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When YouTube Was a Dating Site and Other Companies That Completely Transformed

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Evolve or Die

Many of the major companies we know and love today have been around for decades, if not longer. But times change, and what’s popular today is old news tomorrow. Companies that want to stick around for the long haul have to change and adapt to what their audiences want or risk going under. Here are famous companies that started out selling something else entirely. 


Related: Companies That Reinvented Themselves to Stay Relevant

Hand Choosing a Kindle E-Book vs. Paper Book from Bookshelf
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Amazon

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 as an online bookstore, competing with stores such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon. It began to expand over the years and today still sells books, including ebooks through its Kindle and audiobooks through Audible. But it’s worth billions because it sells pretty much anything you can think of, often getting it to your door in two days with Prime shipping.


Related: The Bestselling Book on Amazon Every Year Since 1995

Close up of color pencils in wood case
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Hasbro

The toy company selling you Nerf guns, Star Wars action figures, Rubik’s Cubes, and Clue board games was founded in 1923 as Hassenfeld Brothers. The three brothers sold cloth remnants that could be used to make pencil-box covers, which led to making school supplies. It wasn't until the late 1930s that the three would venture into making toys. Hasbro blew up when it released a commercial for Mr. Potato Head in 1952, a toy that is still popular today.


Related: Toy Fads That Drove Grown-Ups Crazy

The first Gap
Gap Inc.

Gap

The Gap opened its first store in 1969 to sell “Levis, Records, and Tapes” to San Francisco’s many hippies that loved denim but had few places to buy. When jeans went mainstream and could be found virtually anywhere, The Gap pivoted to ditch the records and add more apparel. It’s since created the iconic Pocket-T, dressed Madonna and Missy Elliot for commercials, and acquired several other brands.

Wrigley Soap
Ebay

Wrigley

Wrigley chewing gum was founded in 1891 but initially sold baking powder and soap. William Wrigley Jr. wanted to reel in more customers and offered chewing gum as an incentive to buy his products — noticing quickly that it was mainly the “incentive” that people were interested in.

A typical setup with hanafuda for playing Koi-Koi.
A typical setup with hanafuda for playing Koi-Koi. by Marcus Richert (CC BY)

Nintendo

Nintendo was founded way before the invention of the television, let alone video games such as Mario Kart and systems such as the Game Boy, NES, and Wii. Fusajiro Yamauchi founded the company in 1889 to sell “Hanafuda” playing cards in Japan. It wasn't until 1975 that Nintendo joined the video game industry.

Game Neverending
Game Neverending by Amber Case (CC BY-NC)

Flickr

In 2004, Flickr was a live chat and real-time photo-sharing feature of Ludicorp's Web-based multiplayer online game, Game Neverending, according to Britannica. The game never got released and the chat function was dropped, but Flickr was bought by Yahoo And lives on. 

Young people recording podcast in studio
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Twitter

True, this social media site has had the same concept since launch in 2006. But it exists because it emerged from the collapse of a company called Odeo, whose founders were trying to build a podcast platform before Apple launched its own and destroyed the market. Twitter — originally called Twttr, which TheStreet says was a nod to Flickr — was intended to save Odeo.

Taco Bell
Taco Bell Corp.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell started as a burger and hot dog stand called Bell’s Drive-In in 1952. With burgers and hot dogs being so common, founder Glen Bell decided to stand out by selling Mexican food as well. The idea was a hit and by 1962, Bell had rebranded and called the business Taco Bell.


Related: Live Más: Spicy Secrets Behind Taco Bell's Success

David H. McConnell
Wikimedia Commons

Avon

In 1886, David H. McConnell sold books door-to-door, offering perfume as a small gift to encourage female customers to hear his pitch. As with Wrigley and his gum, the incentive was quickly outselling what was once the primary business, so McConnell started the California Perfume Co., which became Avon in 1939.

