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Why 2M Users Prefer Paid Email Service ProtonMail Despite Gmail Being Free

Around 4 billion people were using one or another email service in 2020. And approximately 306 billion emails were sent and received every day worldwide.  One reason why email usage is so widespread worldwide is that it is, for the most part, free. And second, there's no shortage of free email services — Gmail, Outlook & Yahoo Mail are popular examples. Despite this, more than 20 million people worldwide are now using a lesser-known email service called ProtonMail, which started in 2014.  The small yet substantial rise in popularity of the relatively new ProtonMail begs the question of why anyone would switch from...

Paypal’s Growth Story & Business Model

In my opinion, Paypal's business is worth studying for two main reasons. First, PayPal is one of the oldest fintech companies to have survived to date in the post-internet era, so it has democratized innovations as well weathered competition from other startups since its founding in 1998. And Second, it was founded by the members of what is now famously known as the Paypal Mafia, a group of high-impact individuals like Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman, etc.   To add more weight to the two reasons stated above, what makes Paypal an even more fascinating business case study is that the...

How Wikipedia Works + Wikipedia’s Business Model

The proliferation of encyclopedic information can be classified into two eras: pre-internet and post-internet. Both eras gave birth to different models to create a knowledge repository and share it with a wider audience.   The earliest encyclopedic work to have survived until modern times dates back to the 1st century AD. Still, it was only after the advent of the printing press in the 15th century that encyclopedic knowledge was democratized. Most pre-internet encyclopedias, including Britannica, the earliest and the most famous Encyclopedia in the English-speaking world, had a similar operation style and business model.  As you can guess, they ran like more or less a...

How Tesla Disrupted the Car Industry and How it Makes Money

In 2016, 13 years after being in existence, Tesla made a one-word switch in its mission statement.  The old mission statement read, "Tesla's mission is to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable transport." The updated mission statement became, "Tesla's mission is to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy."  I highlight this change because it opens up a different window to peek into the house of Tesla. The general perception built around Tesla is that it is a car company focused on speeding up our transition to electric or sustainable transport, but the mission statement change and newer product lines indicate that...

How Harvard Makes Money?

I'm going to throw you a challenge. Assume you have to start a university that would become the richest and the most prestigious educational institutions in humankind's history.  What plan of action would you create? What business model would you choose? How would you make it financially viable for the centuries ahead? A predictable approach would be to build a sustainable brand by providing top-notch education, establishing artificial scarcity by making applicants go through a challenging selection process, and ensuring students get placed in high-income jobs. In exchange for all of this, students would be willing to pay exorbitant fees.  But that's...

Telegram’s Founding Story, Business Model & Privacy Strength

With more than 2 billion monthly active users worldwide, Facebook-owned WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app. But Telegram, launched in 2013, around four years after WhatsApp, has been slowly and steadily covering ground.  More than 500 million users were actively using the service as of January 2020, with users increasingly flocking to Telegram after WhatsApp announced a contentious privacy policy update, forcing users to accept the updated terms until 8th February 2021. Due to the public backlash, WhatsApp eventually delayed implementing its new privacy policy until May 2021. Still, this entire episode injected life into the debate around which messaging app -- among WhatsApp,...

Slack’s Growth Story & Business Model

"I have never seen viral enterprise app takeoff like this before — all word of mouth," tweeted March Andresson in February 2014, six months after Slack launched in preview mode in August 2013. The tweet accompanied a slide from Slack's investor update deck. Slack is an embodiment of Silicon Valley's dream growth trajectory. On the first day of its preview launch itself, 8000 people requested an invitation to try out Slack. Two weeks later, the number had more than doubled to 15000.  In Feb 2014, when Slack dropped the preview and launched officially, around 16000 users were using the service daily. By the end...

Discord’s Founding Story & Business Model

Discord is a classic example of building a product to cater to a specific audience segment, only to find out other audiences you weren't initially targeting, finding value in your product, and using it. And so much so that, five years later, after its launch in early 2015, the discord team let go of its original identity, deciding to embrace the direction they were pulled into by users. Jason Citron & Stan Vishnevskiy, gamers themselves, originally built Discord for gamers. A typical user would be someone who played video games a lot, and while they were at it, used Discord to talk to...

Shopify’s Founding Story, Evolution & Business Model

If we look at it from a narrows lens, Shopify is in the business of making it easier for people without coding skills to launch an online business. But if we zoom out, we could classify Shopify as an upstart in the broader retail market.  Yes, it is primarily in the business of internet retailing. But retail is not limited to the internet. Selling online is a sister distribution channel to the traditional offline channel. The whole point of commerce is to be present where the customer is, be it online or offline, or both, in an integrated fashion.  Shopify now...

Honey’s Founding Story + Business Model + Paypal Acquisition

In 2012, the same year, when Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion, Honey, which was acquired for $4 billion by Paypal in 2019, launched as a Chrome browser extension. Generally, browser extensions function as a growth channel for an existing product made by the developers of the products themselves or as 2nd order inventions made on top of existing products, made by enthusiastic users. Amazon's official Kindle extension is an example of the former, and Send to Kindle, an unofficial extension made by a third party organization, is an example of the latter.  Browser extensions are rarely considered an individual business or the primary means to...