We all know the legendary companies that became huge as a result of investors (both angels & VCs) but are there good examples of successful companies that took off simply on funding from the founders themselves? I'm curious to learn about how they achieved this kind of self-sufficiency and under what conditions would this course of startup development be advisable, if any?
Some good point here. But some are misleading. The only ones I know of are:
As Vellad pointed out, it depends on how you define successful.
To clarify the comment about non-factual answers above:
Microsoft, before they went public. There was an initial infusion of capital from the founders but it basically took a life of its own since then.
A lot of the companies already listed here (especially from Tim's answer ) have a strong element of "dumb luck" that got them where they are. That's not a criticism. My "dumb luck" is The Daily WTF (which, don't me wrong, took and still takes a lot of love and care), and it definitely opened the doors, especially for Inedo Media.
The point is, it's not reproducible, and that's a problem for people who want to follow. You can't bank on first building a successful blog, and then using that to sell a software product. You can, however, bank on being a startup that is successful through hard work and good marketing.
Atlassian is definitely a poster child for this. Their founders are pretty open (check out their blog) and took the company from a $10,000 credit card debt to $60M in revenue and receiving a $60M minority investment.
Red Gate is also a great example. They became successful through a similar formula.
And that formulas simple: great product, great service, and great marketing. Anyone who follows that forumla is "guaranteed" success.
Companies that are able to get each customer to get more than one other customer to the company, have the possibility to become big without outside investment. I do not know whether this is true in the following specific cases, but Hotmail, Skype and Facebook are examples of companies that have exploited this effect and therefore did not have to spend anything on marketing.
I do not believe that Stackoverflow (or the company behind) spent anything on marketing either.
I think Tube8.com is 100% private.