10 Wildly Successful Businesses That All Started in a Garage

There’s something awe-inspiring about successful companies who were born from almost nothing. The gritty entrepreneurs who dig until they strike gold are much more relatable than those who start something with $20 million in the bank as backing. Some of the world’s most successful businesses have roots in an old, dusty garage. In fact, history tells us if you’re only using your garage as car storage then you’re probably doing it wrong.

Humble beginnings make great success stories. These 10 wildly successful companies would have ever imagined they’d become as big as they are today when they were hustling away in garages. Keep reading to see which companies built billion-dollar businesses from the most unlikely office headquarters.

1. Disney

Black and white photo of Walt Disney

Walt built his empire in his uncle’s garage. | R. Mitchell/Express/Getty Images

Then: Brothers Walt and Roy Disney began what would become a billion-dollar powerhouse in their uncle’s garage under the name “Alice Comedies” in 1923. Walt Disney’s initial animations were slow to take off, but they’re what inspired the company’s take on Alice in Wonderland years later. And it all changed with the birth of Mickey Mouse.

Now: Disney is one of the most popular, highest earning franchises in the world. Though Walt Disney World was built a few years following Disney’s death, he was named one of the most important people of the 20th century by Time magazine. It almost impossible to calculate the brand’s worth, but estimates place it around $150 billion when considering revenue from its iconic cartoons, movies, films, and theme parks.

Next: Success sure smells sweet.

2. Yankee Candle Company

Yankee Candles

He started by making candles out of crayons. | Nightscream/Wikimedia Commons

Then: It took four years for Michael Kittredge to move what would later become Yankee Candle Company from his garage to a warehouse. Before that, he was selling candles to friends from his parents home, once word spread of the Christmas presents he made for his mother using melted crayons.

Now: The Yankee Candle Company was internationally known by the 1990’s and still produces over 200 million candles a year. Of course, the founder’s net worth has skyrocketed since his early days. Kittredge is worth roughly $2 billion today.

Next: An in-home business success story.

3. eBay

EBay

Not even a subscriber fee drove people off. | JasonDoiy/iStock/Getty Images

Then: Pierre Omidyar launched AuctionWeb (better known as eBay) as a way to help his wife expand her elaborate collection of Pez dispensers. They ran the business at home until it became too large to manage on their own. The pair’s internet provider jacked up their bill just a short time later, due to a high increase in web traffic.

Now: But even charging a subscriber’s fee to counteract his rising utility bills didn’t deter customers. Today, the company’s market value rests comfortably at $36.6 billion. They even served as the parent company of another e-commerce giant, PayPal, until 2015.

Next: Plastic makes perfect.

4. Mattel

Mattel headquarters

They started out making picture frames. | Coolcaesar/Wikimedia Commons

Then: Barbies weren’t even in the picture when Elliot Handler and his wife Ruth began operating a picture frame construction business from their garage in 1945. But in an effort to reduce waste, they began making dollhouse furniture from leftover scraps. The doll business quickly outperformed the frame business and Mattel was incorporated in 1948. Next, they became a sponsor of Disney’s “The Mickey Mouse Club,” awarding them 15 minutes of commercial time a week for $500,000.

Now: Increased sales from the Disney exposure allowed the duo to invent the Barbie doll in 1959. Sales reached $100 million by 1965. Today, the $8.5 billion company is best known for Barbie, Matchbox cars, the entire Fisher-Price product line, and the board game Scrabble.

Next: A college dropout and a garage.

5. Dell

Dell CEO

He sold millions of computers by the time he was 22. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Then: Michael Dell began building and selling computers from his dorm room at the University of Texas at Austin under the name PCs Limited. The start-up became so popular that he dropped out of school and began running the company from his garage. Such a humble workspace was only temporary considering he had sold more than $160 million worth of equipment by the time he was 22.

Now: Michael Dell is now one of the richest men in America, worth more than $24.6 billion. The company itself is one of few corporation giants who’s been profitable every quarter since inception. Dell has earned about $62 billion in sales overall.

Next: A true rags-to-riches story.

6. MAGLITE

Maglite flashlight

The true rags to riches story. | kaʁstn Disk/Cat/iStock/Getty Images

Then: MAGLITE flashlights are another common household product with garage-like origins. Tony Maglica, a machinist, began building parts from his garage under the name Mag Instruments. The side hustle was his way of generating income as an underpaid Croatian immigrant who spoke very little English.

Now: The MAGLITE flashlight was introduced in 1979 and served as standard issue for police and other law enforcement officers in America for many years. Today, Mag Instrument employs several hundred people and occupies over 700,000 square feet worth of distribution space in California.

Next: This next company technically started in a kitchen.

7. Nike

The swoosh was designed for $35. | Getty Images

Then: Bill Bowerman has his wife’s waffle maker to thank for his first patent in 1974 —  a latex rubber outsole with raised nubs for traction. The idea made famous by Nike came to him while watching the waffle iron and noting it’s special design. Bowerman partnered with runner Phil Knight, hired a woman to design the iconic “swoosh” for $35, and expanded the company beyond belief.

Now: The iconic brand is now worth well over $25 billion and has managed to secure profitable endorsement deals with some of the world’s greatest athletes. David Beckham, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James have all secured multi-million-dollar endorsement deals with Nike.

Next: A garage that inspired a motorized revolution.

8. Harley-Davidson

It started with a motor for bicycles. | Harley-Davidson

Then: William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson were in their early twenties when they attempted to design a motor for pedal bicycles in 1901. Their office? A cramped woodshed located behind a friend’s machine shop in Milwaukee.  The prototype motor was finished in 1904 and debuted at the Wisconsin State Fair Park to rave reviews.

Now: Harley-Davidson built their first factory five years later and the rest, as they say, is history. They became an industry leader and an American icon for many road warriors. Today, Harley-Davidson is worth about $10.7 billion, though millennials have recently been accused of killing the brand. Experts note the company’s stock is in a serious downturn as a result.

Next: A garage headquarters cemented in history.

9. Hewlett-Packard

HP Hewlett Packard's Headquarters

It became the start of Silicon Valley. | Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Then: Tech giant Hewlett-Packard’s technological innovations once included agricultural and engineering equipment in addition to personal software. They managed to sell these pieces much cheaper than competitors from a one-car garage in Palo Alto, California. The “birthplace of Silicon Valley” has since been named a historic site.

Now: In 1938, HP’s early success allowed fellow entrepreneurial garage tenant, Walt Disney, to purchase eight pieces of HP equipment to produce his musical film Fantasia. Success only snowballed from there. Today, they’ve earned roughly $98.3 billion in sales and the company is worth $13.2 billion.

Next: A company on track for world domination

10. Google

Google founders Sergey Brin (L) and Larry Page pose for photographers prior to presenting their new Google Print product at the Frankfurt Book Fair

The most famous garage success story. | John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

Then: Google’s garage-to-glory fame is probably the most notorious path to success. Stanford students Larry Page and Sergey Brin rented a garage in Menlo Park, California in 1998 to serve as their home base as they developed web algorithms for an online search engine. It didn’t take long for their idea to take shape and develop a 12-acre campus headquarters far beyond what they ever imagined possible.

Now: Today Google is the most visited website in the world. Brin and Page are also among the richest billionaires in the world. They’ve launched other useful websites and applications like Gmail, Google+, and Google Drive. The company has since purchased the garage where it all started as a tribute to their modest beginnings.

Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.

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