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7 Famous Companies That Got Their Start From Unintentional Tactics

November 15, 2022

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To quote esteemed landscape painter, Mr. Bob Ross: “We don’t make mistakes. Just happy little accidents.”

And yeah — they happen. Happy ones, that is.

That could look like accidentally adding carbonated water to a local pharmacist’s headache remedy. Or forgetting that pot of oats left on the stove. Or even unintentionally adding Chemical X to your mixture of sugar, spice, and everything nice.

And when accidents happen, sometimes you just have to mop up the mess and move on with your day. Other times, accidents lead to an innovation that transforms the industry and life as we know it.

Skeptical? Well, here’s a surprise for you: That carbonated water and headache remedy combination led to the invention of Coca-Cola. And that forgotten pot of oats? Eventually led to that breakfast cereal we all know and love: cornflakes. (Okay, so the Chemical X accident didn’t technically happen.)

Accidents have led to the creation of some of the most famous companies in our world today. In fact, here are seven companies that got their start from a “happy little accident”:

1. Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola bottle on half white, half red background.
Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

Before: A remedy for common ailments.
Now: A world-famous soft drink.

In 1885, pharmacist Dr. John Stith Pemberton created a syrup formula — made from coca leaf extract and kola nuts — that was supposed to help with headaches and other common nervous disorders. He brought his syrup to a local pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, where they mixed the recipe with carbonated water and sold the drink as a “brain tonic.”

His bookkeeper Frank Robinson came up with the name “Coca-Cola,” based on the ingredients of the original formula. He thought the double C’s would look better in advertising (we’re inclined to agree). Pemberton eventually sold the rights to his formula in 1888 — it was fellow pharmacist Asa Griggs Candler who trademarked the name and started bottling and selling the former tonic as a fountain drink. And thus, the Coca-Cola empire was born.

2. Kellogg’s

Before: A wheat-based health food.
Now: One of America’s most popular breakfast cereals.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg wanted to create a bland, healthy breakfast food that would be easy to digest for the patients staying at his medical spa and resort in Battle Creek, Michigan. His original recipe was a twice-baked mixture of flour, oats, and cornmeal.

In 1898, a batch of wheat dough was accidentally left out overnight and fermented — however, the dough produced thin, crispy flakes when baked in the oven. Dr. Kellogg’s brother Will experimented with the recipe, eventually finding that corn produced better flakes than wheat. Will was also the one to pursue selling the cornflakes to a wider market of people looking for a healthy breakfast. After adding malt and sugar to the recipe, Will started producing Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in mass quantities.

Here’s a little NSFW rumor for you: It’s believed that Dr. John Kellogg was not a fan of adding sugar to his healthy food because he believed it would lead men to “carnal sins.” In fact, there’s a rumor that he originally created cornflakes as an anti-masturbatory food. The more you know.

3. LEGO

LEGO bricks.
Photo by Xavi Cabrera on Unsplash

Before: Woodworking and carpentry shop.
Now: Plastic toy construction bricks.

Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Kristiansen bought the Billund Woodworking and Carpentry shop in 1916, producing building materials like doors, windows, and cabinets for the local community. During the global economic crisis of the 1930s, Ole focused on creating products that were easier to sell: wooden toys. In 1935, he started the LEGO Group (based on the words “leg godt,” which means “play well” in Danish).

But after World War I, Ole found it much harder to source the birchwood necessary for his toys. Luckily, he was introduced to a British plastic injection-molding machine in 1946, which he would purchase to produce plastic automatic binding bricks — the precursor for the LEGO bricks we know and love (and obsess over) today.

4. Wrigley’s

Before: A soap and baking powder manufacturer.
Now: The world’s best-selling gum brand.

Founded in 1891 in Chicago, Wrigley’s originally sold soap. William Wrigley Jr., the founder, offered baking powder as a premium in every soap sale. The next year, Wrigley started selling the baking powder separately and included free chewing gum with every purchase — only to quickly realize that the gum was actually more popular than their soap or baking powder.

