Four business models that have changed the world

As the CEO of international children’s cleft charity Smile Train, Susannah Schaefer is a trailblazer in the charity sector.

Here she outlines mould-breaking business models that have revolutionised our lives, from Deliveroo to Airbnb.

Creating a successful business model isn’t easy, but given the increasing challenges and competition that organisations are facing these days, it has never been more crucial to ensure that your business model is effective and impactful.

At Smile Train we are exceptionally proud of our business model. From the charity sector to the fashion sphere – below are some examples of organisations who are going from strength to strength as a direct result of their distinctive business models.


Currently, millions of children across the developing world are living in isolation due to their untreated clefts. These children also have difficulty eating, speaking, and even breathing. However, cleft repair surgery is simple and costs as little as £150, with a life-changing impact for children, families and entire regions at large.

In response to this global issue, Smile Train have put a unique model in place which is structured around the “teach a man to fish” principle (‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’).

Based on this structure, Smile Train provides free training and education for local doctors and medical professionals in over 85 developing countries to help them perform cleft surgery and provide comprehensive cleft care within their own communities 365 days a year. After receiving this training, local doctors and medical staff are then able to train other local doctors and nurses – creating a long-term, sustainable system. As a result of this highly effective approach, Smile Train have been able to transform the lives of more than one million children to date, by giving them the power of a smile.

A recent study published in the World Journal of Surgery leveraging Smile Train data has determined that the economic output of a single cleft surgery is as high as 200 times the input. Given that cleft lip and palate impacts the social, physical and economic lives of affected individuals, the study provides a unique framework for examining the significant value of health interventions globally. After surgery, cleft patients go on to meaningfully contribute to society and have the opportunity to lead full and productive lives.


After launching in 2010, ladies across the globe rejoiced at the arrival of Birchbox – a subscription service which provides a bounty of beauty products every month in exchange for £10.

Their ‘try before you buy’ model is simple: A customer signs up and fills in their profile, receives a box of beauty and lifestyle samples in the post, visits the website to read content related to the products and purchase anything they like in full size. The brand has created a 360 degree discovery service that enables women to find out what they really love before making a purchase.

Recent figures have revealed that the number of Birchbox subscribers have risen to over 800,000 and the business is now estimated to be worth approximately £350 million.


Many girls dream about wearing a one-of-a-kind haute couture dress to a special event, but in reality that’s just not realistic. Now with the help of designer rental retailer Girl Meets Dress women everywhere can get their high fashion fix without the hefty price tag.

It is the goal of Co-Founders Xavier de Lecaros Aquise and Anna Bance to make high fashion more accessible to the younger generation with a ‘pay-as-you-live’ model, after noticing that people increasingly value experience and time over ownership.

Unlike other discounted clothing websites, Girl Meets Dress doesn’t offer last season’s fashion — instead it buys in-season attire and rents the items out to different consumers every week. In doing this, the business are able to recover the cost of the items and function as a gateway for women to get into luxury brands that they may not have tried before.

Currently expanding into Australia, it’s clear that this company’s business model is in vogue.


Deliveroo has shaken up the UK’s food industry by connecting high-end restaurants that do not usually offer takeaway or delivery food, with consumers at work or home who do not have the time to dine out. The idea came from entrepreneur Will Shu, who upon relocating to London soon realised that there was little in the way of restaurant deliveries in the UK compared to his hometown New York.

The London-launched concept is now operating in 60 cities, uses around 5,000 drivers, and connects 8,000 restaurants to consumers at home globally. Not too shabby for a start-up that is celebrating its third birthday this year.


Airbnb – an online marketplace connecting travelers with local hosts – was founded in 2008 by Nathan Blecharczyk, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky and in a short span of time has grown to become one of world’s-leading travel accommodation websites.

Its business model has a unique, two-pronged attack. On the one side, the online platform permits ‘hosts’ to list their available space for free and earn extra income in the form of rent. And on the other side, it enables ‘travellers’ to book unique home stays, saving them money and giving them a chance to interact with the locals in that area.

The company makes its money by charging 10 per cent commission from hosts upon every booking done through the platform, and a further 3 per cent of the booking amount from travellers.

Airbnb is now present in over 190 countries and 34,000 cities, and claims to have served over 35 million guests.

Susannah Schaefer is the CEO of international children’s cleft charity Smile Train.

See also: What is a ‘proven business model’?

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

Related Topics

Early Stage Funding