Famous Companies That Started in a Garage (Info & History)


There are many inventions and great companies that started in a garage. Let’s explore today some of the biggest success stories such as:

  • Google
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Microsoft
  • Disney
  • Mattel
  • Harley Davidson
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Dell
  • Nike
  • Lotus Cars
  • Maglite

If you think you need a corporate office to get your business started, think again. They all started from almost nothing.

What Is Considered a Startup Company?

A startup company is typically described as one that is in its early stages of development. Such companies tend to have an idea or prototype product that has been created to solve a perceived problem of some kind.

Such companies will generally be looking for startup capital from friends, family, banks, and venture capitalists to get going. Though not always.

These entrepreneurial ventures are started by 1-3 founders who focus on capitalizing upon a perceived market demand by developing a viable product, service, or platform.

Google

Larry Page and Sergey Brin met at Stanford in the mid-1990s and decided they wanted to start a company together. Two years later, the partners established Google’s headquarters in Susan Wojcicki’s 2,000-foot garage for $1,700 a month in September 1998. Located at 32 Santa Margarita Avenue, Menlo Park, California.

Within one year, the Google team would outgrow the garage space and move to an office in Palo Alto along with their eight employees.

Google Started as simply another college project at Stanford; Google is the biggest internet behemoth today. Page and Brin tried to sell the company to Excite for $1 million in 1999. which Excite rejected.

In 2019, Page and Brin stepped down from the company, writing, “We could not have imagined, back in 1998 when we moved our servers from a dorm room to a garage, the journey that would follow.”

Amazon

The world’s largest online marketplace started as an online bookstore. Founded by Jeff Bezos in 1995, Amazon started its operations from Bezos’ home garage in Bellevue, Washington.

Four years after being named the youngest vice president of a thriving Wall Street investment firm, Jeff Bezos quit his job and moved to Seattle to pursue what he believed to be untapped online retailing opportunities in the book industry.

Although it took almost an entire year for Amazon to sell their first book, The website would grow over the next few years, and Bezos would take Amazon public in 1997.

From the very beginning, he knew Amazon would eventually sell other products online, not only books. And so, in 1998, Amazon.com began to sell computer games and music through its online store.

At around the same time, it also began to expand globally. Today Amazon is one of the largest online stores in the world and has made Bezos one of the richest men in the world.

Apple

Apple’s first office was Steve Jobs’s parent’s garage.

In 1976, Steve Wozniak created the first Apple computer. He then joined forces with the late Steve Jobs and another partner, Ronald Wayne, to launch Apple Computer.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were only 21 and 26 years old at that time.

One of their first big orders was from a local retailer who ordered 50 computers (Apple 1) at $500 apiece, which they were able to produce in just 30 days with help.

Today, the Silicon Valley home where Jobs grew up is listed as one of the city’s historic properties.

Microsoft

1975, Bill Gates and his friend Paul Allen founded Microsoft from a small garage space in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

But later used the Sundowner Motor Hotel as a basecamp because it was conveniently located across the street from a personal computer company.

When Bill Gates and Paul Allen started Microsoft, they had a small garage and minimal resources to work with. But, something they did have in plenty was their programming skills, using which they built their first operating system and licensed it for $80,000.

A few years later, Windows was born, and we know how that turned out. Microsoft has been ruling the PC market for more than 2 decades now, making Bill Gates one of the richest men on the planet in the process.

Disney

The Disney Garage moved to the Stanley Ranch Museum in the 1980s.

It all started in the summer of 1923 in a one-car garage that belonged to Walt Disney’s uncle, Robert Disney. At the time, the company was called The Disney Brothers Studio. It was located about 45 minutes from today’s Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California.

In this small space, the team filmed the Alice Comedies, which would later inspire Disney’s version of Alice in Wonderland.

Today Disney is one of the highest-earning conglomerates in the world. It owns and operates cable television networks, publishing, merchandising, music, and theatre divisions; owns and licenses 14 theme parks around the world; it is one of the leading names in producing cartoons, children’s movies, and animated films.

Mattel

In 1945, before Mattel became the American toy manufacturing company, company founders Harold “Matt” Matson and Ruth and Elliot Handler were making picture frames out of a Southern California garage. From the scraps of the picture frames made of Lucite and flocked wood, Elliot started making dollhouse furniture.

