A Decade of Innovator Origin Stories

Luke Sykora, Stanford University January 8, 2020

How can you identify an idea that’s timely and exciting, and how do find the courage to act on it? That’s the eternal question for aspiring entrepreneurs, and our library of ETL talks is a rich trove of answers to those difficult questions, capturing the early years of ventures like Instagram, Spotify and TaskRabbit.

To celebrate the arrival of the 2020s, we’ve pulled together some of our favorite origin stories from the past decade. In these short clips you’ll meet technologists, politicians, high school dropouts, stressed-out mothers, and individuals who spent time in prison. They have one crucial thing in common: When they identified a transformational opportunity, they seized the moment. 

2010: Floodgate

Floodgate co-founding partner Ann Miura-Ko shares the origin story of Floodgate Fund. She explores how she decided to commit to a role in the VC world, and examines how fundamental values can shape venture capital.

2011: Instagram

Where did Instagram get its start? Co-founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom wrote down the top five problems that people had with mobile photos. 

2012: Spotify

Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek explains the big goal that drove his company: to create a social music service that was more attractive than piracy.

2013: Healthy Hearts Institute 

The Last Mile program trains incarcerated individuals in tech and entrepreneurship skills, preparing them for productive careers outside of prison. In a tight one-minute pitch, program participant and Healthy Hearts Institute founder Heratio Harts captures his organization’s mission and vision. 

2014: TaskRabbit

Stealth can be counterproductive. Leah Busque, founder and CEO of TaskRabbit, explains how she succeeded by sharing her business idea as widely as possible.

2015: Stripe

Stripe co-founder and president John Collison describes how the creation of the online payment system was a slow and difficult process, not an “overnight success” as it’s often portrayed in the news. 

2016: Michael Tubbs

Former Stockton city councilman and current Stockton mayor Michael Tubbs describes his unlikely path from a single-parent household in a tough neighborhood to a White House internship that first showed him he could be a civic leader. 

2017: Ozy

Carlos Watson, co-founder of the daily news site Ozy, explains how his vision for reimagining news coverage began by asking himself what he liked and disliked, and what would delight the audience. 

2018: Abl Schools

After he decided that he wanted to impact the education system, Abl Schools founder and CEO Adam Pisoni spent more than six months simply learning from industry experts.

2019: Zūm

Zūm founder and CEO Ritu Narayan built a company by solving a problem that directly impacted her and those around her: the challenge of balancing a career and after-school childcare.

What will the coming decade bring? We won’t venture to predict the next wave of transformational ideas, but our Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series will continue to capture those seeds of innovation in real time.