10 Unexpected Companies You’d Never Guess That Started in Garages

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Apple, Disney, Google, Microsoft, Virgin, Mattel… the list goes on with some of the biggest heavyweights in the industry. We have all admired these billion-dollar conglomerates and their meteoric rise to becoming some of the biggest companies in the world.

When we think of these successful companies, we imagine large office spaces and super-rich founders. However, all these companies did not start so big and their founders were not rich. All these companies have something in common.

A little-known fact is that all these companies had their humble beginnings in small little garages. These success stories go to prove that irrespective of where the beginnings are, hard work, determination, passion and commitment are what is needed to create greatness.

In this article, we will be discussing some of the world’s “greats” who began their stories in small garages and went on to become some of the biggest companies that revolutionized the world.


The Top 10 Successful Companies That Started Out In Garages

Walt Disney

Renowned the world over and one of the most iconic personalities and creators of cartoon and animated children’s films, Walt Disney along with his brother Roy, started their first Walt Disney Studio in their uncle’s one-car garage in Anaheim, Los Angeles in 1923. At the start of his career, most of the work Disney did on his animations and editing was all done in the humble garage.

Walter Elias, more popularly known as Walt Disney was born in Hermosa Illinois in 1901 and he developed an interest in cartooning since he was in high school. He created some basic animations and then began experimenting with a view of becoming an animator. In 1919, Walt Disney moved to Kansas City where he started working as a newspaper artist and then started his very popular cartoon series, “Laugh-O-Grams” which was screened at a Kansas City Theatre.

Walt Disney’s claim to fame was the creation of Mickey Mouse in 1928. Walt Disney was the founder of Walt Disney Productions and he also won 22 Academy awards. Disney’s journey to success was a long hard struggle and today, it is one of leading names in producing animated films, cartoons and movies and is the highest grossing media houses and franchises in the world, owning and operating television networks, merchandising, publishing, music and around 14 theme parks around the world.

Apple

Today, almost every second person around you carries an iPhone, iPad, listens to music on the iPod or works on a Mac. And, when an Apple product is launched people wait outside stores for long hours, even overnight to get their hands on it. It would come as a surprise to you that this insanely popular Apple brand that has taken the world by storm started its operations in 1976 in a small suburban garage.

Steve Jobs and Ronald Wayne worked in the gaming company Atari, while Wozniak worked for Hewlett Packard and the 3 friends together founded Apple. It was in the garage of Steve Jobs parents’ home in Los Altos, where Steve lived as a college dropout that Steve Wozniak assembled the first Apple I computer. The Apple I computer was introduced at the Homebrew Computer Club at Palo Alto and 50 units of Apple I was sold as a motherboard to the Byte Shop for $500 and the team then went on to create Apple II.

On the 1st of April 1976, Apple Computer was incorporated by Jobs, Wozniak and Wayne. A couple of years later, the operations of Apple was shifted from the garage to Cupertino and the house in Palo Alto where the three founders began their company by constructing and assembling the parts is now considered as a historical site.

Apple became famous when they launched their Macintosh line of products, which made them millionaires. Today, Apple is at the forefront of the technological revolution with its various innovative products making it the No. 1 technology company in the world.

Hewlett-Packard

Way back in 1939, two Stanford graduates, Bill Hewlett and David Packard started their company Hewlett-Packard (HP) in partnership, with a coin toss and an initial investment of $538 to manufacture electrical devices in a garage in Palo Alto, California.

While today, Hewlett-Packard is popular for their personal computers, computer accessories and software, when they started the company, they were into the manufacturing of audio engineering equipment, test equipment and agricultural products.

It was in the one-car garage that the team developed the HP 200A, which was an audio oscillator that was test equipment for engineers. The audio oscillator became very famous because of its unique design, as well as low cost and 8 units of the later model of the oscillator, 200B, was purchased by Walt Disney Studios to test their sound systems in the theatres that were going to release their stereophonic sound, 1940s classic film, Fantasia. This was the product that put Hewlett-Packard on the path of success.

