Every business has to start somewhere, whether it be a corporate building or a home office. Overhead Door Company of Joliet (formerly Middleton Overhead Doors) was founded by Mark Middleton in 1978 and operated out of a two-car garage on Kelly Avenue in Joliet, Illinois. A family business from the beginning, we’ve since outgrown our small garage, but have the fondest memories from our humble beginnings. Everyone loves a good success story, right?! A well-kept garage will keep your car, tools, and family safe… But it can also be a place to start your own business! That was the inspiration for this month’s blog post: 10 Successful Companies That Started in a Garage.
It may be hard to believe, but Microsoft actually started in a small garage in Albuquerque, New Mexico! Childhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded the company in 1975 and used that tiny space to build their first operating system. While most were still using typewriters, they had a vision for the future. A few years later, Windows was created and, well, the rest is history. These days, Microsoft is worth over $375 billion dollars.
Dell founder Michael Dell was enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin when he began selling personal PCs from his dorm room. His idea to sell computers directly to the consumer at a lower price took off and allowed him to drop out of school before securing actual office space in North Austin. The famous, “Dude, you’re getting a Dell” commercial followed suit and the rest is history.
In 1995, Larry Page and Sergey Brin built a search engine (formerly called Backrub) that used links to determine the importance of individual pages on the web. They started working on their idea in their Stanford dorm room before moving to a garage office space. Silicon Valley investors immediately took notice of this new, revolutionary idea. Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim wrote the duo a check for $100,000, and Google was born.
Founded by Jeff Bezos in 1994, Amazon started its operations from Bezos’ home garage in Bellevue, Washington. The world’s largest online marketplace initially started off as an online bookstore and the garage space provided him with the means to store goods, conduct transactions and send shipments. Although it took almost an entire year for Amazon to sell their first book, the business soon started to grow exponentially and is now one of the biggest companies in the world, valued at almost $300 billion.
High school student, Michael Kittredge, was only 16 years old when he accidentally came up with his company, Yankee Candle. It started out when he wanted to make his mom a unique Christmas gift. He gathered items from around the house and made a scented candle for her out of melted crayons, a milk carton, and a shoelace. After a neighbor expressed interest in purchasing that candle, Michael began making more candles – from his Massachusetts garage! He ended up opening a store near the college campus at Mount Holyoke within five years and now Yankee Candle is one of the largest candle companies in the world. Not bad for a teenager!
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak met in 1971 and worked together to start one of the largest companies in the world, Apple. The name “Apple” was conceived by Jobs after he returned from an apple farm because he thought the name sounded fun, spirited and not intimidating. In 1976, Wozniak built his first computer and named it the Apple I. The company was launched out of Jobs’ garage in Los Altos, California and went public in 1980, shortly after sales jumped from $7.8 million to $117 million with the release of Apple II and colored graphics. The company is now currently worth around $1 trillion dollars.
It’s almost to impossible to think that a powerhouse company like Disney could have ever started out small, but that’s exactly what happened. Walt Disney, his brother Roy, and his uncle Robert started filming “Alice’s Comedies” in Robert’s garage in 1923. Walt’s animations took a while to catch on, but once Mickey Mouse was born, there was no turning back. From there came movies, TV shows, and theme parks. Walt Disney was named one of the most important people of the 20th century by Time magazine Today, Disney is one of the biggest media companies in the world, with an estimated net worth of $130 billion dollars.
Harley-Davidson actually started in a small, wooden shed in Milwaukee. A handmade sign on the door with the words “Harley-Davidson Motor Company” was all that identified this budding business. William S. Harley designed and completed the blueprint for a motorized bike in 1901. Soon after, in 1903, Harley and Arthur Davidson built their first motorcycle. After a dealer in Chicago took notice, Harley Davidson had to move to a larger production facility.
Tony Maglica is a Croatian immigrant who used hard work, dedication, and his machinist skills to build a business. In 1955, Maglica rented a tiny garage in working-class South El Monte, California to do contract machinery work and create the individual components for flashlights to deliver to manufacturers. A few years later, he was convinced he could create a more durable flashlight than anything else on the market. And guess what… He did! Word of his invention spread quickly and was almost immediately picked up by the military and other industries. In 1979, Maglica designed the Maglite flashlight specifically for the police force. Today, Mag Instrument employs several hundred people and occupies over 700,000 square feet worth of distribution space in California.
Mattel is one of the best-known companies in the world (ahem, Barbie!) It may come as a surprise to hear that in 1945, Elliot Handler and his wife partnered with Matt Matson, a former colleague, and started making picture frames out of a Southern California garage. Soon the group created the company, Mattel, inspired by the names Matt and Elliot. Despite the minor success of the frames, Elliot began constructing dollhouse furniture out of the picture frame scraps. The doll-sized furniture sales overtook the sales of the picture frames, and voila… the team decided to shift its focus to toys. Good call since the company is now worth over $3 billion dollars.
Whether it’s Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, or Jeff Bezos, humble beginnings make great success stories. In fact, according to Business Insider, the idea of starting a business in a garage has taken on a mythic status, to the point where some founders intentionally want to be able to say that they did it, too. We personally love to hear about those people that hustled to create something special and succeeded. These entrepreneurs used their garages a bit differently than the average person. Whether you are starting the next billion-dollar business or using your garage just like everyone else, always make sure you’re using it to its full potential!