Evolution of Tech Brands: How 4 Companies turned a Failed Idea into a Successful Global Brand

When it comes to business, there’s an old but true saying: “If you don’t succeed, then try, try again.”

Failing your way to success is the name of the game. Perhaps that’s why many startups don’t make it. Only a few hang in there long enough to reap what they’ve sown.

Last year we held an app contest, where we offered one entrepreneur the chance to have their app built by us from start to finish—for free. After hearing all the great ideas people emailed us, we realized great ideas are not the problem. It’s the willingness to scrap the idea if it’s not working or reinvent the idea if results are good but not great.

Also key is the confidence to hang on through the twists and turns of the development process. Failure is not the end. It just is a sign of what not to do next time. In fact, failure can be the best teaching point in existence. We wanted to help entrepreneurs launching a new app increase their odds of overcoming these challenges.

This is especially true for tech brands. Some of the most famous brands we use every day started out as failed ideas or botched executions. Examining these major brands reveals some very juicy details about how a name change, a complete overhaul—or even a simple tweak—can launch your business over the hump and into the stratosphere.

Here are 4 mega-tech brands that show us how it’s done:

#1 Instagram—formerly Burbnburbn-logo

Hard to imagine that Instagram, the household name used by millions, was once a failure. The company started out as “Burbn.”

If you’re wondering how to pronounce it, it’s ‘Bourbon’, like the alcoholic drink—founder Kevin Systrom’s favorite beverage. Burbn was a location-based iPhone app inspired by Foursquare’s success. The app let users check in at particular locations, make plans for future check-ins, earn points for hanging out with friends, and post pictures of the meet-ups.

The app failed because it was too complicated for its target audience of casual users. For Systrom, this was a good reason to get discouraged and quit. Instead, he did more in-depth market research to discover that the one feature people were using the most was photo-sharing.

Long story short: They scrapped everything else and made a photo-sharing app known today as Instagram.

Lesson: Don’t just look at what isn’t working. Look at what is working with your customers. This may be the key to your success.

#2 Trello—formerly Fog Creek

fog-creek-software-logoTrello was founded as Fog Creek Software in 2010. They specialized in project management tools.

Fog Creek started out as a consulting firm but transitioned their project management services into products to meet the needs of struggling companies who could no longer afford consulting during the economic downturn in 2008.

From there, Fog Creek went on to develop several project management tools with a variation of hits and misses before the creation of Trello. Trello did so well it branched out into its own company, Trello, LLC.

Lesson: When the unexpected happens outside of your control (i.e. economic downturn) tweak your product to meet the market’s current needs.

#3 Periscope—formerly known as BountyCapture


Perhaps the most up- and-coming phenomenon right now is Periscope, an app that lets you stream live in real time. The app was created by Kayvon Beykpour and Joe Bernstein, who launched the company in 2014 under the name Bounty. The initial idea was what they term “Truth” where people can watch protests and other news-worthy events as they occur without the editing or ‘spinning’ that comes from traditional news sources. After continuous development of the app through Beta testing, Bounty was bought by Twitter as Periscope. Since then, the sky’s been the limit.

Lesson: A great product can do more with a great parent company—i.e. Twitter— who believes in it and wants to take it to the next level. Changing to a more relevant name doesn’t hurt, either.

#4 Paypal—formerly Confinity and X.com338-paypal-logo-evolution

Everyone knows (and probably uses) Paypal, the American-based online payment system. Founded by a four person team comprised of Max Levchin, Peter Thiel, Luke Nosek and Ken Howery, the company was originally named Confinity—a developer of security software for handheld devices. Confinity later merged with, Elon Musk’s online banking company, in the year 2000. When Elon decided to solely focus on the merchant features Confinity brought to the table, the name changed to Paypal. Paypal was acquired by Ebay a year later, as well as making their own sub-acquisitions like Bill Me Later and Braintree. Today, Paypal has spinned off from eBay to be its own entity.

Lesson: Get with the right people. Focus on the right parts of your business with the most potential.

Learn more about how to take your app idea from start to finish here.