Ruth, who worked at Paramount Pictures, is said to have landed her husband’s first order by bringing a suitcase full of dollhouse furniture to a store on Wilshire Boulevard not far from her job.

The dollhouse furniture’s success pushed Elliot and Ruth (Matson had left the company due to poor health) to focus only on making toys. In 1959, Ruth invented the Barbie doll, named after her daughter, Barbara.

Harley Davidson

The world’s first Harley was built in a wooden shed. It was the equivalent of a garage because they didn’t have a car.

The shed’s door had “Harley Davidson Motor Company” written on it. 

William Harley always wanted to design motorcycles. As a 20-year-old, he had come up with the design of an engine to power a bicycle. Over the next two years, he and his childhood friend Arthur Davidson built their motorcycle in a wooden shed at Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The company was officially founded in 1903. It has grown to become one of the world’s most recognized and trusted motorcycle brands.

Hewlett-Packard

Just 10 miles from the garage where Apple was started, Stanford graduates Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard launched their own company, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP)

In 1938, Will Hewlett and Dave Packard started Hewlett-Packard in Packard’s garage in Palo Alto, California. Their first product was an audio oscillator ordered by another company on this list, Walt Disney, for their motion picture Fantasia. To use for certifying the surround sound systems installed in theaters.

Today, Packard’s garage is a private museum known as the “birthplace of Silicon Valley.”

When naming the company, the duo flipped a coin to decide whose name should go first.

Dell

Michael Dell also built his computers inside his garage.

He is not as famous as Gates or Jobs, or Zuckerberg. Still, Michael Dell is another college dropout who made it huge in the computer business.

In 1984, he started designing customized computers for people. A year later, he decided to drop out of college to grow his business, which had turned profitable in the first year itself. And the development went very well for him, making Dell one of the strongest competitors in the computer manufacturing market.

Nike

Nike didn’t even have a garage to begin with.

If you think a garage is too small a space to start a billion-dollar business, get this, Nike began to in the trunk of a car. Yes, that’s right. Nike began as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964 in the trunk of its founders, Phil Knight’s Plymouth Valiant.

While Knight made shoes, his coach at the University of Oregon, Bill Bowerman, tested them on runners. For the first 2 years, it couldn’t even find any retailers. And today, Nike is the biggest manufacturer of sports apparel and accessories.

Lotus Cars

In 1948, at the age of 20, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman started Lotus Cars by building the first Lotus racing car in stables behind The Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North London. Chapman used a 1930s Austin Seven to build the Lotus Mark I.

Today Lotus Cars are one of the premier racing car manufacturers in the world.

Maglite

Yet another world-dominating brand that started out from a garage was Maglite(paid link). Founded in the 1950s, Tony Maglica started the company from a garage after migrating from Croatia to America in 1950.

He fled his native Croatia to escape the country’s devastation by the Second World War and the iron-grip of Communist control.

Lacking funds, Maglica used $125 he’d saved to buy a lathe and start a workshop that would become Maglite from a garage in Los Angeles, California. The company would eventually incorporate it in 1974 and would release its first flashlight in 1979.

Today, Maglite is the standard issue flashlight for all police officers in the US.

Can I Run Business Out of My Garage

In many areas, operating a business from your home is not legal. Laws in most cities and towns in the US and most developed countries severely limit the locations and under what circumstances businesses may operate.

But if every illegal home business in America shut down, millions of businesses would be affected, the economy would crumble to a standstill, and the country would fall into a huge recession, with ripple effects sending tens of millions into joblessness.

However, the answer is less clear-cut, and much will depend on where you live, whether you’re the property owner or tenant, and the kind of business you want to run from home. You should check your country/state laws.

How Can I Make Money With My Garage?

  • Rent it as a parking space
  • Rent it as a storage space
  • Turn it into a workshop
  • Have a garage sale
  • Rent it as a pop-up venue
  • Convert all or part of it into a spare room for rent
  • Rent out your tools
  • Turn it into your own business space

Everything Starts as Nothing

Great ideas are still great ideas, no matter where they’re started and developed.

It’s easy to look at the world’s largest companies and think, “I could never start something like that.” And you’d be right. Most of these companies took decades to get where they are today.

They didn’t start by trying to create Amazon, Apple, and Google. They began by creating an online bookstore, a computer, and a search algorithm.

Whether it’s a garage, a basement, or a dorm room, every business has modest beginnings. It’s not about where you start. It’s where you end up.

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