Grow your business

From humble beginnings

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You’ve got the big idea…but perhaps not the resources to match your ambitions. Well, take heart! Being entrepreneurial is all about making the best of what you’ve got – hence, instead of an office, some of the world’s biggest businesses started out in that most flexible of all work spaces…the garage. Here are five examples of huge corporate successes that began their lives in a place traditionally reserved for a car and perhaps some tools.

1. Amazon

As a thirty-year-old senior vice president of a Wall Street investment banking firm, Jeff Bezos probably didn’t have much trouble making ends meet. But just as with many successful entrepreneurs, the desire to create, innovate and grow proved stronger than the temptations of a secure corporate job.

In 1994, while searching for new investment opportunities for his firm, Jeff came across an intriguing statistic: that internet usage was growing at a rate of 2,300 per cent per month. So what does an entrepreneur do in order to capitalise on this huge potential? Obviously, he spends a year in his garage.

With a team of just five employees operating out of his Seattle parking space, Jeff spent months sourcing books and developing a user-friendly, online shopping process that could easily connect customers to millions of different titles. And while it wasn’t perfect from the outset – early users were able to receive credit from Amazon by ordering negative quantities of books, for example – Amazon has now grown to a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, despite its humble beginnings.

2. Hewlett-Packard

The Silicon Valley garage start-up might feel like a modern phenomenon, but its true roots date back much further than today’s app-developers and cloud-based service providers.

In 1939, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started their two-person operation out of a rented one-car garage on Addison Avenue, California. Through a series of inventive prototypes – including medical machines, astronomy devices and an electric eye for automatic toilet flushing – they got their breakthrough with an audio oscillator for sound engineers, which they sold to Disney for their now-classic film, Fantasia.

With new confidence, they formalised their partnership and, one year and two new employees later, they finally outgrew their garage and moved into a new headquarters. Today, the original HP garage is both a tourist attraction and an official historic landmark.

3. The Walt Disney Company

As a brand that has produced so many rags-to-riches fantasies, it seems fitting that the Disney Corporation started its life in such a mundane setting.

In 1923, Walt Disney left his career as an advertising cartoonist in Kansas City to move to Hollywood, reportedly with nothing more than $40 and his drawing materials. Together with his brother, Roy, they borrowed $500 and built a camera stand in their uncle’s garage to work on their animation. Under the guise of ‘The Disney Brothers Studio’ they filmed the Alice Comedies, which would later become the inspiration for the full-length Alice in Wonderland film.

Of course, they didn’t stay in their uncle’s garage for too long. Almost a hundred years later, the Disney brand is on the tip of every youngster’s tongue, and is estimated to be worth more than US$100 billion.

4. Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson has been around for a long time. Their founding story doesn’t just pre-date the Walt Disney Company; it might also pre-date garages themselves. So while this particular business didn’t actually start in a garage – it was more of a shed – we think the sentiment is close enough to count.

In 1901, William S. Harley created the blueprints for a motor engine designed to fit into a bicycle. In 1903, Harley and Arthur Davidson released their first motorcycle to the public – from a ‘factory’ that was in fact a 15-foot wooden shed. And it served them well. It wasn’t until three years later – well after they’d opened their first dealership – that they moved into a newer, larger factory and started hiring extra employees.

Today, of course, their brand is globally synonymous with motorcycles themselves, and it’s grown to become a universally cherished multi-billion-dollar enterprise.

5. Google

In 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, after spending two years collaborating on a new search engine, finally incorporated their company. And, naturally, to mark their historic entrance into the official world of big business, they set up a workspace in someone else’s garage. They hired their first employee while still operating out of a rented parking space, and swiftly went on to revolutionise the way the entire world found its information.

In 2006, to celebrate its eighth birthday – and as a poetic tip of the hat to its meagre origins – Google decided to buy the property that had housed them in their early days, from an owner who by that time had become their vice president of product management. According to Google, their first ever workplace “offered several big advantages, including a washer and a dryer and a hot tub”, and also “provided a parking space” for the company’s first employee.

If there’s one thing to take away from these stories of exponential growth and hard-won success, it’s that big ideas, big profits and big dreams don’t always need a big place to start out from. Good luck!