Before the Startup: Big Money Industries & Their Origins

Some ideas strike gold before others. Even when an entrepreneur has done their market research, they might find that their product or service simply fails to meet consumer needs. Other times, one idea might transform and take off into totally unexpected territory.

Determining what makes one business fail and another succeed sometimes isn’t a matter of preparation—or even indicative of their idea’s worth. Instead, a set of unique circumstances leads to a certain outcome that couldn’t be predicted. Tetris, for example, is one of the world’s most popular and ubiquitous games… but not many people realize where it came from. 

The game was a personal project from a Soviet engineer working with computers. Tetris is the result of him combining and digitizing two of his favorite games—largely just to pass the time. Fast forward half a century and it remains one of the world’s most recognizable pastimes despite its unique and non-business-oriented origin. 


Let’s take a look back at some industries that mirror this unexpected success, stretching all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia.

Roulette & A Failed Experiment

Roulette is one of the most popular casino games in the world. Much like Tetris, players around the world likely have a passing understanding of the roulette board layout and know the game’s basic rules. It’s played in virtual casinos by players worldwide, and at brick-and-mortar casinos.

But the roulette wheel itself comes from a failed experiment by French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal. Pascal was attempting to create a perpetual motion machine to demonstrate the principles of physics in the late 1600s. His trials failed—but the roulette wheel found a second life in Paris shortly after as the prime mechanism of roulette.

NASCAR & Getaway Cars

Alongside Formula One racing, NASCAR is one of the world’s most popular and profitable racing leagues. NASCAR events like the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600 regularly attract hundreds of thousands of spectators. The series is also known for its supped-up Fords, Chevies, and Toyota—plus its co-ed driving rosters. 

But the racing league actually stretches back to the 1920s in Appalachia and the American South. At the time, cars were being supped up to enable certain individuals to evade the law—and some got so good at their job that they eventually started racing their vehicles against one another.

Fine Art & an Ancient Princess

If you research which museum is the world’s first, you might see the UK’s Ashmolean Museum (founded in 1677) or Rome’s Capitoline Museum (founded in 1734). However, when it comes to collecting fine art and opening galleries up to the public, you’ll need to reach a bit further into the past. 

Back in 530 BC, Babylonian Princess Ennigaldi-N anna decided to spruce up her abode in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur. To do this,

Ennigaldi-Nanna collected fine art from around Mesopotamia’s southern region. She brought everything back to a temple in Ur, which she curated and then later opened to certain members of the public.

VR & Education

VR technology is slowly starting to become more accessible around the world. Despite major hype surrounding this gaming technology, most competitive and recreational games belong to PC and console. Still, the wait for VR isn’t too pressing—after all, the technology has been around for decades. 

VR’s past is actually quite storied. Some might say the very first VR projects came back in the 1920s. At the time, pilots were looking for a way to simulate flight to help educate the next generation. To do this, they simulated flight by creating a large and fake cockpit. The project didn’t involve a headset or a digitized environment, but it was looking to simulate a virtual reality.

Others say that VR’s first iteration came during the late 1960s. In 1966, a game called Sword of Damocles introduced gamers to a rudimentary headset and a tracking system. Still, given how limited its function was, others believe the first true VR game didn’t hit the market until 1989. In 1989, The Power Glove brought audiences a more playable VR game with boosted tracking.