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The 9 things that separate merely successful startups from ones that become billion dollar businesses

There are thousands of tech startups, but only a lucky few (or, technically 205) ever become valued as billion-dollar businesses.

So what's the difference between a merely successful company and a billion-dollar one?

Y Combinator cofounder Jessica Livingston has a ready answer: "An unpromising idea that blossoms into a frightening big one, and driven founders who see that opportunity and run with it."

Livingston cofounded Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley startup accelerator that churns out batches of 200 companies every six months. She's seen thousands of companies become successful. But she's also seen a lucky few like Airbnb that have become huge businesses.

An Amazon engineer let strangers play $50,000 of his money on the stock market — a month later, he's beating the Nasdaq

In late May, Amazon engineer Mike Roberts unveiled Stockstream — an experiment in letting viewers of his Twitch livestream play the stock market with $50,000 of his own money.

A month later, and the experiment is still going strong. Over the course of 2,125 trades, Stockstream players have voted to pick out a diversified portfolio that now includes a handful of shares in Ford, Costco, Apple, and GE, among many others.

"I'm actually quite surprised/pleased with how well the portfolio has been doing," Roberts tells Business Insider. 

How far Apple's business has rocketed since the iPhone first launched (AAPL)

With Thursday marking the tenth anniversary of the day the iPhone first went on sale, it’s a good time to look at exactly how important the landmark device has been for Apple as a company.

In short, as this chart from Statista shows, it’s been like printing money.

Comparing its 2016 figures to those from 2006 — the year prior to the iPhone’s launch — Apple’s annual revenue was up 11x, its net income was up 23x, and it’s altogether become the most valuable company in the world.

Amazon's Echo Dot is outselling Google Home — but many consumers aren't convinced they need a voice assistant

Sales of smart speakers are growing rapidly, but many consumers don't yet see a need for them, a new study indicates. 

Recent analysis by Adobe Digital Insights (ADI) shows that smart speakers — as well as the voice assistants that come with them — have seen a huge spike in popularity.

During this past holiday season, US sales jumped nearly 1,000% from the same period a year earlier. But even outside the holidays — when about three out of every four smart speakers was sold last year —sales have been up 39 percent on a year-over-year basis. 

The judges at a startup contest hosted by Salesforce gave these 4 key tips to get funded (CRM)

In the midst of Salesforce's developer conference TrailheaDX, three start ups battled it out on stage to convince a panel of judges that they were worthy of the $50,000 prize.

The prize money from Dreampitch ultimately went to Digital Onboarding, a company whose product is pretty close to its name.

But the real prize may have been the advice for startups offered by the panel of judges. 

Here's what the four VC investors said start ups should do to really make a pitch pop:

Discuss market size early, says Aileen Lee, founder and partner at Cowboy Ventures. Lee said she listens closely for big numbers, and that any market under $5 billion won't be worth while for most venture capitalists. Big numbers early on in a pitch are the quickest way into a VC's heart. Sell yourself as the solution, says Josh Stein, partner at DFJ Ventures. Stein said he likes to know three things up front—why now, why this team, and ...

By desperately trying to save his nearly bankrupt startup, this guy accidentally found a $10 million idea

Manny Medina, the CEO of fast-growing startup Outreach, is so happy with his company that he gives a fist bump to every employee every morning.

Outreach employs about 170 people, so some mornings, this ritual can take him nearly an hour.

"All things being equal, the one thing that you can really manage on a day-to-day basis is the energy," he told Business Insider.

Today Outreach counts about 1,200 companies as customers and hit annual recurring revenue of $10 million by the end of 2016, just two years after its sales automation product was released, he said.

And it all happened because three years ago the startup was on the brink of bankruptcy, with two months cash in the bank.  

Back in June, 2014, his startup was called GroupTalent, it sold recruiting software, and things weren't going well. 

This CEO is paying his employees $10,000 to leave San Francisco — but nobody has taken him up on it yet

Back in March, a company called Zapier made headlines when it announced it would pay $10,000 in moving expenses for new employees to leave the expensive San Francisco Bay Area — the opposite of how it usually works.

Now, Zapier CEO Wade Foster tells Business Insider that interest in working for the company has never been higher, with a sustained 30% increase in applications since the creation of this so-called "delocation package." 

And yet, Foster says, there's a "funny" aspect: while the company has made 10 new hires since March, only one of them is from the San Francisco Bay Area — and she hasn't decided whether or not she's going to take the money and leave Silicon Valley behind, says Foster.

The top 50 dream companies for engineering and IT students around the world

Business students can't wait to work at Google, and their engineering and IT classmates couldn't agree more.

Universum, a global research and advisory firm, surveyed 149,226 undergraduates studying engineering or IT in the 12 countries with the world's largest GDPs — Germany, France, UK, Italy, Russia, US, China, Japan, Brazil, India, Canada, and South Korea.

The engineering and IT students were asked to choose the companies and organizations they'd most like to work for.

Universum then put together a ranking of the most desirable employers, based on the number of undergraduate engineering and IT students who chose a company as one of their dream employers.

A shampoo startup has raised a boatload of money at a $110 million valuation

Function of Beauty is a young startup trying to tackle an age-old problem: getting better hair. 

The New York-based startup, which launched last October, lets you create custom shampoos and conditioners based on your hair type and goals. If you want smooth, shiny hair, for instance, you can let the company know and they'll build a concoction that fights frizz. 

Function of Beauty is less than a year old, but it's already seen massive success: The company went through Y Combinator, raised a total of $12 million — including a $9.5 million Series A in March — and is already generating revenue, according to founder and CEO Zahir Dossa (although Dossa declined to disclose monthly revenue).

Plus, Function of Beauty is valued at a whopping $110 million, according to a person familiar with the company. 

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Steve Ballmer famously slammed the iPhone — here are 12 other times bosses got it wrong on new tech

Sometimes the next big thing isn't easy to spot—even when its the iPhone, which celebrated its 10th anniversary today.

Steve Ballmer, founder of Microsoft, infamously said that Apple's new invention was a waste of money.

"Five hundred dollars? Fully subsidized? With a plan? I said that is the most expensive phone in the world," Ballmer reportedly said of the first iPhone.