11 Non-startup Brands Whose Business Models You Should Imitate

What non-startup brand do you emulate most and why?

The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

1. Telsa Motors

“Telsa spends little to no money on advertising. Instead, by creating an exceptional product, Telsa has been able to transform its customers into pseudo-spokespeople for the company. As a bootstrapped startup in the education space where word-of-mouth is invaluable, we have attempted to emulate this model by focusing all of our resources on creating an unparalleled experience for our users.”

Mehran Ebadolahi, TestMax, Inc.

2. Zappos

“Zappos is our hero. It has built a company with such an amazing customer experience that it basically markets itself through happy customer referrals. As a society, we’re moving away from the era when companies could be king solely through market dominance — these days customer experience goes a long way in determining how a company is perceived.”

Patrick Conley, Automation Heroes

3. Amazon

“Amazon has always invested in the long term. Although investors may have wanted the organization to take profits in the past two decades, the CEO, Jeff Bezos, always placed bets to improve the business and build it for the future. As a startup, it’s very easy to shift gears; we believe the best thing we can do is execute our plan and stay focused on our vision.”

Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

4. Apple

“Apple has seen extended success not because it is the cheapest or first to market, but because it focuses on the little details that can turn a quality product into something truly magical. The video game industry resembles the computer industry in many ways, and we’ve similarly shaped our strategy around the little details to bring the magic back into gaming.”

James Simpson, GoldFire Studios

5. Cisco

“I love the way that its CEO has made sales such a strong mantra throughout the company. He has everyone pushing his sales agenda. Sales is a current that runs through my business as well. I’m trying to get everyone on the team to see how they can play a part in the sales cycle.”

David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services

6. Ralph Lauren

“Seeing the word “brand” makes me think Ralph Lauren. I think Ralph Lauren has done a fantastic job building a brand, innovating its products to keep customers purchasing and diversifying its offering to hit customers across demographics. It’s pretty rare that a single brand can simultaneously sell a $15 T-shirt at a discount retailer and a $2,000 Black Label suit in its stores and on its site.”

Carlo Cisco, FoodFan

7. Play-Doh

“Play-Doh subversively turned generations of young people into sculptors and creative-minded problem solvers by providing a dead simple, super fun, and highly accessible utility that was branded and marketed in a playful way. They also were brilliant in solving for the “well what do I do?” type of creative paralysis by offering visual inspiration.”

Kyle Kesterson, Freak’n Genius

8. Microsoft

“Microsoft has done a great job building out its business in a variety of fields. It’s come a long way from its early days and has become a billion-dollar company because of it. Forget what the naysayers say — it is one of the top 50 companies in the world for a reason.”

Russ Oja, Seattle Windows and Construction, LLC

9. Google

“We emulate the culture and methods of Google as best we can. Like Google, we test and measure everything in order to make decisions based on data, which in turn moves us in a direction of growth and satisfied users. Having a healthy curiosity when approaching product development and then collecting actionable data to guide decision making is what we believe makes Google successful.”

Phil Chen, Givit

10. Bonobos

“Bonobos calls its customer service reps “ninjas” and taunts customers to write in for chili recipes. Branding correspondence like this has given the company a memorable and recognizable face of particular importance for Web-based entities.”

Sam Saxton, Salter Spiral Stair and Mylen Stairs

11. charity: water

“Imagine convincing people that giving to a charity is as cool as getting into an awesome club. That’s what Scott Harrison did with charity: water — he made charity cool. We’re making healthy cool, so we have a lot to learn!”

Derek Flanzraich, Greatist