And so, Wrigley ended up changing the company model to sell only chewing gum, eventually expanding to mints, lollipops, and other candies.

Fun fact: Chicago’s iconic skyscraper, The Wrigley Building, was built as the original headquarters of the gum manufacturer. And Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, was named for the gum titan after he gained ownership of the club.

5. Post-It

A person positioning Post-Its on a notepad.
Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash

Before: A super-strong adhesive for planes.
Now: An iconic note-taking tool that you can find in any office.

Don’t believe everything you hear at your high school reunion. In 1968, scientist Dr. Spencer Silver was researching a way to develop a super-strong adhesive for the manufacturing conglomerate 3M. He accidentally did the exact opposite: He invented a weak adhesive that stuck lightly without bonding tightly to other surfaces.

For years, Spencer didn’t have a clue what to do with this adhesive — not until he partnered up with fellow 3M scientist Art Fry, who needed a bookmark that would stick to pages without damaging them. After testing their new “bookmarks” with their company and the consumer market in Boise, Idaho, they released their adhesive notes in their signature yellow color — and the Post-It was born.

6. Play-Doh

Before: A wallpaper cleaner.
Now: A malleable clay — perfect for a children’s toy.

In 1933, the soap company Kutol Products was in danger of going out of business. But then, Cleo McVickers managed to seal a deal with Kroger grocery stores to produce a marketable wallpaper cleaner. Cleo and his brother Noah came up with a non-toxic, malleable clay made from water, salt, and flour that kept Kutol afloat for 20 more years.

By the 1950s, however, the company was in trouble again as cleaner sales plummeted. Cleo’s son Joseph had taken charge of the company when his sister-in-law Kay Zufall convinced him to try marketing their wallpaper cleaner as a handicraft play toy. As a school teacher, Kay let her students produce clay designs with the Kutol product. So, they pivoted to marketing their cleaner as the children’s toy Play-Doh, and the rest, as they say, was history.

7. Slack

Computer screen featuring Slack.
Photo by Stephen Phillips on Unsplash

Before: A multiplayer adventure game.
Now: A messaging and communication platform popular amongst companies.

Accidents aren’t restricted to the innovation of popular products. Back in 2012, a company called Tiny Speck shut down Glitch, an online adventure game that allowed players to collaborate in cooperative gameplay.

The game, which only had a modest 150K players, wasn’t financially sustainable — but, the communication system that fueled the gameplay and collaboration between players was a diamond in the rough. The system allowed players to send messages to each other both privately and publicly with fun features that were integrated with gameplay.

The company, realizing the power of the tool in their hands, rebranded themselves and launched their new app in 2013. They went public in 2019 and have become a multi-billion dollar company in less than 10 years. Given all their recent success, you might be familiar with the name: Slack.

Bonus: Trainual

Before: An operations consulting firm.
Now: The best business playbook software for small businesses.

Surprised? Well, Trainual wasn’t always the tried and true business playbook software that you see before you. In fact, founder Chris Ronzio didn’t set out to start a SaaS company at all. Back in 2013, Chris launched Organize Chaos, a consulting firm that helped small businesses run more efficiently by mapping out their processes and auditing employees’ roles.

But when Chris noticed that a lot of these businesses lacked proper documentation, he acquired a prototype app for onboarding software and adapted it as a “training manual” builder. As the business acquired more consulting work, more and more clients were using Trainual to document their SOPs, build their org charts, and define their roles and responsibilities. And as Chris and the developers put more and more time into building the app, they realized that the Trainual software was a much more scalable way to help small businesses.

So, Chris brought the team together and they decided to go all in on Trainual. It’s been a standalone company since January of 2018 and the rest, as they say, is history.

It just goes to show that any company out there may look completely different in just a few years’ time. And in the end, whether that change is accidental or purposeful, the success that comes is dependent on what you do with the chance given to you.

