Then and now: What entrepreneurs can learn from the evolution of websites

Then and now: What entrepreneurs can learn from the evolution of websites
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Few things move as quickly as the Internet, and the best way to see that in action is to look at popular websites then, and now.

For entrepreneurs, this is a useful exercise, because it can be both inspiring and validating. By looking at a website in its earliest, most modest state, versus what it becomes, you can see how your own startup might evolve over time.

How have websites evolved over time?

It’s important to understand how websites evolve. As the business itself evolves, what it needs from the website changes. Additionally, as tools and best practices improve, what organizations can achieve with their websites change in kind. Some of the drivers that have contributed to website best practices changing include:

1) New technologies allow them to do more

The evolution of HTML, JavaScript, and other tools mean that developers can build deeper, richer features into websites over time. Conversely, other technologies get phased out. Remember when Adobe Flash dominated and so many websites had flash designs?

2) New rules about UX force design changes

One of the biggest changes to website design has been mobile growth. You’ll hear a lot about “responsive” web design now, where the website recognises that a user is on mobile and adjusts the display of the site to suit the smaller screen. 

3) Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

There’s no point building a website if people can’t find it. Changes in the SEO rules, and how Google, Bing and others “rank” websites force continual change in design and development.

The early days of famous startup websites: Then Vs. now

There are so many excellent examples of websites that have undergone major changes over time. Here is a snapshot of some of the best examples:


TikTok then (July 24, 2018):

TikTok Website 2018

TikTok now (March 3, 2023):

TikTok website 2023

TikTok started life as a social media application with a singular use—taking small, quick videos using your phone. The MVP was so razor-focused on that one killer idea that nothing else mattered. 

TikTok didn’t even allow users to access the content off the web. As you can see from the first archived version of the website, it’s a little more than a link to their Google and iOS applications.

Now, TikTok is a social media behemoth with a fully-functioning website that competes confidently with the likes of Instagram and Twitter. It is valued at somewhere around $50 billion.


HubSpot then (March 7, 2006):

Hubspot Website 2006

HubSpot now (March 3, 2023):

Hubspot Website 2023

Technology is complex. One of the things that successful tech companies have learned over the last two decades is to describe their complex ideas elegantly. HubSpot is one great example of that. The company’s website shifted from paragraphs of jargon-filled text on the front page, to an elegant single-sentence mission statement and graphic for illustration. 

Now the company is worth around $13.61 billion. More importantly, it’s better executing on its mission now. HubSpot largely targets small businesses that don’t have dedicated tech resources. Thanks to the new site, business owners don’t need to have a technical background to understand the value of the service instantly. 


Stripe then (November 18, 2011):

Stripe website 2011

Stripe now (March 27, 2023):

Stripe website 2023

Stripe has just completed a Series I funding round, raising over $6.5 billion to be valued at $50 billion. The company, founded by the Collison brothers, saw a very clear gap in the market at a relatively early stage for Internet transactions—it was simply too difficult for smaller merchants to accept payments over the web. 

Stripe came up with a solution where signups were almost instant, allowing merchants to start trading with minimal paperwork and processing times, and the rest is history.


SpaceX then (May 19, 2004):

SpaceX Website 2004

SpaceX now (March 27, 2023):

SpaceX Website 2023

Elon Musk needs no introduction, and SpaceX is one of his most well-respected projects. He founded one of the first private sector efforts to run a commercial space business (that’s what much of the original website advocates for). Now, that gambit is now valued at $137 billion, based on a recent capital raising earlier in the year. 

The company started with the radical goal of making Mars colonization viable, but has since branched out into more immediately lucrative ventures. These days SpaceX is well known for a satellite network that features over 3,300 satellites that bring fast connectivity to much of the world (Starlink).


Klarna then (Jan 14, 2013):

Klarna Website 2013

Klarna now (March 27, 2023):

Klarna website 2023

Klarna was, for a while, the most valuable fintech in Europe, with a valuation as high as $45.6 billion. That has declined significantly, but the company remains a major player in the online financial services space. 

It processes over two million transactions per day, and has launched a physical card in the US, UK, and Germany. It has also become a major player in the burgeoning “buy now, pay later” space. In 2021, the company evolved to become a full bank, with all associated services, to customers in Germany.


Canva then (November 27, 2013):

Canva Website 2013

Canva now (March 27, 2023):

Canva Website 2023

Australian-grown unicorn, Canva, has had its ups and downs, but its current valuation is $25 billion. The company started with a simple goal—to give people of all walks and skill levels the ability to create basic, attractive graphical designs, without needing to learn Photoshop or hire a graphic designer. 