Situated in a quiet residential street near the Stanford University, the HP garage at Palo Alto remains as a mark of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation. Considered as the birthplace of Silicon Valley, the HP garage has been labeled as a historic site. Today, the company with its humble beginnings is one of the biggest technology companies in the world.

Microsoft

Who hasn’t heard of Microsoft? Surely every computer owner across the world knows this brand. Microsoft, originally known as “Micro-Soft” was founded in 1975 as a classic “garage start-up” by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen were asked to write an interpreter using the BASIC programming language by MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems) who created the Altair 8800. Post the MITS deal, in 1976, Gates and Allen registered Microsoft as a trade name and the company kept developing software and they relocated their offices to Washington. Microsoft decided to focus on the software market and started working with IBM. The first Microsoft operating system was licensed to IBM for just $80,000.

Microsoft went on to create more sophisticated and technologically advanced operating systems and evolved into what people around the globe know and use as Windows. Windows is the most widely used software worldwide with over 80% of computers across the world using Windows as their operating system.

For over 4 decades, the sheer talent and determination of the founders are what propelled Microsoft to become the leader in technological innovation, making them one of the most powerful and profitable conglomerates to dominate the PC industry. Bill Gates became the youngest billionaire at the age of 31 and even today is amongst the richest men in the world.

Dell

The beginnings of the computer giant Dell also had humble origins. In 1984, Michael Dell started Dell Computer Corporation (earlier known as PCs Limited) while he was studying at the University of Texas in Austin, with an investment amount of $1,000.

While the other students found stimulation from the hallowed classrooms of the University, Michael Dell found his inspiration in his dorm room. He began building computers from his off-campus dormitory accommodation with the objective of selling custom-built computers.

He ran his computer business out of his home garage and computers out of stock components which he directly sold to his customers. Dell was able to keep the prices of his computers much lower than his competitors by cutting out the middlemen and selling to the end-user directly.

When he completed his freshman year in 1985, Dell dropped out of college and started focusing full-time on his new venture. He then moved his business to an office located in North Austin which he bought with the profits from his business. Today, Dell is listed among the leaders in tech companies and the net worth of Michael Dell is estimated to be around $24 billion.

Amazon

Today, online shopping has become a way of life and there is probably not a single person who has not shopped at least once on the most popular site, Amazon.com. It all began when the internet revolution in 1994 motivated Jeff Bezos, a Princeton graduate to quit his job on Wall Street and start an internet company.

Bezos moved to Bellevue in Washington from New York and founded his online bookstore in the garage of his Bellevue home by investing $40,000. And, in July 1994, he established the company formally and called it Amazon.com. In 1995, Bezos sold his first book.

Bezos used his garage to store, pack and ship the books out to the buyers in 48 countries. When Amazon.com was started in the garage of his home, the computer servers needed such a lot of power that when Bezos ran a vacuum cleaner or a hair dryer in the house, the fuse blew. Later in 1997, he went on to file an IPO for Amazon.

The company that Jeff Bezos founded originally was not called Amazon.com and he wanted to call it “Cadabra” as it sounded magical, but since it was often misheard as “Cadaver”, he decided to call the company Amazon.com after the largest river in the world.

Today, people can buy everything from food to books to electronic media to televisions, anything at all on Amazon.com and the company has come a long way from the small beginnings in a humble garage to becoming the biggest online retailer in the world.

Google

When you want to look up anything at all, today you just “Google it”. Googling something has become a part and parcel of our lives and has become synonymous with information on the internet. Yes! Google, the world’s most popular search engine was started in a garage.

It was in 1998 that Sergey Brin and Larry Page, two students from Stanford started a search engine in their dorm room and called it BackRub. They then rented a garage from their colleague Susan Wojcicki in Menlo Park, California and founded Google. The garage was the place they worked from for the next 5 months, while they developed algorithms and indexed websites on the internet.