Finger of woman pushing heart icon on screen in mobile smartphone application. Online dating app, valentine's day concept.
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YouTube

YouTube started as a dating site, launching on Valentine’s Day in 2005 to encourage users to “Tune In, Hook Up.” The idea was that singles could upload videos and connect with others via the internet. Users didn’t agree, causing the founders to pivot and broaden the upload abilities. Now more than 500 hours of video are uploaded every minute, according to the company, and none of it seems intended to win a date.

Bootlegger
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NASCAR

NASCAR racing began as a way to outrun the law during Prohibition. When alcohol was made illegal, people began modifying their vehicles, making them faster so the police couldn’t catch them with the illicit product in their cars. The dangerous work stoked a culture of competition among the bootleggers to see who was faster, so it’s no surprise that after NASCAR was born in 1947 some of its greats were former bootleggers such as Junior Johnson.


Related: From Bootleggers to Checkered Flags: The History of NASCAR

set of snowboard boots, helmet, gloves and mask on wooden
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Shopify

Today Shopify helps more than a half-million sell their products online, but it started in 2004 as a snowboard company. Founders Tobias Lutke and Scott Lake created the business when they realized there was no online store platform that would allow them to upload their boards’ custom designs — so they created their own. 

American Express
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American Express

American Express, known for the charge card that’s likely in your wallet, was created in 1850 as a more reliable, flexible alternative to the young U.S. Postal Service, delivering packages and materials it would not. “For nearly 70 years, express shipping was our core business,” the company says on its National Postal Museum page. It branched out to money orders in 1882 and traveler's checks in 1891 on the way to creating its card in 1958 and becoming the financial giant it is today. 

Mining cart in silver, gold, copper mine
TomasSereda/istockphoto

3M

3M was never just Post-its and packing supplies. It started as a mining company in 1902 with the goal of making and selling sandpaper. (In fact, the three M’s stand for the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co.) Once its sandpaper operation was well underway in the 1920s, a lab assistant noticed that “painters were having trouble masking car parts,” 3M says. “He got an idea that led to the invention of masking tape” — and the addition of dozens of major product lines to the company had begun.

Lee Byung-chul, founder of Samsung
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Samsung

This South Korean electronics giant and maker of the Galaxy Phone and high-end TVs and appliances was founded by Lee Byung-Chul in 1938 as a grocery trading store exporting noodles, veggies, and dried fish. Byung-Chul expanded to textiles after the Korean War, and over the next decade, acquired banks, an insurance company, and an oil refinery before getting into the electronics industry in 1969.

anni '70 Ferruccio Lamborghini fotografato tra un trattore e una vettura Lamborghini
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Lamborghini

Ferruccio Lamborghini founded this maker of ultimate luxury sports cars in 1963 … to build tractors from leftover World War II machinery. The company grew and quickly nabbed a spot as one of Italy’s largest agricultural equipment manufacturers. Lamborghini bought a Ferrari with all of the money he made; when it had mechanical problems, he turned his focus to making his own.


Related: 20 Classic Italian Sports Cars We Wish Were in Our Driveway

The Reading's locomotive shops behind Reading Blue Mountain and Northern locomotives
The Reading's locomotive shops behind Reading Blue Mountain and Northern locomotives by Bruce Fingerhood (CC BY)

Reading Entertainment

You may know Reading Railroad as a company on the Monopoly board — but it’s a real company started in 1833 and at one point so successful it was ranked as the world’s largest corporation. You can’t do that with railroads these days; now it’s Reading Entertainment, a chain of movie theaters in Australia and New Zealand, though between 1971 and 2001 it was known more for real estate development and investing.

Goodrich
Wikimedia Commons

Goodrich

Though most people may think of Goodrich tires, the corporation left that business in 1988 and now specializes in aerospace equipment. (B.F. Goodrich shifted gears after World War II and began focusing on aviation equipment; NASA commissioned it to make the first astronauts’ spacesuits in 1961.) But the company was founded by Dr. Benjamin Franklin Goodrich in 1870 to make and sell fire hoses. In its rubber products phase, it helped make Akron the "Rubber Capital of the World."