Larger-Than-Life Companies That Started Out Of A Garage

In a time when starting your own company is a daunting undertaking, it’s comforting to know that several of the world’s most successful businesses came from humble beginnings. Many of them didn’t even have the luxury of an office, to begin with, and had to resort to someone’s garage as a makeshift workspace.

Here, company founders would work tirelessly without the necessary space, equipment, or even heating and cooling. Check out some of these major companies that have humble beginnings. You’ll be amazed by how far they’ve come.

Do you know which major tech company sold their first successful product to Walt Disney?

Harley-Davidson’s First Engine Was Created In A Shed

Davidson stands with early prototype
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In 1901, a 20-year-old William S. Harley began drawing up plans for a small engine to be attached to a regular pedal-bicycle frame. Along with the help of his childhood friend, Arthur Davidson, the two worked tirelessly on their concept until finally assembling their prototype in a shed in Davidson’s family backyard.

After some trial and error, in 1904, their prototype went on to win fourth place in the Milwaukee motorcycle race, the first documented appearance of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. It wasn’t long before they expanded into the motorcycle market and grew into the company they are today.

MagLite Was Started By A Croatian Immigrant

Tony Maglica holds MagLite

Considered to be one of the most popular and durable flashlights around, MagLite is the brainchild of Croatian immigrant Tony Maglica. Arriving in Los Angeles in 1950, Maglica worked odd jobs until settling on being a machinist. After gaining some experience, he decided to purchase his own metal working equipment and began machining his own products in his garage.

Maglica’s work proved to be decent enough for him to open his machine shop, Mag Instruments. It was around this time he began to produce his specialized flashlights, which grew to be so popular that they became standard issue for all American police officers.

Dell Went From A Dorm Room To A Garage

Michael Dell gives speech
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While attending the University of Texas at Austin in 1984, Michael Dell started Dell Computer Corporation in his dorm room, selling IBM PC-compatible computers from basic parts. After his business began to show some promise, Dell dropped out of school to focus on the company full-time, working out of his garage.

After receiving a $1,000 loan from his parents in 1985, Dell created his first computer of its own design, the Turbo PC. The computer sold for $795, and after being advertised by PC’s Limited, the company grossed over $73 million within its first year.

Hewlett-Packard Were Creating Groundbreaking Electronic Products In A One-Car Garage

Garage where HP started
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Bill Hewlett and David Packard both graduated from Stanford University in 1935 with degrees in electrical engineering. Upon graduating, the duo began building various electrical products in a garage in Palo Alto, California. By 1939, Hewlett and Packard formalized their partnership, and Hewlett-Packard (HP) was born.

Their first majorly successful product was created when they managed to simplify the technology built into an audio oscillator, allowing them to undercut the prices of their competitors. HP’s lower prices led Walt Disney to purchase eight of HP’s garage-manufactured oscillators for his film Fantasia. Today, the garage where HP got its start is now a historical landmark and considered the birthplace of the Silicon Valley.

You’ll never guess which major company started out making and selling picture frames.

The First Official Disney Studio Was In A Garage In Hollywood

Walt Disney garage

Since he was a teenager, Walt Disney always had a fascination with cartooning. Yet, as he grew up, his attention shifted to animation, and he began to experiment after acquiring a camera. In 1923, in his garage in Kansas City, Missouri, Disney created the silent short film Alice’s Wonderland, featuring a child actress and cartoon characters.

After receiving some attention for his work, Disney moved to Hollywood to be with his brother Roy. There, they struck up a deal with a film distributor for a series of Alice Companies which they worked on in their uncle’s garage. It was in that garage that Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio was born.

Jeff Bezos Used His Garage As The Headquarters For His Online Bookstore

House where Amazon started
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After graduating from Princeton, an ambitious Jeff Bezos decided to leave his lucrative job at a hedge fund to look into the growing potential of the Internet. Upon figuring out that there was an untapped market for e-commerce, Bezos moved from New York to Bellevue, Washington.

In 1994, Bezos opened up an online bookstore based in his garage where he stored, packaged, and shipped his books out to consumers. The company soon diversified to sell all kinds of products from software to clothing and has since become the largest Internet company by revenue in the world.

