THE BLOG

Five Mega Companies That Started in Garages (and Other Interesting Places)

09/27/2011 06:34 pm ET | Updated Nov 27, 2011

Some of the world's biggest companies came from the most humble of beginnings. Here are five major corporations who've each starred in their own rags-to-riches story.

1. Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG)
"On Sept. 7, 1998, Google Inc. opened its door in Menlo Park, Calif. The door came with a remote control, as it was attached to the garage of a friend who sublet space to the new corporation's staff of three." -- Google's corporate history

Just days before that garage door opened, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin moved out of the dorms, officially incorporated the Google name, and finished raising $1 million from a handful of investors. A friend of Brin's, Susan Wojcicki (now Google's VP of product management), needed help paying the mortgage on her 1,900-square-foot home in Menlo Park, and agreed to lease the garage for $1,700 per month to the 25-year-old Stanford grads.

For the five months Google operated out of Wojcicki's garage, Page and Brin alternated between tinkering with their search engine's now legendary algorithm, soaking in the hot tub and raiding the refrigerator for midnight snacks -- a habit that may have inspired Google's free-food policy for all its employees.

By the end of 1998, Google (still in Beta mode) had indexed nearly 60 million pages and was being praised for providing better search results than its competitors. They moved out of Wojcicki's garage in March 1999, and after quickly outgrowing three other locations, settled down at the 26-acre complex fondly referred to as the "Googleplex." On the company's eighth birthday, Google purchased the garage (and the attached home) and plan on preserving it as part of its legacy.

2. Dell (Nasdaq: DELL)
The University of Texas at Austin campus is known for stimulating the minds of its undergraduates -- the grassy fields, the sprawling trees and the traditional architecture of the revered halls are all filled with inspiration. But Michael Dell didn't have his revelation in the classroom. He found it in his dorm room.

It was in room 2713 that he ran his informal business, building and selling custom-ordered personal computers under the name PCs Limited. By selling directly to the customer, Dell cut out the middleman and kept prices lower than his competition. That bright idea set the young entrepreneur apart, and by 1985, the 19-year-old dropped out of school and moved his business to an office center in North Austin that he purchased with his profits.

Dell is now one of the largest tech companies in the world, and is ranked No. 41 on the Fortune 500 list.

3. Nike, Inc. (NYSE: NKE)
Before it became the world's leading supplier of athletic gear, Nike wasn't Nike -- it was Blue Ribbon Sports. And for the first two years, you couldn't find it at any retailer. Blue Ribbon Sports operated exclusively out of the trunk of Phil Knight's green Plymouth Valiant. That's right, Nike started in the trunk of a car.

Blue Ribbon Sports was founded in January 1964 by two University of Oregon men -- track athlete Knight and his coach, Bill Bowerman. The company originally operated as a distributor for Japanese shoemaker Onitsuka Tiger. While Knight sold shoes at track meets, Bowerman, always on the search for the competitive edge, was ripping them apart to see how he could make them lighter and better. He recruited his runners to test his designs.

In 1966, the two opened the company's first retail store in Santa Monica, Calif., and business grew quickly. Blue Ribbon Sports split from Onitsuka Tiger and launched its own line of footwear, bearing a newly designed "swoosh." In 1978, BRS, Inc. officially renamed itself Nike, Inc.

4. Apple, Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL NYSE: AAPL)
On April 1, 1976, three young men established a start-up inside a garage in Cupertino, Calif. Their vision was to set off a personal computer revolution. The result was the hand-built Apple I personal computer kit. Their names: Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne (who left the company in 1977, selling his shares for a mere $800).

The Apple I was first sold in 1976 as a motherboard with CPU, RAM and basic textual-video chips -- much less than what is now featured in a personal computer. The Apple II came out shortly thereafter with color graphics and an open architecture, helping distinguish Apple's products from its competitors. But it wasn't until Apple launched the Macintosh line -- with its famous "1984" commercial -- that the company experienced a watershed moment for its eventual success.

Over the decades, Apple has established a unique reputation not only in personal computers, but throughout the consumer electronics industry by expanding its product offerings with the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

5. Mattel, Inc. (Nasdaq: MAT)
Shortly after the end of World War II, Ruth and Elliot Handler started a company named Mattel in their Southern California garage. Although we all know Mattel as the mega-toy company, their first products were actually picture frames.

As a side business, Elliot began making dollhouse furniture out of wood scraps from the frames. Encouraged by the success from the dollhouse furniture, Mattel decided to turn their attention to toys instead.

In 1955, Mattel began to introduce its toys through advertising on The Mickey Mouse Club television show. Soon after, in 1959, Ruth Handler established the Barbie product line that would turn the company into a household name. Mattel would go on to create additional product lines, including: Fisher Price, Hot Wheels, Matchbox cars, Masters of the Universe, American Girl dolls and an extensive line of board games -- e.g., Scrabble, Uno and Scene It.