The main objective was to organize all the information in the world and create a website that would offer any kind of information on a single platform, which could be accessed by people all across the globe. However, when the entire project started interfering with their studies, Sergey Brin and Larry Page tried to sell the business to Excite for a million dollars, which was rejected by Excite.

Within one year, the operations of Google moved to Googleplex situated in Mountain View, California, the current headquarters, taking Susan along as the Vice President to handle product management.

The garage where it all began for Google at Santa Margarita Avenue is now owned by Google as a homage to their humble beginnings. Today, Google is the search engine that is used most commonly the world over and it also has hundreds of applications such as Gmail, YouTube, Google+, SmartBox, Android, etc. which are used by billions of people all across the world.

Mattel

Every little girl has played with a Barbie doll at some point in her childhood, making Mattel a common name in almost every household. And, it was not only technological start-ups that began in garages of homes. Another big name on the list of giants which was a huge success story was Mattel.

It was in 1945, when the Handler couple, Elliot and Ruth partnered with Harold Matson and started building picture frames from their workshop set-up in their garage in South California. While the picture frames business was quite successful, they decided to make use of the scraps that were leftover from the picture frames to make dollhouse furniture as a side business.

Gradually, the dollhouse furniture became more popular than the picture frames and the team decided to shift their focus and look at the toys market. What began as a side business became an incorporated company known as Mattel in 1948.

In 1959, Ruth introduced the first Barbie doll named after her daughter Barbara, which took the world by storm and became a prized possession that every little girl dreamed of owning. Mattel then became a household name with their whole range of toys and went on to introduce toys such as Fisher Price toys, Hot Wheels, American Girl, Matchbox toys and a whole load of board games including Scrabble, etc.

Harley-Davidson

When you speak about motorbikes, it rarely passes without the mention of Harley-Davidson, which is the personification of “cool” amongst bikes. Harley-Davidson, the iconic motorcycle manufacturer in the industry started their operations in a garage in 1901. William Harley, who was then 21 years old, created a blueprint of a small engine that would power a bicycle.

In the next couple of years, William Harley along with Arthur and Walter Davidson built their prototype of the first motor bicycle in a friend’s garage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which was really a 10 x 15 feet wooden shed, in 1901.

The duo did not stay very long in the motor-bicycle business and in 1903, they officially created their company and started creating actual motorbikes and released their very first racing bike. In 1907, Harley-Davidson was an incorporated company and by the end of the decade, they started manufacturing motorbikes with the signature air-cooled 45-degree V-Twin engines. Harley-Davidson bikes were used by the American military during the World War I and World War II.

Today, Harley-Davidson is among the most renowned manufacturers of superior-quality, powerful, high-octane motorbikes in the world and as a brand, Harley-Davidson is rooted in the American culture making it one with the history of America.

Maglite

Tony Maglica was born in New York City and grew up in his native land, Croatia. In 1950, when Croatia was in ruins after the World War II, Tony returned to America. When Tony arrived in Los Angeles, he did not know any English and took up all types of jobs, but still struggled a lot to save any money.

He bought his first lathe in 1955, with his savings of $125 and started manufacturing precision parts in a one-man shop set-up, out of a garage in the Los Angeles area. Tony started manufacturing precision parts for the aerospace, military and industry and began earning a reputation for high-quality and efficiency.

In 1974, Tony founded Mag Instrument and manufactured the first flashlight in 1979. The sturdy and reliable flashlight made of anodized aluminum changed the portable light industry forever. Called the “Cadillac of Flashlights”, today, Maglite is an American icon and is the flashlight that is used by police officers, mechanics and firefighters in the United States. In 1982, Mag Instruments established its headquarters in Ontario, California.

These are indeed awe-inspiring stories that leave us in wonder. One thing that is common among all these companies which are “giants” in their own right is that apart from having humble beginnings in small garages with very little investment and space, the dedication and hard work that went behind each one of them have made them huge successes.

What are some of your favorite companies that started from nothing?

Let me know in the comments, always looking for more inspiring stories of garage startups that made it big!

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