Mattel Started Out Making Picture Frames In Their Garage

Raymond Wagner holds up new doll
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In 1945, Elliot Handler and his wife Ruth partnered with Harold Matson to start a picture frame company out of a garage workshop. While the business was profitable, it wasn’t necessarily booming, so they came up with an idea to make some extra money. They began using the excess material from their frame business to make dollhouse furniture.

Surprisingly, they started selling more toy furniture than frames, so they put their frame business aside. By 1948, they were a full-blown toy business and went on to produce some of the world’s most popular toys such as Barbie, Matchbox toys, and the entire Fischer-Price toy line.

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Google Owns The Garage It Was Started In

Front of the garage Google was started at
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Google began as a research project in 1996 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Ph.D. students attending Stanford University. Trying to improve on already existing search engines, they developed a new algorithm for the search engine process and the domain for Google was registered in 1997. In 1998, Page and Brin began renting out a garage from their friend, Susan Wojcicki, in Menlo Park, California as the headquarters for their company.

Within a year, the company had outgrown the garage and experienced a period of rapid growth, leading it to become one of the Big Four technology companies of today. In 2008, Google purchased the garage where it all started as a reminder of their roots.

Apple Is Another Product Of A Silicon Valley Garage

Garage and house where Apple was founded
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Like many other tech giants, Apple Inc. began in a garage in Silicon Valley, California. While working at Hewlett-Packard, Steve Jobs met Steve Wozniak and the two became fast friends. In 1975, Wozniak began developing the Apple I, a computer of his own design. After raising $1,300, Wozniak built the circuit boards for his computer in the garage of Job’s childhood home.

Apple Computer was then founded in 1976 consisting of Wozniac, Jobs, and Ronald Wayne. Although the company never operated out of the garage as a business, Apple later bought the garage where many parts for the first Apple I were designed and assembled.

Bill Gates And Paul Allen Didn’t Need Space, Just Their Minds

Front of Microsoft offices
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Bill Gates and Paul Allen were childhood friends who both shared a great interest in computer programming, each attending different colleges to hone their skills. The duo started Microsoft in 1975 in a garage in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Although they had very limited space and resources, they were overflowing with ideas and programming skills.

It was in that garage that they developed their first operating system which they licensed for $80,000. After getting out of the garage, just a few years later Windows was released, making Bill Gates one of the richest men on the planet.

Richard Branson Started A School Magazine Before Virgin Records

Richard Branson in his record store
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While still attending high school in the UK, Richard Branson started a magazine for his classmates. To Branson’s surprise, the magazine was well-received, which provided Branson with the confidence to try his hands at a new project. He then started the early stages of Virgin Records.

Branson would mail vinyl albums at a low price to customers who placed an order. He ran his little business out of his basement and garage where he kept his product. Eventually, Virgin Records became more than just a garage office and became one of the largest conglomerations on the planet.

Yankee Candle Company Started With A Christmas Gift

Yankee Candle
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During the Christmas season of 1969, high school student Michael Kittredge wanted to make a unique present for his mother. Using materials from around the house, he developed a scented candle. Yet, after a neighboring woman saw his product, she convinced him to sell it to her for a fair amount of money.

With his earnings, he now had enough money to make a candle for his mother and another to sell. Word traveled fast around the area leading Kittredge to set up a workshop for the remainder of the holiday season. After five years he established his own brick and mortar store, eventually growing the company into what it is today.

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Nike Didn’t Even Have The Luxury Of A Garage

Pair of old Nike shoes
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While a garage might seem like a limited space to run any kind of business, Nike founder Phil Knight didn’t even have that luxury. Instead, the University of Oregon track athlete ran his business out of the trunk of his Plymouth Valiant under the name Blue Ribbon Sports.

In 1964, Knight received shoes from Japanese shoe maker Onitsuka Tiger and would sell them out of his car at track meets. He would also give them to his coach, Bill Bowerman, to test on runners. For two full years, Knight couldn’t find a single retailer to sell his shoes. Today, Nike is the biggest manufacturer of sports apparel, worth around $90 billion.

