The 11 Most Disruptive Startups

Ben Milne Dwolla

Photo: Dwolla

There are tons of startups, but few are industry changers.Some entrepreneurs are working to change the way we travel, pay for things, listen to music, and share news.

Here are eleven innovative startups that will change the way we do things forever — or they’ll go broke trying.

Note: We defined startups as private companies founded within the last six years that are still nailing their business models.

Makerbot is disrupting the printing and manufacturing industries. Instead of printing on paper, you'll be able to print actual things.

Company: MakerBot

Industry it's Disrupting: Printing and manufacturing

Concept: Print anything in 3D

Founder: Bre Pettis

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Funding: $10 million from Foundry Group, Bezos Expeditions, True Ventures, RRE Ventures and Sam Lessin

Why it's disruptive: Right now, most of the things you can print on MakerBot look like plastic toys. And that's pretty cool -- instead of having to buy your kids figurines, you'll be able to print them out instead.

But MakerBot's technology has even bigger potential. Imagine your door knob breaking, and needing a new one. Instead of going to the store you can print one at home instead. That's where MakerBot is headed.

Kickstarter is changing the retail and finance industries. It lets anyone invest in anything, and it encourages pre-orders.

Company: Kickstarter

Industry it's Disrupting: Finance and retail

Concept: Have an idea? Put it on Kickstarter and the community can decide to financially support it.

Founder: Perry Chen

Location: New York, NY

Funding: $10 million from Union Square Ventures, Scott Heiferman, Zach Klein, Caterina Fake, Joshua Stylman, Peter Hershberg, Chris Sacca, Jack Dorsey, Joi Ito, Joshua Schachter, Jared Kushner, Matt Haughey, Chris Kaskie, Chris Dixon, Dan Rosenweig, Craig Shapiro, Thrive Capital, Betaworks.

Why it's disruptive: Kickstarter is changing the way businesses are financed and launched. Before Kickstarter, entrepreneurs had to bootstrap or seek funding before testing the idea in the community. It cost a lot of money and was a very risky process.

Kickstarter lets the community validate business concepts in their infancy, sometimes before a prototype is even made. Pebble, the most funded Kickstarter project yet, raised more than $10 million on Kickstarter in pre-orders. No money was wasted on inventory that wouldn't sell.

uBeam wants to change the way we charge devices. It uses ultrasonic waves to charge phones and computers wirelessly from one source.

Company: uBeam

Industry it's Disrupting: Electronics

Concept: Charge multiple devices wirelessly from a single source via ultrasonic waves

Founder: Meredith Perry

Location: New York, NY

Funding: $750,000 from FF Angel, Andreessen Horowitz, CrunchFund, Marissa Mayer, Tony Hsieh, Ellen Levy, Cane Investments and Ken Seiff.

Why it's disruptive: It's a pain to bring chargers everywhere you lug a computer or phone. It's also a pain that one charger doesn't work for everything. A solution like PowerMat is cool, but the devices still have to be touching the pad.

uBeam is working on a solution that can charge multiple devices from a single, wireless source. The current prototype only works with products that are in close proximity, but Perry wants to make a product that can be put on the ceiling of a room and charge every device in it.

ZocDoc is changing the way we book appointments and find doctors

Company: ZocDoc

Industry it's Disrupting: Medical

Concept: Book last-minute doctor appointments in your neighbourhood

Founders: Nick Ganju, Cyrus Massoumi, Oliver Kharraz

Location: New York, NY

Funding: $95 million from Khosla Ventures, Marc Benioff, Jeff Bezos, Jason Finger, Founders Fund, SV Angel, DST Global, Goldman Sachs.

Why it's disruptive: ZocDoc makes booking doctor appointments, from dentists to dermatologists, free and easy.

Before ZocDoc, you had to call days or weeks in advance to book an appointment and ask friends to recommend physicians. Now you can do that from ZocDoc's app.

ZocDoc has on-boarded tons of doctors in Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa and Washington DC.

