Few of the following companies will be unknown to those reading the following list. What you may find interesting is just how humble their beginnings really were.
In an age where the dream of building a business from home is being heavily marketed as the new dream of independence – thanks to the availability of computing and Internet technology, it’s nice to learn that some of the biggest companies on the planet started out that very same way.
1. Subway Sandwiches
Subway’s been on a steady rise since it was founded by Fred Deluca in 1965, with a $1000 he borrowed from a friend, who later became a business partner (Peter Buck). The business was conceived right from Fred’s house, long before the first store opened its doors.
Franchising, which Subway’s now famous for, was never part of their plan. The two partners simply new they wanted to have 32 stores opened inside 10 years. When that didn’t happen, they decided to franchise and now have 34,000 restaurants worldwide and the largest fast-food market share of any business.
Founders Brin and Page started their business out of a garage that was rented to them by Susan Wojcicki, who would later go on to be Google’s VP until 2014. They outgrew the garage quickly and had to move their headquarters to a large office building in Palo Alto.
So strange that the two founders decided on a whim one day that they wanted to start a business together, without any concept of what that business would be, and managed to start a mere search engine that would go onto dominate every facet of online business and marketing now in 2016 and beyond.
The very first Microsoft operating system was built out of a garage in Albuquerque, New Mexico by Bill Gates and his partner, Paul Allen. While everyone else was trying to build the best computers, Gates had a vision of building the perfect operating system, since anyone could build a computer that worked well.
They inked their first licensing distribution deal with IBM for $80,000 and the price tag on Microsoft products has only gone up from there. In total, it’s taken some 41 years for the company to refine Microsoft software to the point where it’s considered “near perfect”.
Jeff Bezos and his garage startup, Amazon, is currently the largest online retailer. So strange that this company was started as an online bookstore, turned into an all-encompassing marketplace selling anything and everything; then later, Bezos turned back the clock and decided to revolutionize the book publishing industry with Kindle!
This is quite a story among home startups. Bezos rarely gets put into the same sphere as the likes of Bill Gates or Jobs/Wozniack, but Amazon has set and broke so many trends, an entire book could be written about its accomplishments.
Officially, Nike was Blue Ribbon Sports during it’s first two years (imagine the iconic Air Jordan shoes if the brand still held that name!) University of Oregon athletics coach, Bill Bowerman and one of his athletes, Phil Knight formed the company in 1964 on a handshake at the track.
Bowerman then began making the track shoes from home using his wife’s waffle iron, along with a needle, thread and some glue. Running legend, Steve Prefontaine, was among the many athletes to help Bill refine the brands early footwear.
Steve Jobs and the other Steve in Apple; Steve Wozniack, were in fact the first company to custom-build computers from home for direct sale to retailers. Apple started in Jobs’ adopted parent’s garage in 1976, selling each computer they built for a brilliant sum of $500 U.S. dollars each.
Few people know that Woz was actually the brainchild behind the computers themselves. Jobs later became the true face of the company, turning his salesmanship and marketing prowess into that of a man immortalized as the greatest tech innovator of his time.
7. Harley Davidson
Another very early startup that’s still going strong today. Harley Davidson is the official bike of the Ultimate Fighting Championships, are regarded as the most recognized motorcycle company on the planet, and are currently considered one of the world’s best employers.
This business started in perhaps the most humble of abodes: a friend’s 10 x 15-foot shed in Wisconsin back in 1903. William S. Harley was the designer and his childhood mate, Arthur Davidson was his helper/co-founder. To this day, the location of the shed is unknown, forever swallowed up in history.
8. Hewlett Packard
Hewlett Packard and the garage they started at in Palo Alto, California is the official birthplace of Silicon Valley back in 1939. Bill Hewlett and David Packard started their garage-based business on what was then a rather large sum of money $538 (amounting to $9015.34 as of 2015).
Their first order was for an audio oscillator, for another very famous company on this list, which by that time was already a super-power, Disney Studios, for the 1940 movie Fantasia.
9. Mattel Toys
Everyone’s seen at least a thousand different Mattel products in their lifetime including their famous Barbie lineup. They’ve got licensing deals with Disney, Hollywood, and several fast-food chains. Would you believe that Ruth and Elliot Handler started this business by selling picture frames?
They did and Elliot got the grand idea to turn the leftover scraps from those frames into dollhouses. Then from the success of that venture, he and Ruth began making and selling toys. Then Ruth came up with the Barbie lineup, which led to several other releases including Fisher Price, Hot Wheels, Matchbox cars, Masters of the Universe, American Girl dolls, and extensive lines of board games like Scrabble.
Way back in the dark ages of film (1923) Walt Disney began drawing the many early characters that would make up the fantasy-land of Walt Disney World, in his Uncle’s garage. That garage is still standing and is only 45 minutes from the Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California.
Disney and his small team managed to film the early Alice films in this humble space, which led to the beginnings of the often remade and replayed Alice in Wonderland. He soon linked up with Universal Studios and the rest is history.
11. Dell Computers
One of many dorm room startups in the tech space over the last couple of decades, Michael Dell began Dell Computers in room number 2713 at the University of Texas (Austin) back in the early 80s. Dell offered custom-built PCs that he built himself in the dorm, under the early business name PCs Limited.
He was one of the only businesses selling PCs direct to customers in those days. Dell’s story is one of a very smart entrepreneur who understood clearly how to not only start, but grow a business. He grew the Fortune 500 company by constantly reinvesting his profits into new facilities and increasing product development.
Ebay has helped so many people start profitable businesses right from the comforts of home. It should come as no surprise, then, that founder Pierre Omidyar started the (arguably) second largest online marketplace from his own home.
One of the strangest parts of this story isn’t so much about the company’s birthplace, but rather the original domain name they wanted “Echobay” (after the business’s name Echo Bay Technology). Thankfully, the name was taken and Ebay.com was born soon after.
LinkedIn was founded in 2003 in what employees refer to as “Cinco de LinkedIn” by its five founders.
The place was Reid Hoffman’s humbly decorated living room, where the crew invited 350 of their most important business contacts to join what would soon be referred to as a “social network” someday. By the end of their first month, some 4,500 people were LinkedIn members.
We’ve all heard the story of billionaire social media mogul, Mark Zuckerberg and the humble beginnings of Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. Perhaps the most dilapidated, disappointing “home” on this list, it’s hard to imagine how the Zucks managed to get any work done at all in that tiny dorm room.
However, available space is anything but a problem for him today.