Lotus Cars Got Its Start In Abandoned Stables

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Lotus Engineering Ltd. was founded by University College, London graduates Colin Chapman and Colin Dare in 1952. However, the company’s true origins can be traced back to 1948 when Chapman built his first racing car in his garage. After forming the company, their first factory was in a series of stables behind the Railway Hotel in North London.

Lotus stayed and worked in those stables until they finally moved to a purpose factory in 1959. There, they were able to experiment more, produce more cars, and evolve into the renowned sports and racing automotive company they are today.

James Dyson Wasn’t Happy With His Vacuum, So He Made His Own

James Dyson with one of his vacuums
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In 1974, James Dyson purchased a Hoover Junior vacuum cleaner, yet was frustrated with how quickly the vacuum would lose suction. After some investigating, he discovered that as you used the vacuum a layer of dust would form inside the bag, clogging the mesh material. So, he set to work in his garage, creating countless prototypes until the final product was a bagless vacuum cleaner that didn’t lose power during use.

Dyson tried to sell his prototype to numerous countries without success until the Japanese company Apex gave him a shot. Dyson’s product soon became a worldwide phenomenon with Dyson vacuums now being the leading company in vacuum technology.

Yvon Chouinard Started Patagonia For His Own Climbing Needs

Yvon Chouinard inside Patagonia store
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Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, began rock climbing in 1953 at the age of 14 in California. He became addicted to the sport and found himself taking weekend trips religiously to some of the best climbing spots in California. While climbing in Yosemite, Chouinard noticed that many climbing pitons were designed for one-time use only, so he decided to make his own reusable ones.

He taught himself how to blacksmith and successfully made his first set of pitons. Before he knew it, he was selling them out of his garage at $1.50 a piece. In the following years, he partnered with Tom Frost, and the two began to redesign almost every type of camping equipment. Thus, Patagonia was born.

Mark Zuckerberg Started Facebook In His Dorm Room

Zuckerberg outside his dorm
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Well, it’s not a garage, but when you’re living in a dorm room, it’s the best you have. That’s precisely what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg did while attending Harvard. In his dorm room in 2003, he built the website “Facemash,” which attracted 450 visitors and 22,000 photo views in its first four hours.

Realizing the potential, in an attempt to digitize Harvard’s “face book”, he coded a new website which he called TheFacebook. With the financial help from fellow student Eduardo Saverin, in 2004, Zuckerberg launched “The Facebook.” Although initially restricted to Harvard students, Facebook eventually expanded to become a worldwide phenomenon.

Kevin O’Leary Developed Softkey In A Toronto Basement

Picture of Kevin O'Leary against brick wall
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Canadian businessman and entrepreneur Kevin O’Leary, also known as “Mr. Wonderful,” developed Softkey International in his basement in Toronto. With a loan of just $10,000 from his mother, he created a software publisher which he named Softkey International.

The company grew into a multi-billion dollar business in the field of educational software. After years of development and a few acquisitions, Softkey, now named The Learning Company, was bought by the toy company Mattel for a whopping $3.8 billion stock swap.

Under Armour Was Created Out Of Personal Necessity

Under Armour
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At 23-years-old, Kevin Plank, a University of Maryland fullback, set out to create a solution to rid himself of a sweat-soaked shirt after every football practice. So, he got to work in his basement where he produced his first prototype for an Under Armour shirt. He gave the shirts to his fellow teammates and friends who played in the NFL to test out.

Although he was selling the shirts out of the trunk of his car at first, within a year, he was able to open his own warehouse. The company really took off in 1999 when he was approached to have his product featured in the films Any Given Sunday and The Replacements.

Spanx Started In A Small Apartment

Display setup for Spanx
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After graduating from Florida State University, Sara Blakely joined the company Danka to sell fax machines door-to-door. However, because of Florida’s heat and humidity, Blakely had trouble finding a comfortable pair of pantyhose that fit her needs. She figured there was a market for her vision of the perfect pantyhose and took her life savings of $5,000 and moved to Atlanta when she was 27.

There, she came up with her concept for Spanx and created the prototype in her small apartment. She launched the brand from her apartment in 2000, locking down a deal with Neiman Marcus Group not long after.