Let’s say you want to start a business, but you’re struggling to see it become successful. How can you ever reach the goals you have for your dream business?
As Steve Jobs once said, “Everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you.” Often, those same people weren’t any better off financially than you either.
Earlier this week, Dan Lyons, author of the New York Times best selling book Disrupted (My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble), was my guest on the Business is ART podcast #45 (on the TrueChat Network). In Disrupted, Dan writes about his experience at tech start-up Hubspot. Prior to that he was the senior tech writer for Newsweek, so it seems appropriate here to talk about 4 huge tech companies with surprisingly humble beginnings.
Since we already mentioned Steve Jobs, we might as well start with Apple. As most know, Apple Computer, the most valuable company in the world, began in a garage just 40 years ago. It was just two guys, one of whom could not code or engineer computers. Neither of whom had college degrees.
But with Steve Wozniak’s technical prowess and Steve Jobs’ relentless drive and perfectionist bent, they were able to turn the computer industry upside-down and pave the way for computers to be in every household.
That said, while Apple is credited for bringing computers to the home/personal market, it was another company that’s generally credited for actually putting a computer in every home.
Similar to Apple, Microsoft was also founded by two college dropouts. While they came from respectable families, the success of Bill Gates and Paul Allen was entirely their own. After bonding in high school over their love of computers, they began writing programs in their spare time.
They briefly went their separate ways for college, only to reunite when Allen convinced Gates they could develop software for a microcomputer he had seen in a magazine. They pitched their software to the manufacturers of the microcomputer…despite the fact that they hadn’t actually created the software yet.
The company agreed to meet with them, and so the two set out to build an idea they had implied was nearly complete for a microcomputer they didn’t actually own. And they didn’t have much time to do it.
Yet, somehow, they pulled it off, their software was purchased, and Microsoft (then spelled Micro-Soft) soon became the biggest name in computer software.
Michael Dell, the son of a stockbroker and an orthodontist, was a freshman pre-med student at the University of Texas when he decided to start a part-time gig. Having always loved computers, he began assembling and selling IBM-compatible computers from his dorm room.
Seeing a larger opportunity in front of him, Michael borrowed $1000 from friends and family, dropped out of college, and launched his own branded computer: the Turbo PC. These PCs could be customized and were sold directly to customers through ads in computer magazines.
By 1986, after a year in operation, the company had $73 million in sales. Over the next two decades, they would grow to a multi-billion dollar company and outlast dozens of their competitors thanks in part to some hugely successful marketing campaigns.
Hewlett Packard (HP)
About 40 years before Apple made garage startups “cool”, William Hewlett and David Packard began a business in a glorified shed in Palo Alto with $538 (the equivalent of about $9300 today). To decide whose name would be placed first, they flipped a coin.
Of course, they weren’t building computers quite yet. Instead, they made audio oscillators. It was an area in which they found quick success, with Disney becoming their first major client a year later. HP’s equipment was used for the theatrical showings of Fantastia released in 1940, and the rest was history.
This tiny little company would grow into one of the founding forces of Silicon Valley. It makes you wonder what you could do with $10,000, a friend, and an empty garage – other than throw one heckuva tailgate party.
The Opportunities for Starting a Business Have Never Been Greater
When all of these companies began, technology was expensive, clunky, and confusing. It was niche, and there wasn’t any internet to assist.
Today, starting a business has never been easier thanks to the abundance of tools, communities, and affordable tech out there. And once you start the business, you’re able to connect with over a billion people thanks to the internet.
It doesn’t take a couple million dollars to create a multi-million (or billion) dollar company. It just takes a dream, some skill, a lot of hard work, and a plan. I can help with that last part. I’ve taken businesses from humble beginnings to huge success, so I know it’s possible.
And I know how to do it.
Check out my book Business is ART here or contact me for additional services.