These Self-Funded CEOs Started Their Businesses Without Investors

Sara Blakely, Founder of Spanx

Sara Blakely, Founder of Spanx


Starting a business can be a daunting task. For many, becoming a business owner feels more like a pipe dream than a possibility because the costs seem way too high. But, what if you could make the most what you have now to kick-start the next billion-dollar business? These self-funded business owners used their own savings, skills and network to launch household brands like S’well, Shutterstock and Spanx. No capital, just savings and tenacity. 


Sarah Kauss saved $30,000 from her job as a certified public accountant and real estate developer, and launched S’well in 2010. To date, Kauss has never taken any venture capital and still owns 100% of the company with annual revenues over $100 million. The concept for S’well came from a desire to eliminate plastic waste combined with the need for a reusable water bottle solution that would be appropriate for boardrooms and meetings. Kauss has mentioned in several interviews that being self-funded helps her have total control over the brand’s development as well as its commitment to sustainability. By not having investors to answer to, she has the final say on everything from new designs to retail partnerships. 


Similar to “Kleenex” or “Tupperware,” Spanx have become the go-to title for women’s shapeware products. Sara Blakely became the youngest self-made billionaire in the world by investing $5,000 of her own cash in an idea that stemmed from cut-up pantyhose. The Shark Tank judge essentially launched her Spanx empire by taking a Neiman Marcus buyer into the bathroom and showing her how compression undergarments looked under white pants. Once Oprah discovered Blakely’s business, Spanx skyrocketed in popularity. The company is now bringing in nearly half a billion in annual revenue and its CEO has never taken investment money.


You’ve probably seen some of reoccurring images in Internet ads, or similar social scenes on various websites. These popular images supporting brands around the world are part of a large pool of stock photos sold through sites like Shutterstock. Created by photographer and serial entrepreneur, Jon Oringer, Shutterstock began in 2003 with a self-coded website and 30,000 of Oringer’s own photos. He had launched other companies in the past and had noticed that sourcing stock images came with the trouble of chasing down photo rights. By creating a solution to his own problem with a simple website and an $800 Canon camera, Oringer created a subscription-based platform where thousands of photographers could share millions of stock images for purchase. Shutterstock did accept outside investment dollars in 2007 to help mitigate financial risks and in 2012, Oringer took the company public. 


As its site states, “We started RX in our kitchen. No venture capitalists. No consultants. No office. Just best friends. Eager and broke.”  RXBAR launched from a basement kitchen in 2012 with $5,000 and a no B.S. approach to protein bars. Founders Peter Rahal and Jared Smith quit their day jobs a year later to pursue the venture full-time. With CrossFit connections and recognition by the popular Whole 30 diet, the company was selling product by the truckload by 2014. In 2017, Rahal and Smith agreed to sell RXBR to Kellog Co. $600 million.