Dwolla is getting rid of credit card fees -- and credit cards -- altogether

Company: Dwolla

Industry it's Disrupting: Payments/Credit Cards

Concept: Pay someone any amount of money instantly; no percentage is taken by fees. Dwolla charges 25 cents per transaction over $10; transactions under $10 are free.

Founder: Ben Milne

Location: Des Moine, Iowa

Funding: $6.31 million from Union Square Ventures, Village Ventures, Thrive Capital, Paige Craig, Artists & Instigators

Why it's disruptive: A lot of startups are working on mobile payments around credit cards. But Dwolla is trying to create a new payment method that's credit card (and credit card fee) free.

Dwolla links directly to users' bank accounts and only transfers as much money as you have in there, so users can't go into debt. It only charges 25 cents per transaction over $10; anything smaller, like a coffee at a store that accepts Dwolla, is free for the vendor.

Imagine never having to deal with minimum payment amounts at small restaurants again. And, if you're a small business, imagine not losing a big chunk of change to Visa or MasterCard. That's what Dwolla's working to solve.

Spotify is offering a new way to listen to and purchase music.

Company: Spotify

Industry it's Disrupting: Music

Concept: Stream music for free with occasional ads, or pay $10 per month and listen to all the music you want ad-free on your phone or desktop.

Founder: Daniel Ek

Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Funding: $188 million from Creandum, Northzone, Li Ka-shing, Willington Partners, Sean Parker, Founders Fund, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Accel Partners, Digital Sky Technologies

Why it's disruptive: Napster and iTunes revolutionised music, and Spotify is another major breakthrough. Instead of paying for songs and keeping them forever, like on iTunes, you can stream millions of songs for free on Spotify.

Spotify pays record labels every time one of their songs is played. If you don't want to listen to ads or you want to listen to Spotify via its mobile app, you can pay $10 per month.

It's a better alternative than Pandora if you want to pick what you're listening to and create your own playlists. If you're looking to discover new songs you'll have to wait a little longer. But for people who are tired of paying for songs only to get sick of them a month later, Spotify makes a lot of sense.

Twitter is disrupting the way we share and read news. It's the fastest way to send a message to the masses.

Company: Twitter

Industry it's Disrupting: News, social media

Concept: Send a 140 character-max message to the community, who can send it to their followers and spread the word.

Founders: Dick Costolo, Evan Williams, Biz Stone

Location: San Francisco, CA

Funding: $1.16 billion from Charles River Ventures, USV, Marc Andreessen, Dick Costolo, Naval Ravikant, Ron Conway, Chris SAcca, Greg Yaitanes, Brian Pokorny, Bezos Expeditions, Spark Capital, Digital Garage, Kevin Rose, Timothy Ferris, Benchmark Capital, IVP, Digital Garage, Insight Venture Partners, T. Rowe Price, Morgan Stanley, KPCB, DST Global

Why it's disruptive: News now breaks and spreads on Twitter more than anywhere else. The Twitter community was reporting Whitney Houston's death before any traditional news outlet had it up.

Imagine if Twitter had been around during 9/11?

Square is reinventing the cash register for the mobile age

Company: Square

Industry it's Disrupting: Payments

Concept: Accept credit cards from your mobile device with the Square's swipe extension. Square takes a percentage of all transactions.

Founder: Jack Dorsey, Tristan O'Tierney

Location: San Francisco, CA

Funding: $141 million from Khosla Ventures, Greg Yaitanes, Marissa Mayer, Dennis Crowley, Kevin Rose, First Round Capital, Ron Conway, Biz Stone, Joshua Schachter, Shawn Fanning, Zachary Bogue, Andrew Rasiej, David Lee, Esther Dyson, Robin Chan, Gritz Lanman, Brian Pokorny, Xavier Niel, Jim Pitkow, Sequoia Capital, Visa, KPCB, Tiger Global, Richard Branson

Why it's disruptive: Everyone is predicting that our phones will become our wallets. In the meantime, there's Square.

Square is working on a new-age cash register, one that operates via mobile devices like iPads and iPhones. Square is creating a ton of relationships with small businesses and helping them get up to speed with technology while collecting a ton of local data in the process.

