5 Businesses That Started As Something Else

In the fast-paced world of business, it can sometimes be necessary for your company to make a drastic shift in direction. Whether it’s altering an existing product, introducing a new product, or even just shifting your advertising focus, the ability to adapt and change focus can sometimes mean the difference between continued success and a trip to the unemployment line.

But what if the shift that your company required meant venturing into 100% new territory, leaving your old products behind and reinventing your company as something completely new? Would you be willing to take that risk? Over the years, many companies have done just that, often with very positive results. Here are just a few examples:


Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler started Mattel making picture frames in a Southern California garage. Instead of discarding the wood scraps from the frame-making process, the two would use them to create dollhouses. They soon discovered, however, that the dollhouses were far more popular than their picture frames, and the company’s focus shifted. Matson sold his half of the company to Handler, and a toy-making giant was born. Today, Mattel is the highest-grossing toy company in the world.


William Wrigley, Jr. founded his company in 1891 and began selling soap and baking powder. To “sweeten the deal” a bit, Wrigley offered two free packs of gum with each can of baking powder he sold. Eventually, he discovered that his customers were more interested in the gum than the baking powder, and in 1893 he launched the first two Wrigley gum brands, Juicy Fruit and Spearmint. Today, Wrigley sells its gum in more than 180 countries.

FUN FACT: A 10-pack of Juicy Fruit was the first product to ever be scanned using a UPC barcode. That pack of gum is currently on display at the Smithsonian!


Nintendo was founded in 1889 as a playing card company producing a popular Japanese card game, Hanafuda. By 1956, then-president Hiroshi Yamauchi realized that Nintendo needed to branch out of the playing card business. Over the next five years, the company would start a taxi service, a hotel chain, a restaurant, and even sell its own vacuum cleaner. The only new venture that stuck, however, was toymaking. Today, Nintendo is the 2nd most valuable company in Japan and is a household name across the globe thanks to their wildly successful video game consoles and software.

Abercrombie & Fitch

Today, it’s hard to picture Abercrombie & Fitch as anything other than what it is – a store filled with teenagers stocking up on the latest in blue jean and polo shirt fashions. A hundred years ago, however, it was a very different story. When the store was originally founded in 1892, it was a specialty sporting goods store and outfitter that specialized in expensive shotguns and fishing rods. After the original owners went bankrupt, the name was bought by Oshman’s Sporting Goods, who reinvented A&F as a mail-order sporting goods store. Finally, The Limited acquired the brand in 1988 and it finally became the store we’re all familiar with.


Hasbro began as a small company that sold textile remnants. Founded in 1923 by Henry, Hilal, and Herman Hassenfeld, the company expanded into pencils and school supplies, but didn’t enter the toy market until the 1940s when they began selling doctor and nurse kits as well as modeling clay. In the 1950s, Hasbro had its first huge success when it released Mr. Potato Head. Today, Hasbro is one of the largest toymakers in the world and has introduced many famous products, such as the G.I. Joe line and the Transformers toys.

So you see, sometimes when an opportunity presents itself, you need to take that leap and push into a new area. Shifting your focus may seem scary at first, but if you back it up with hard work and perseverance, you may just find that your new direction is much, much better than your old one.

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