The garage is a building or shed for housing motor vehicles. It is often used as storage space and it finds its etymology from the French word garer, or to shelter. But as history has shown, a garage is also a great place to start a company. Michael Dunlop’s blog listed 10 world famous companies that started in garages and it is an amazing list.
Amazon.com was founded by Jeff Bezos in 1994 to sell books online out of his garage in Bellevue, Washington. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1976 started up with their 50 units of Wozniak’s Apple 1 computer built in a garage in Cupertino, CA. In 1923, Walt Disney and his brother Ray moved to their uncle Robert’s house to set up “The First Disney Studio” in a one-car garage in Anaheim, California. There they started filming Alice Comedies which was part of the original Alice’s Wonderland. Google started out in Susan’s Wojcicki’s garage in September 1998. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both Stanford students, decided to sell Google for $1 million since it interfered their schoolwork. Their offer was turned down and the rest of their story is now legendary.
William S. Harley in 1901 drew up plans to create small engine for bicycle. Together with his friend, Arthur Davidson, they devised their motor’s bicycle from another friend’s garage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This is now the well-known motorbikes named Harley-Davidson. Hewlett-Packard is a collaboration of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard selling audio oscillator from a garage in Palo Alto. If you are a fan of car racing, you will be fascinated to know that a 20 years old Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman started Lotus Cars behind The Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North London. A Croatian immigrant, Tony Magilica of Maglite started his very first flashlight in 1979 out of a garage somewhere in Los Angeles. This brand is the standard issue flashlight for all police officers in the US.
The home of the Barbie dolls originated from a garage in Southern California not as a toy company but as a picture frame business. From the picture frame scrapes Harold Matson and Elliot Handler created dollhouses which in the end sold better than the picture frames. Their business became the famous “Mattel”. In 1969 Michael Kittredge of Yankee Candle Company started making scented candles in their house garage out of crayons not for business but as a gift for his mother. The neighbors took notice, he started mass producing and is now the largest scented candle manufacturer in the US.
These stories bring back memories of my childhood when we used to live at an apartment row to which we had the privilege of having the end garage, so to speak. At that time, my Dad was working for an appliance store as a salesman and he saw an opportunity in the market. He used that garage to start a small business manufacturing and assembling stereo sets and black and white television using vacuum tube technology.
With some favorable outcomes, we moved to a bigger house and this time had the garage to ourselves. There my Dad continued his small venture for Philippine assembled radios, stereo and TV’s which at that time was dominated by Radiowealth. Eventually, he opened his own appliance store, Concertone Marketing, and the business was a moderate success.
It all went well until the advent of Japanese brands like Sony and Panasonic which started to invade Philippine soil with the evolution of the transistor technology. To make a long story short, my Dad eventually concentrated on the appliance store business which sold the imports before finally deciding to immigrate abroad after Martial Law. He was picked up and jailed for a while simply for having a friendship with former Senator Ninoy Aquino as a poker buddy.
While my father’s business had its transitory success, it did not achieve the fame and glory of many world-famous companies. Still it was a business that fed the family and allowed us modest comforts, and it also started in a garage. The experience is something I dearly value. Coming out of college, I thought I wanted to be an entrepreneur myself but my journey led me instead into the finance industry where I was able to lit my old passion by supporting small and medium enterprises. It is an honor and privilege that we in DBP aim to help small businesses grow while we try to provide banking services to the underserved and unbanked Filipinos.
As a student of management, it is amazing to note how many businesses literally started from a garage. The lessons of these garage-based businesses are compelling. Most businesses will start from humble beginnings and will grow depending on how driven and determined the owners are. It all starts from the right mindset and a genuine interest to provide services and solutions that satisfy a human need. These stories illustrate that given the right ingredients, we can aim to start small, end up big.
(Benel D. Lagua is Executive Vice President at the Development Bank of the Philippines. He is an active FINEX member and a long time advocate of risk-based lending for SMEs. The views expressed herein are his own and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of his office as well as FINEX.)