When you’re trying to get your startup business off of the ground, there really isn’t a more humble place to begin than your own garage (well, a rented garage may be a bit worse, but I digress). However, even if you’re feeling a bit low having to share your office with a sedan and some yard-equipment, you can always take comfort in the fact that you’re in good company. No, I don’t mean the car; I’m talking about all of the world-renown, billion-dollar businesses that also began in garages. Some of the most powerful and profitable companies on the planet took first breaths that were filled with residual exhaust fumes, and still managed to find overwhelming success on a global scale. Here are ten of our favorites:
Known throughout the world for products such as Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels cars, and about a million other bits of plastic that your kids will be screaming for over the holidays, Mattel began life as a very different entity. Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler (get it? Matt+El) originally had the dream to make and sell picture frames. Fortunately for them, creating picture frames results in a lot of surplus scrap-wood. Wanting to make the most of any leftover materials, they decided to use the extra wood to build dollhouses. As you may have guessed, the dollhouses were far more popular than the picture frames, and Mattel decided to concentrate on making toys. The rest is history. As of May 2013, Mattel had a market cap of $14.52 billion.
These days, Harley-Davidson motorcycles are basically the physical embodiment of the concept of “cool.” As such, it may surprise some people that it began in a wooden shed in 1901, where co-founders William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson designed and built a small engine for use with a common bicycle frame. Of course, they didn’t remain in the “motor-bicycle” business for long, and in 1903, the changed their focus towards creating actual motorcycles. During the First World War, Harley-Davidson motorcycles were used by American military forces. The company survived the great depression, and went on to provide machines for the Second World War as well. As of May 2013, its market cap was $12.4 billion.
Ok, so this one didn’t actually start in a garage; it began someplace even less prestigious: the trunk of a car. Two men, Philip Knight and Bill Bowerman, got together in 1964 and founded what would eventually become Nike. They started by selling shoes for a Japanese manufacturer, but began to focus more and more of their attention on improving existing designs. They opened their own retail store in 1966 and began to produce their own shoe line, to astounding commercial success. Today, the Nike “swoosh” is recognizable throughout the world, and the company itself had a market cap of $49.36 billion, as of may 2013.
Nowadays, Disney may be famous for charging college-tuition prices for a day in a crowded theme park, but things didn’t start out that way. Before it was teaching children to glorify hereditary monarchies, it was operated out of a garage owned by Walt and Roy Disney’s uncle. They began in 1923 creating silent animated features mixed with live action footage, and despite a few rough years, the company went on to absolutely dominate the animated film industry for the better part of a century. Disney’s current market cap, as of May 2013, is a staggering $103.96 billion.
What does it take to start a company that as of May 2013 had a market cap of $43.12 billion? Well, if you’re Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, all you really need are $538, and—naturally—a garage. They began in 1939 by selling a wide range of products, but quickly determined to focus more on the burgeoning technological industries. They did business with a young Walt Disney, who purchased several of their audio oscillators to help improve the sound systems of the theatres in which his film Fantasia would be playing. Perhaps some of his genius rubbed off on them (or some of their genius rubbed off on him) because the company went on to become one of the largest multinational computer hardware suppliers in the world.
Whether or not you’re an Apple-phile, you can’t ignore the impact that Macintosh computers have had on the world. But Apple’s founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak began their empire on a foundation of concrete garage floors and massive debt. The two got started by using credit to purchase parts, which Wozniak then used to build 50 computers, which were sold through a local retailer. That success paved the way for Apple to become the most valuable technology company in the world, with a market cap of $416.62 billion, as of May 2013.
One of the posterboys for the internet age, Google was started in 1998 by two Stanford Students. Larry Page and Sergey Brin rented out a garage from Susan Wojcicki (who would later become a Google executive and eventually CEO of Youtube) for $1,700 per month. Their attempt to design the algorithm that would eventually power the Google search engine took up so much of their time, that the two students dropped out of school. It paid off, however, as now Google manages the most visited site on the internet, and had a market cap of $268.44 billion, as of may 2013.
For many would-be entrepreneurs in the early 90s, the internet held the keys to potentially unheard-of success. But while many businesses floundered and died when the dot-com bubble burst later that decade, a select few like Amazon came out even stronger. Amazon was founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos from his Garage in Washington State. Amazon’s original purpose focused on selling books to countries around the world. Although it took an original investment of approximately $40,000 to get things up and running, Amazon is now one of the largest retailers of, well, basically everything. As of May 2013, its market cap was $119.01 billion.
No list of garage companies would be complete without mentioning Microsoft. Started by Bill Gates and Paul Allen (both of whom dropped out of college to found the company), Microsoft began as a software designer. Despite a lack of resources, the two entrepreneurs were able to use their natural talents, and no small amount of luck, to forge a company that not only helped create the digital age, but is also still one of the its key players. As of May 2013, it had a market cap of $234.83 billion. As with all of the previous entries on this list, it just goes to show that intelligent people can accomplish anything, just as long as they don’t mind sharing their office with a sedan and some yard tools.
Vivint is a company that came out of the blue to be a top competitor in the home security and automation industry. CEO Todd Pedersen started the company after he dropped out of Brigham Young University. He started the company out of his own car with a loan he got from his mother. It’s not the ideal business model, but it worked for Vivint. Vivint recently sold for $2 billion to the Blackstone Group. Not surprisingly, Vivint made Forbes List of most promising companies in the near future and has expanded into solar power and wireless internet.