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When you learned that Facebook’s IPO would produce more than 1,000 millionaires, admit it — you were jealous.All of those employees hit the startup jackpot.
Predicting which early stage startup will become the next Google or Facebook is impossible.
But if you are ready to take a career gamble with a startup, there are 10 promising companies we’d recommend jumping to.
We think they have big enough ideas that they could have huge exits — and take their employees along for the ride.
What it is: Save and share collections of photos you find inspiring across the Internet to a virtual bulletin board.
Date founded: November 2010
Company size: About 20 employees
Why it's a good bet: Pinterest is one of the fastest growing sites in history, jumping from 11 to 17 million unique visitors last month alone. It's still relatively small in terms of head count which means it may still offer significant stock options to crucial employees.
Although it currently doesn't generate revenue, it has more than $30 million in venture capital to fuel its growth. Investors are throwing unsolicited term sheets at Pinterest in the billion-dollar valuation range, so they think it can grow to become at least a $5-10 billion business.
Romotive is a 10-15 person operation making robots. It has attracted interest from big companies like Disney and Best Buy.
Location: Las Vegas, NV
What it is: Turns your smart phone into a robot.
Date founded: November 2010
Company size: 8-15 employees
But Romotive could be the future of toys and mobile gaming.
Romotive is creating a robot API. Developers can program new moves for the robot car, and users can download them to their smart phones to upgrade the toy. So the toy will keep evolving without ever having to buy a new version.
Toy stores and major electronics companies are already interested. Romotive is working on a deal to place its robots in stores nation wide. It has had meetings with the likes of Mattel, Disney and Best Buy.
The company is backed by big-name investors, too. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is a big supporter of Romotive. Microsoft and Nokia executives are too. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman purchased two of the robots. Here's more information on Romotive's vision.
What it is: Instead of having an entire e-commerce store or relying on a network like Amazon, Gumroad offers users a short url so they can sell directly to their personal networks. 'Use the channels you already have with your fans and followers. You are the distribution. No store needed,' says Gumroad.
Date founded: March 2011
Company size: 2-5 employees
Why it's a good bet: Companies like Amazon and iTunes were more important before people started creating personal followings online. If you wanted to sell a product, you had to sell it through a large network. Now Facebook and Twitter give you your own network, and there's no need to split revenue with another service, says Gumroad.
In addition, we're impressed by Gumroad's founder, Sahil Lavingia. He's only 19, but he has one heck of a resume. When he was in middle school, he'd think of app ideas and commission a freelance developer to make it for about $50. He'd turn around and sell the apps for $1,000+ on marketplaces. He did this about 20 times, and made about $100,000 by the time he was 15 years old.
In addition, Lavingia was one of Pinterest's earliest employees. He dropped out of USC to join Ben Silbermann after his freshman year and left when Pinterest was at its peak in August 2011. Anyone who is willing to leave a rocket ship like Pinterest to start something else is impressive.
Investors are all over Lavingia too. The young founder raised $1 million in four days from big names like Max Levchin (founder of PayPal). Now he's receiving a flurry of term sheets from VCs for much more.
Path relaunched in November and has gained more than 2 million downloads. It's the best mobile social network yet.
What it is: A mobile social network
Date relaunched: November 2011
Company size: 30-50 employees
Why it's a good bet: Path is one of the only companies that Facebook worries about.
After a slow first year and a product pivot, Path quickly hit 2 million users within two months of its relaunch.
The engagement numbers are particularly worrisome to Facebook. One source tells us Path's user engagement is about three times better in terms of post frequency and length of visits than Facebook's was at the same age.
In addition, it's poaching talent from key companies like Spotify. Founder Dave Morin won't settle for a small exit either. Last year he turned down a rumoured $100 million buyout offer plus a $25 million earn out over four years from Google.
The company has good financial backing so it won't be going away any time soon. It's rumoured to be raising ~$20 million at a $250 million valuation.
What it is: Mobile app for photo sharing and following
Date relaunched: November 2010
Company size: 9 employees
Why it's a good bet: Instagram only has 9 employees but it's built an extremely popular app that's used by 30 million people. Until this week, Instagram only had an iPhone app, so there's a lot of room for growth. On Tuesday it released its Android app, and it still hasn't released an iPad app. Its website doesn't currently do much with the mobile uploads, but because of all the people who share photo links on Twitter, Instagram's website receives more than 300 million pageviews per month.
Instagram doesn't generate revenue yet, but it's rumoured to be raising $40 million, so it can afford your paycheck if you're lucky enough to get hired.
You'll have still competition though. College kids are pulling out all the stops to get their resumes noticed by Instagram.
Airtime is the stealthy startup created by former Facebook president Sean Parker and his Napster co-founder Shawn Fanning
What it is: 'A live social video company' founded by Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker of Napster
Date launched: N/A
Company size: Fewer than 10
Why it's a good bet: Airtime hasn't even launched yet, but it has a lot of buzz around it because the founders have clout.
Sean Parker was formerly president of Facebook and he co-founded Napster with Shawn Fanning. The two are back in the startup game with Airtime. There isn't much information out on the site except to say, 'Our small team shares a passion for using the latest video technology to bring people together.
Fab is less than a year old but it generates $300,000 per day and all of its employees get stock options
What it is: Daily home decor and design sales
Date relaunched: June 2011
Company size: 140 in New York, 225 globally
Why it's a good bet: If Fab has a big fat exit, it won't make you as much money as joining a much smaller startup would. But it's a rocket ship that is worth joining.
It relaunched from a failed startup idea last June and has soared to 3 million users.
It generates $300,000 in sales revenue per day and it's on track to generate more than $100 million annually. It's also backed by some big-name investors who have given Fab more than $50 million. CEO Jason Goldberg tells us every employee has stock options.
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
What it is: Payment network that gets rid of credit card fees. In fact, the network doesn't use credit cards at all -- it links right to users' bank accounts and makes sending money as simple as selecting a friend on Facebook. Every transaction costs $.25 no matter how large. Transactions under $10 are free.
Date relaunched: 2009
Company size: 20 with a few more people starting soon
Why it's a good bet: Dwolla is working on a huge idea that could make credit cards obsolete. Small businesses HATE credit card fees and they're looking for ways not to pay them. As mobile payments become a reality, Dwolla is working to be that less painful solution.
Dwolla is steadily growing. It has more than 80,000 users and it's on track to move more than $350 million annually. Investors were so interested in Dwolla that founder Ben Milne had to keep a 700-name spreadsheet to keep track of them all. In the end it raised $5 million from Union Square Ventures and others.
To work at Dwolla, you don't have to live in Iowa; the company hires remotely. All employees get stock options, as well as glow-in-the-dark Dwolla chain t-shirts -- obviously a huge perk.
Location: San Francisco, CA
What it is: 'Think of all the things you could do if you were able to define any task as: When something happens (this) then do something else (that),' IFTTT's site explains. For example, if you want to have all of your Instagram photos instantly uploaded to Dropbox, IFTTT helps you create a continuous rule to do that.
Date founded: December 2010
Company size: Less than 10
Why it's a good bet: IFTTT was a round that every investor fought to get into. In the end it closed a $1.5 million seed round from almost every amazing seed firm out there: Lerer, Betaworks, Grelock, CrunchFund, Founder Collective, SV Angel, TechStars' David Tisch and others.
It's a powerful tool that binds powerful, popular apps together and makes their sum greater than their parts. It's an abstract but cool idea, and the company is young enough that if you got in now and it took off, you could seriously benefit financially.