We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.


Starting small: 3 companies that changed the way we live with a simple idea

Prepare to feel inspired.

WHAT DO FOODCLOUD, Amazon and Stripe have in common? Apart from each being multi-million-euro businesses, each company came from humble beginnings based on a small idea. 

It’s easy to see companies that are known around the globe and forget that once upon a time (in many cases) they started out as a small idea that catapulted into something big. 

Below, we’ve profiled three businesses that did just that, and shared the stories that are the foundation of their success. 


What happens when a retailer is unable to sell perfectly good food that they have in store? Before FoodCloud launched in Dublin in October 2013, it was discarded. Now, it’s given to charities, from breakfast clubs to homeless hostels to family support services.

After meeting at a start-up event for social entrepreneurs in 2012, Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien got talking about food waste and food poverty – and the pair eventually decided to take matters into their own hands. Speaking to Fora in 2017, Ward shared FoodCloud’s rocky start, saying: “When we first launched FoodCloud it didn’t work at all… We didn’t have it set up properly with the right businesses – we had a few cafés and bakeries, but the donations were very small. There wasn’t enough value in them for the charities.”

It was this initial struggle that led Ward and O’Brien to working with supermarkets, and securing a partnership with Tesco in 2014. Since then, the company has continued to grow around the country, with distribution hubs in Dublin, Cork and Galway – as well as links with Tesco and Waitrose in the UK. This year, the company is expanding in Australia, the Czech Republic and Poland, with plans to expand further.

In 2018 alone, FoodCloud redistributed 1,082 tonnes of food in Ireland, while the company moves 28 meals every minute of every day. Its recorded income last year totalled €2.1 million, compared to just over €1.3 million in 2017. Since its launch, FoodCloud has ensured that 50 million meals that would have otherwise gone to waste have gone to people who need them instead. Now that’s food for thought.


Amazon Buys Whole Foods Market For $13.7 Billion Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Patrick Fallon Patrick Fallon

While many of us are familiar with (and some even rely on) online shopping today, just 25 years ago Amazon, now the top online retailer in the world, didn’t exist. The now familiar act of making a one-click order and knowing it will arrive on your doorstep the following day wasn’t an option. 

Working in finance at 30-years-old, Jeff Bezos had an idea. “I came across the fact that web usage was growing at 2,300% per year,” he said during a 2010 speech at Princeton. “I’d never seen or heard of anything that grew that fast, and the idea of building an online bookstore with millions of titles – something that simply couldn’t exist in the physical world – was very exciting to me.” 

After receiving encouragement from his then-wife MacKenzie, Bezos told his boss about his plans – but he wasn’t so sure that it was wise for Bezos to give up his career for a start-up. Luckily, he decided to do it anyway. “After much consideration, I took the less safe path to follow my passion, and I’m proud of that choice, ” he said.

He launched the company, which only sold books at first, from his Washington garage in July 1994 and within its first month Amazon had already sold books to people in all 50 states and in 45 different companies. Bezos even dropped the packages to the post office himself, as he told Geek Wire.

By 1998, the company had expanded into selling CDs and DVDs. Over the coming years, Amazon launched a third-party seller marketplace, started selling clothes and released its Kindle as the company grew at an alarming rate. As of April this year, Amazon has a total of nearly 120 million products for sale, while the company is worth $97 billion, according to Forbes.


GSMA Mobile World Congress 2016 Day 3 - Barcelona Patrick Collison, Stripe co-founder. David Jensen / PA David Jensen / PA / PA

In 2007, Patrick and John Collison were two regular Irish teenagers going to school in Co Tipperary. In 2008, they were millionaires. Today, they share a €5 billion fortune. While you may not recognise their names off the top of your head, it’s highly likely that you’ve used their service Stripe, which handles payments for companies including Amazon, Booking.com, Lyft, Deliveroo and Facebook. 

Like many teenagers, Patrick and John had an interest in technology growing up. At just 16-years-old, when he was in fourth year, Patrick won BT Young Scientist of the Year 2005 for his coding language Croma. That same year, he studied for and sat his Leaving Certificate. John took a slightly different path to education, however, spending his Transition Year in the States with Patrick, aged 15 and 17 respectively. It was here that the pair launched their first startup Auctomatic – which they went on to sell in 2008 for $5 million.

Following the sale, they each returned to college. It was then that they discovered several simple lines of code that could be used by any website or app to connect payments to a payments company. The thought behind it? “For us it was quite visceral: these products are not serving the needs of the customers, so let’s build something better,” said John in an interview with Wired. Following this discovery, the brothers knew they were on to something good, dropped out of college in 2010 and launched Stripe in San Francisco with funding from investors.

By October 2018, 65% of UK internet users and 80% of US users had bought something from a Stripe-powered business in the previous 12 months, reports Wired. Still based in San Francisco, today millions of companies in over 120 countries use Stripe – and there’s a good chance that you do too without knowing it. 

Are you part of a small business? With Virgin Media Business, their super fast broadband speeds and phone options means your company can get off to a smooth start. More than 10,000 small businesses rely on Virgin Media Business, with bundles starting from €99 per month. Discover more about what they have to offer here.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel