The ’20 Best Startups of 2011′: What Caused Them To Be Created?

Business Insider’s list of the top 20 startups of 2011 got us thinking about the shifts in behavior and opportunity that these companies were created to address.


Business Insider just published their proposed list of the 20 Best New Startups of 2011, revealing some familiar names. While the list is worth exploring in its entirety for detail on each startup’s offerings – and their source of funding – we noted some consistent themes underlying these businesses. We hope to offer a view into the ‘signals’ of our collective shifting behaviors and needs, which these startups have mobilized to address:

  • Outsmarting (and undercutting) established business models: We begin with Simple‘s (previously Bank Simple) singular approach to consolidated banking, and their proposal for the elimination of bank fees (without closing down banks). Warby Parker‘s discounted (and 1 for 1) eyeglass frames is challenging Luxottica head-on, while Fab‘s discounted modern designs are likely stealing traffic, sales (and share) from other, less focused retailers. Lastly, Betterworks provides an alternative to smaller companies that need to manage employee perks and rewards, but that may not be able to afford entry into a Professional Employer Organization (PEO). These ventures demonstrate that there’s (usually) a simpler, more effective proposition to be found in any pre-existing model.
  • Everyone’s an entrepreneur: Chloe + Isabel turn their users into mini-jewelry entrepreneurs (Avon for the fashion crowd). Zaarly acts as a local marketplace to connect individuals or entities with real-time needs with the individuals willing and able to deliver on them – for a price, of course. General Assembly acts as a real-world higher learning alternative to prep entrepreneurs for a fragmented and fast-evolving business climate that calls for adaptation and collaboration (something that most universities have been collectively unsuccessful in formally preparing graduates for).
  • Collaborative working and education: Recognizing that entrepreneurs need a more inspiring and open way to work than from one’s home or garage, WeWork Labs‘ shared innovation space affords entrepreneurs and freelancers the opportunity to collaborate across disciplines and even business propositions. Additionally, Skillshare democratizes learning, allowing you to ‘learn anything from anyone.’  Lastly, Codecademy offers an online tutorial to learn to code, employing social and gaming mechanics as motivation. 
  • DIY and the democratization of previously specialized (premium) services: It’s tough to refer to DIY as a ‘shift’, much less a trend with a straight face, as it’s one of the key benefits that the internet and many business models emerging from it have benefited from for years now. But it continues to permeate in interesting ways. Goodsie is helping make a previously specialized service like the development of an e-commerce site accessible (and automated), becoming the Wordpress for digital shops. Giftly allows a gift-giver to create a gift card for any store, designing the card themselves before sending it via e-mail.
  • Tech Toys and Connected Objects: Sphero presents a ball you control from your phone (sheer entertainment for pet owners), while Kogeto Dot introduces a device you literally connect to your iPhone in order to shoot 360 degree videos. And while not ‘connected,’ there’s also the very cool Lytro, the ‘shoot now, focus later’ camera. Lytro is interestingly the only device among these that doesn’t rely on your mobile phone–assuming you’ll be willing to purchase a different device.
  • Lastly, there was one startup on BI’s list that we couldn’t quite bucket within other ‘shifts’, but still felt was worth identifying: ideas that create offline value for digital activities. One such entry is SoJo Studios, which turns online gaming into tangible charitable activity offline. Like this one, there were myriad others that just didn’t make this particular list.

However, with the end of the calendar year quickly approaching, there’s plenty of time for more ‘Best of 2011′ lists.
Business Insider: The 20 Best Startups of 2011

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