6 Amazing Startup Stories of successful idea validation

These startup stories show just how critical the validation process was for today's most popular platforms.

Idea Validation
Rishabh Pandey

The six stories featured in this article are about successful startup ideas that were validated. These startups show how to use validation techniques and what they discovered during their process.

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Instagram, a simple mobile application that allows users to take and share photos with other social networking sites, experienced explosive growth in popularity shortly after its founding in 2010.

In order to validate the idea for Instagram, founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger set out to answer the question: "What's the simplest thing we can build that solves the problem?"

They began by making a simple list of features they thought would be important for the app before settling on four basic functions:

  • Take photo
  • Share photo
  • View photo feed
  • Search for users

Systrom and Krieger then created a prototype of their possible idea (a mobile app that allowed users to take pictures, edit them with various filters, and then post them to a social network) which was quickly released.

They got feedback from their friends and colleagues who used the app. It turned out that people liked using it but found the design too complex. After simplifying the idea to only its most basic elements (a camera, photo filters, sharing capabilities, etc.), Systrom & Krieger were able to launch their product.

Since Instagram's release, the app has continued to grow in popularity (it now boasts over 40 million users) and its founders have made millions of dollars selling it to Facebook for $1 billion.

Dollar Shave Club

Dollar Shave Club was founded by Mark Levine who wanted to find ways of cutting costs in his daily life.

In order to validate the idea for a company that would provide men with restroom products at cheaper rates, Levine set out to answer the question: "Could we sell high-quality razors and grooming products directly online?"

To find out, he put together an elaborate website (for just $1,000) with a video and sales pitch for razors. In the first 48 hours, Dollar Shave Club received 2,000 orders.

After contacting potential users to ask them questions about their purchasing habits and how often they used more products, Levine realized that he could cut costs by sending out new blades every month (rather than every few months) and by changing the handles to plastic rather than metal.

Within a few years, Dollar Shave Club had over 3 million customers and was acquired for $1 billion by Unilever.


Airbnb is an online marketplace that matches hosts with people looking to rent out their home or apartment when they're away on vacation.

In order to validate the idea for Airbnb, founders Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky set out to answer the question: "How could we simplify the process of finding temporary housing?"

They began with an online ad offering air mattresses in their loft at a low cost; it was used mostly by people who were looking to hold small parties. After using the air mattresses for three months, they realized that was the key to success.

They figured out that if they could turn it into a website where travelers and hosts could connect, they might be able to make enough money to pay rent in San Francisco (a notoriously pricey city).

To test their idea, Gebbia & Chesky set up a camera, website, and phone number (to act as their call center) in the living room of their loft apartment. After getting positive feedback from users, they realized that they had an idea worth pursuing; within two years of launching Airbnb, both men became millionaires.


WhatsApp is a messaging application that allows users to send and receive text messages for free.

In order to validate the idea for WhatsApp, founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton set out to answer the question: "Could we create an app that allowed people all over the world to connect?"

They began by creating a simple website with a video demonstrating how WhatsApp would work (it took an hour to create and cost just $200). Since they had already established a relationship with their network of family and friends, they got instant feedback on the website.

It wasn't long before Koum & Acton received enough requests for an invite code for WhatsApp that they realized there was real interest in using it. After asking potential users what smartphones and operating systems they used, which messaging services they were currently using, and whether or not they would use WhatsApp if it cost money, Koum & Acton found the information that mattered most: their users wanted to be able to communicate with friends and family around the clock.

Using this information, they were able to validate the idea for WhatsApp. Within a few years of launching, WhatsApp had over 700 million users and was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion.


Dropbox is a cloud storage service that lets users access their documents from any computer or smartphone connected to the internet.

In order to validate the idea for Dropbox, founder Drew Houston set out to answer the question: Could we create a service that would make sharing and accessing information simple?

To find out, Houston set up a basic website where people could sign up for Dropbox accounts (he spent just $1,000 on a custom design); he then emailed everyone who had signed up to find out what features they wanted.

After getting feedback from users about the desired functionality, Houston set up a system to make sure people could easily share files. In order to test the idea, he needed to find out if anyone actually wanted to use Dropbox.

So first, he created an online presentation that demonstrated how Dropbox would work; and then he invited friends over for dinner (and drinks) so they could give him feedback on his idea. After getting positive feedback from his guests, Houston set up a website and email list so he could tell everyone about Dropbox.

It took him less than two weeks to get the first 1,000 users; and within a year of launching, it had over 10 million users and was acquired by Microsoft for $8 billion.


LinkedIn is a social networking platform that allows users to create professional profiles and connect with one another.

In order to validate the idea for LinkedIn, founder Reid Hoffman set out to answer the question: "Could we create an online network for professionals that would help them be more successful?"

The first step was conducting research on what kinds of networking tools people were using. Then, he used a combination of online surveys, in-person interviews, and user tests to figure out if there was a need for LinkedIn.

After finding that people wanted the service and were willing to pay for it, the hard work began. Hoffman spent 5 months creating a website that let users create profiles and connect with one another; he then recruited friends who were executives at fast-growing companies around the Bay Area to sign up for LinkedIn so they could give him feedback about how useful they thought it was.

During this time, he also sent emails and made calls to everyone he knew in the industry, asking them if they would use LinkedIn and whether or not they thought it was a good idea.

After finding that people loved what the site had to offer and wanted to keep using it, Hoffman put the finishing touches on LinkedIn before launching the beta version; then he worked diligently with investors to raise money for the company.

Within a few years of launching, LinkedIn had over 100 million users and was acquired by Microsoft for $26 billion.

It takes a combination of research, creativity, and persistence to create the next billion-dollar company. If you have an idea that can solve problems for your customers or help them be more successful in their careers, it’s worth investing time into validating your product before launching.

But how do you know whether they want what you’re selling?

The easiest way is by asking questions about the problem you are trying to solve and then using feedback from potential users as validation for moving ahead with development.

These 6 startup stories show just how essential this process was for some of today's most popular platforms; but if all else fails, there are plenty of other ways to validate your business ideas including advertising on social media channels like Facebook & Twitter or using customer development to find customers willing to pay for your product.