Lytro has created the first ever shoot now, focus later camera. The technology is so amazing, Steve Jobs wanted to implement it in the next iPhone.

Company: Lytro

Industry it's Disrupting: Photography

Concept: A camera that lets the photographer shoot now and focus later. Once the pictures are uploaded, the photographer can merely click on a section of the photo they'd like to bring to focus, and Lytro's technology makes it happen. It's the first-ever light field camera.

Founder: Ren Ng

Location: Mountain View, CA

Funding: $50 million from NEA, Andreessen Horowitz and Greylock Partners

Why it's disruptive: Lytro's technology makes one photo look like many. It changes the perspective seamlessly, and the technology is so impressive, Steve Jobs asked Ng to discuss how Apple could implement the technology in its next iPhone.

2tor is helping colleges get all of their classes and curriculums online so people can get degrees without physically being on campus

Company: 2tor

Industry it's Disrupting: Education

Concept: Bringing college degrees online so anyone can get a degree from a physical university without actually being on campus. The quality is so high, universities are able to charge the same tuition for online degrees that they charge students on campus.

Founders: Chip Paucek, Jeremy Johnson and John Katzman

Location: New York, NY

Funding: $90.8 million from Redpoint Ventures, Novak Biddle Venture Partners, City Light Capital, Highland Capital Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Hillman Ventures

Why it's disruptive: 2Tor is helping universities, which are struggling to stay relevant as startups are working to commoditize education, get online and reach more students. Now, instead of only being able to offer a certain amount of spots for students, they can offer online degrees for the same cost to many more people.

For students, it enables them to apply to top schools like Harvard from anywhere and earn a degree from home. It's an especially good solution for international students.

Airbnb is reinventing the hospitality industry; now you can rent a room from a person instead of a hotel.

Company: Airbnb

Industry it's Disrupting: Hospitality

Concept: Rent a room from a person rather than a hotel. It turns anyone with an open room into a bed and breakfast so they can make extra cash on the side, and room rates are usually cheaper than hotels.

Founders: Nathan Blecharczyk, Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia

Location: New York, NY

Funding: $90.8 million from Redpoint Ventures, Novak Biddle Venture Partners, City Light Capital, Highland Capital Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Hillman Ventures

Why it's disruptive: Airbnb is giving travellers a cost-effective alternative to staying at a hotel.

Honorable Mentions:

There are a few other startups working on big(ish) ideas:

Gumroad - Founded by Sahil Lavingia, Gumroad lets people sell directly to their personal networks.

It's ridiculous that people are still giving networks like Amazon or iTunes a cut of their sales. Why does Lady Gaga, for example, still give iTunes 30% of the profit, when she could be selling directly to her millions of Twitter followers and keeping a bigger chunk of change? Gumroad provides a unique url for products that can be distributed and shared on social networks to make direct sales possible.

Stripe - Stripe makes it incredibly easy for anyone to collect payments on their website without having to use PayPal. It's just a few lines of code that can be embedded on any site and voila, you can accept transactions. Stripe undercuts PayPal's cost too, charging 2.9% per transaction plus 30 cents.

Skillshare - Skillshare is working to make everyone a teacher and every place a classroom. Anyone who's an expert in something can post a class on Skillshare and charge students to attend.

Brewster - Brewster just launched today, but it's been on founder Steve Greenwood's mind for seven years. It turns mobile contact lists into social networks that update information in real time. It's terrible trying to keep track of friends who change emails or phone numbers. Brewster keeps all of that information up to date for you.

Uber - Find a nearby car using Uber's mobile app when you need a ride. Uber uses the GPS on your phone to find you and sends a car to pick you up in minutes. No cash is exchanged. The trip plus tip is charged to the credit card Uber has on file.

If you've ever traveled to a place like San Francisco, you know how painful it can be to hail a cab. It doesn't show up on time, or it doesn't show up at all. As Uber expands into more types of transportation and vehicles become more cost-effective, it could change the way we find rides for good.

For more great startups, don't miss:

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