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Article

7 Famous Companies That Got Their Start From Unintentional Tactics

November 15, 2022

Jump to a section
Share it!
Sign up for our newsletter
You're all signed up! Look out for the next edition of The Manual Weekly coming Wednesday am!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

To quote esteemed landscape painter, Mr. Bob Ross: “We don’t make mistakes. Just happy little accidents.”

And yeah — they happen. Happy ones, that is.

That could look like accidentally adding carbonated water to a local pharmacist’s headache remedy. Or forgetting that pot of oats left on the stove. Or even unintentionally adding Chemical X to your mixture of sugar, spice, and everything nice.

And when accidents happen, sometimes you just have to mop up the mess and move on with your day. Other times, accidents lead to an innovation that transforms the industry and life as we know it.

Skeptical? Well, here’s a surprise for you: That carbonated water and headache remedy combination led to the invention of Coca-Cola. And that forgotten pot of oats? Eventually led to that breakfast cereal we all know and love: cornflakes. (Okay, so the Chemical X accident didn’t technically happen.)

Accidents have led to the creation of some of the most famous companies in our world today. In fact, here are seven companies that got their start from a “happy little accident”:

1. Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola bottle on half white, half red background.
Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

Before: A remedy for common ailments.
Now: A world-famous soft drink.

In 1885, pharmacist Dr. John Stith Pemberton created a syrup formula — made from coca leaf extract and kola nuts — that was supposed to help with headaches and other common nervous disorders. He brought his syrup to a local pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, where they mixed the recipe with carbonated water and sold the drink as a “brain tonic.”

His bookkeeper Frank Robinson came up with the name “Coca-Cola,” based on the ingredients of the original formula. He thought the double C’s would look better in advertising (we’re inclined to agree). Pemberton eventually sold the rights to his formula in 1888 — it was fellow pharmacist Asa Griggs Candler who trademarked the name and started bottling and selling the former tonic as a fountain drink. And thus, the Coca-Cola empire was born.

2. Kellogg’s

Before: A wheat-based health food.
Now: One of America’s most popular breakfast cereals.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg wanted to create a bland, healthy breakfast food that would be easy to digest for the patients staying at his medical spa and resort in Battle Creek, Michigan. His original recipe was a twice-baked mixture of flour, oats, and cornmeal.

In 1898, a batch of wheat dough was accidentally left out overnight and fermented — however, the dough produced thin, crispy flakes when baked in the oven. Dr. Kellogg’s brother Will experimented with the recipe, eventually finding that corn produced better flakes than wheat. Will was also the one to pursue selling the cornflakes to a wider market of people looking for a healthy breakfast. After adding malt and sugar to the recipe, Will started producing Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in mass quantities.

Here’s a little NSFW rumor for you: It’s believed that Dr. John Kellogg was not a fan of adding sugar to his healthy food because he believed it would lead men to “carnal sins.” In fact, there’s a rumor that he originally created cornflakes as an anti-masturbatory food. The more you know.

3. LEGO

LEGO bricks.
Photo by Xavi Cabrera on Unsplash

Before: Woodworking and carpentry shop.
Now: Plastic toy construction bricks.

Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Kristiansen bought the Billund Woodworking and Carpentry shop in 1916, producing building materials like doors, windows, and cabinets for the local community. During the global economic crisis of the 1930s, Ole focused on creating products that were easier to sell: wooden toys. In 1935, he started the LEGO Group (based on the words “leg godt,” which means “play well” in Danish).

But after World War I, Ole found it much harder to source the birchwood necessary for his toys. Luckily, he was introduced to a British plastic injection-molding machine in 1946, which he would purchase to produce plastic automatic binding bricks — the precursor for the LEGO bricks we know and love (and obsess over) today.

4. Wrigley’s

Before: A soap and baking powder manufacturer.
Now: The world’s best-selling gum brand.

Founded in 1891 in Chicago, Wrigley’s originally sold soap. William Wrigley Jr., the founder, offered baking powder as a premium in every soap sale. The next year, Wrigley started selling the baking powder separately and included free chewing gum with every purchase — only to quickly realize that the gum was actually more popular than their soap or baking powder.

