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David vs. Goliath: Meet 3 Small Businesses Taking on Huge Rivals

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Munch Ado vs. Yelp and GrubHub

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Many restaurants remain hidden gems because they can’t afford to advertise on Yelp and other popular platforms. Tech industry veteran Puneet Talwar is determined to help foodies discover them via Munch Ado, an app that lets users search virtually all of the restaurants in a given city—and find out instantly who, for instance, is willing to deliver salmon sashimi at 11 pm or serves gluten-free Mexican food. Munch Ado, launched in New York City in October, creates a basic website for even the tiniest restaurants for free. Restaurants can also buy paid advertising, offer coupons and deals, and enable online ordering, for a fee. “We want to offer a very high-tech, low-cost solution, so 85-90% of the industry will start to use our platform the first year,” says Talwar, Munch Ado’s CEO. With more than $8 million in friends-and-family funding and venture capital, Munch Ado has indexed 5,400 of the 5,500 restaurants its owners have tallied in New York, and it has signed $3.5 million in advertising contracts for 2016. Talwar plans to expand to 12 other restaurant hubs, including Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, in 2016.

Swanson Health Products vs. Vitamin Shoppe

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Swanson is well known in the supplements world, but it still faces stiff competition in a crowded market. To stay ahead of its rivals, the Fargo, N.D.-based company, which was founded in 1969, has made an aggressive push into 153 international markets. It has added an international section to its website with flat-rate shipping, and it has launched overseas stores on Amazon in the U.K. and Germany. With customers in markets like China craving products that meet rigorous manufacturing standards, Swanson’s sales grew 45% in 2015. “They want an authentic American product and will pay a tremendous premium for it,” says CEO Ken Harris, who took the reins at Swanson in 2013. To expand beyond its Baby Boomer customer base, Swanson is investing heavily in online marketing of products that appeal to younger consumers, like beauty products. The move is paying off. Swanson hit $318 million in annual sales—with 70% online—in 2015 up from $305 million in 2014, says Harris. The company was recently acquired by private equity firm Swander Pace Capital. Founder Lee Swanson will stay on as head of new product development. “That’s what’s been driving our growth,” says Harris.

Admit.Me vs. The Advisory Board

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Many moderate-income students can’t afford to hire the pricey college admissions coaches who help affluent students apply to their dream colleges. Wharton MBA grads Kofi Kankam and Eric Allen aim to put these students on more equal footing at, an online community for prospective college students. At, applicants can pose questions to other students, alumni, and admission experts on how to put together their applications for free. For an fee, students can get more extensive help. Launched in beta in 2015, made it into the prestigious Dreamit NY accelerator last summer and was recently announced as a finalist for the SxSW 2016 competition for education startups in early March. Since its launch in New York City, it has attracted a couple thousand members and signed on partners including the Graduate Management Admission Council and State University of New York at Stony Brook. Meanwhile,, a sister company the duo co-founded in 2009, brings in more than $1 million in annual revenue through admissions coaching. Facing down rivals such as admissions management platform Royall, owned by global consultancy The Advisory Board, has entered a tough market, but Kankam says the company is ready for the challenge. “We want to give opportunities to hard working kids who are fighting the odds,” he says.