scrappy startup that quickly found a niche and capitalized on it. And in many ways, it is just that, except it was initially part of a major Norwegian telecom group. appear.in will be the next interview on our Better Meetings series, so stay tuned for that.


photo of the appear.in team


Is there any other product I should include in this list? Let me know so I’ll be able to add some. In the meantime, you can join the Solid beta.