They have since expanded to video, social media posts, and other media, and continue to be highly successful by being generous with what they give users for free.


Shein then (Jun 23, 2015):

Shein website 2015

Shein now (March 27, 2023):

Shein website 2023

Shein (which, as the name suggests, specializes in women’s clothing and accessories), is one of the most successful Chinese eCommerce stores. It is currently valuing itself at $64 billion in its latest capital-raising effort, and is also the largest fashion retailer in the world. 

This company is known for getting the simple things right: it has the right marketing channel (it focuses on promoting people on TikTok to buy Shein clothing). It also has the right price (i.e. very cheap). Shein has leveraged its website cleverly, slowly building it out to become a habit-forming site that customers visit daily to get rewards, watch videos and other content, and enter in contests to win points.


Slack then (November 2, 2013):

Slack website 2013

Slack now: (March 27, 2023):

Slack website 2023

The productivity application, Slack, promised a very simple thing, but something that filled a real gap in the market. It offers a simple way to communicate with co-workers and teams, while better organizing workflows and doing so in the cloud. But here’s something you probably didn’t know about Slack—the company’s first product was actually a video game! Following Series B funding (and a total of around $20 million over three rounds), the company released Glitch in 2011

The game failed to make a splash and was discontinued within a year. Slack came around soon after, and became a massive hit, eventually being acquired by Salesforce in 2021 for $27.7 billion. Talk about a rapid pivot from the startup MVP and mission! 


Figma then (December 4, 2015):

Figma website 2015

Figma now (March 27, 2023):

Figma website 2023

Figma was founded by Dylan Field and Evan Wallace while still students at Brown University. It is a simple tool for rapid, collaborative and real-time whiteboarding, prototyping, and storyboarding. However, it came just at the right time, too. 

The full launch of the original product came in 2016 and, just a few years later, COVID-19 making such cloud-based tools essential for many enterprises to continue working. Figma later made headlines for setting a record: in 2022 Adobe acquired it for an eye-watering $20 billion. This made it the largest exit for a privately held startup in history.


Loom then (December 23, 2018):

Loom website 2018

Loom now (March 27, 2023):

Loom website 2023

Loom is another success story that accelerated because of the unique conditions of the last few years. When remote work became mandatory, there was the risk that endless video meetings would slow down productivity. On the other hand, avoiding video meant relying on text interaction, which can often lack nuance. 

Loom’s simple premise—allowing workers to cut down on meetings by sending short video messages to one another—has proved to be a hit with remote working organizations. It has also given us one of the most warming entrepreneurial stories in recent years. 

The founder of Loom, Vinay Hiremath, dropped out of college to try his hand at a startup, and, after maxing out his credit cards, got to within two weeks of completely running out of money. Now, however, Loom is valued at $1.53 billion, and its growth is still accelerating.

Where are websites headed next?

The Internet is in a constant state of flux, and as technologies, best practices, and success stories change, so too will website experiences. There are several things to watch out for in the coming months, for how it will adjust web best practices:

Web 3.0

Blockchains, cryptocurrencies, NFTs and other such technologies are likely to significantly shift the way websites are designed and presented to users. They will also open up the web to provide new products and services for many online-native businesses. 

SEO changes

Among other things, Google is phasing out cookies, and this is going to have massive implications for the way web pages are designed, how SEO functions, and how websites gather the critical information they need to provide a customized and personalized experience for customers.

New ways of interaction

There’s a lot being said about the role that VR, AR and the Metaverse will have going forward. Already major brands are investing heavily on having a Metaverse presence, in preparation for the likely future where the prediction is at least one in four people will spend at least one hour per day in the metaverse.

So, do I try and predict the future with my website design?

No, of course not. You should build a website that follows the current best practices, in a way that is eye-catching, informative and addresses the pain points of your target audience. 

What drives a startup right at the beginning can change, and sometimes these pivots can be extreme. A game developer can end up becoming a leading voice in productivity software! The website needs to shift with these changes, to best reflect what the business represents in the market, and better connect with customers. 

Remember that your website is often the first interaction that your customers will have with your company. The sooner you get started with it, the better. Then, as you get feedback and the business evolves, there will be the opportunity to iterate on the experience of the website. 

Soon enough, it will be a critical and invaluable part of your business's identity.


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