And so, Wrigley ended up changing the company model to sell only chewing gum, eventually expanding to mints, lollipops, and other candies.

Fun fact: Chicago’s iconic skyscraper, The Wrigley Building, was built as the original headquarters of the gum manufacturer. And Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, was named for the gum titan after he gained ownership of the club.

5. Post-It

A person positioning Post-Its on a notepad.
Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash

Before: A super-strong adhesive for planes.
Now: An iconic note-taking tool that you can find in any office.

Don’t believe everything you hear at your high school reunion. In 1968, scientist Dr. Spencer Silver was researching a way to develop a super-strong adhesive for the manufacturing conglomerate 3M. He accidentally did the exact opposite: He invented a weak adhesive that stuck lightly without bonding tightly to other surfaces.

For years, Spencer didn’t have a clue what to do with this adhesive — not until he partnered up with fellow 3M scientist Art Fry, who needed a bookmark that would stick to pages without damaging them. After testing their new “bookmarks” with their company and the consumer market in Boise, Idaho, they released their adhesive notes in their signature yellow color — and the Post-It was born.

6. Play-Doh

Before: A wallpaper cleaner.
Now: A malleable clay — perfect for a children’s toy.

In 1933, the soap company Kutol Products was in danger of going out of business. But then, Cleo McVickers managed to seal a deal with Kroger grocery stores to produce a marketable wallpaper cleaner. Cleo and his brother Noah came up with a non-toxic, malleable clay made from water, salt, and flour that kept Kutol afloat for 20 more years.

By the 1950s, however, the company was in trouble again as cleaner sales plummeted. Cleo’s son Joseph had taken charge of the company when his sister-in-law Kay Zufall convinced him to try marketing their wallpaper cleaner as a handicraft play toy. As a school teacher, Kay let her students produce clay designs with the Kutol product. So, they pivoted to marketing their cleaner as the children’s toy Play-Doh, and the rest, as they say, was history.

7. Slack

Computer screen featuring Slack.
Photo by Stephen Phillips on Unsplash

Before: A multiplayer adventure game.
Now: A messaging and communication platform popular amongst companies.

Accidents aren’t restricted to the innovation of popular products. Back in 2012, a company called Tiny Speck shut down Glitch, an online adventure game that allowed players to collaborate in cooperative gameplay.

The game, which only had a modest 150K players, wasn’t financially sustainable — but, the communication system that fueled the gameplay and collaboration between players was a diamond in the rough. The system allowed players to send messages to each other both privately and publicly with fun features that were integrated with gameplay.

The company, realizing the power of the tool in their hands, rebranded themselves and launched their new app in 2013. They went public in 2019 and have become a multi-billion dollar company in less than 10 years. Given all their recent success, you might be familiar with the name: Slack.

Bonus: Trainual

Before: An operations consulting firm.
Now: The best business playbook software for small businesses.

Surprised? Well, Trainual wasn’t always the tried and true business playbook software that you see before you. In fact, founder Chris Ronzio didn’t set out to start a SaaS company at all. Back in 2013, Chris launched Organize Chaos, a consulting firm that helped small businesses run more efficiently by mapping out their processes and auditing employees’ roles.

But when Chris noticed that a lot of these businesses lacked proper documentation, he acquired a prototype app for onboarding software and adapted it as a “training manual” builder. As the business acquired more consulting work, more and more clients were using Trainual to document their SOPs, build their org charts, and define their roles and responsibilities. And as Chris and the developers put more and more time into building the app, they realized that the Trainual software was a much more scalable way to help small businesses.

So, Chris brought the team together and they decided to go all in on Trainual. It’s been a standalone company since January of 2018 and the rest, as they say, is history.

It just goes to show that any company out there may look completely different in just a few years’ time. And in the end, whether that change is accidental or purposeful, the success that comes is dependent on what you do with the chance given to you.

Article

7 Famous Companies That Got Their Start From Unintentional Tactics

November 15, 2022

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