With more than 50 percent of the employed population working for small businesses, it’s no surprise that mom-and-pop shops are the backbone of the American economy. Small business owners work hard day in, day out to filter billions of dollars through the economy.
Getting a small business off the ground is a hard slog, and it can be difficult to keep your motivation high amid the long hours and meager pay. Keep your inspiration cup running over with this list of 10 small businesses that made it big.
When you think of Facebook, the words small business don’t immediately come to mind. But that’s exactly what Facebook was when it first started.
Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in his Harvard dorm room in 2004. He created the website to both satisfy his appetite for hacking and create a way for college students to share ideas and information. We all know where Facebook is now — a $350 billion company — and most of us use it daily to connect with friends and family and promote our own small businesses.
Google wasn’t always the world’s leading search engine with an estimated value of $605 billion. It was started by two dudes in a garage. Larry Page and Sergey Brin recognized a need for a smarter search engine and went to work in 1996 (believe it or not, the initial product was nicknamed BackRub!). Now this tech giant has a worldwide presence, multiple products, and an awesome campus in California.
Did you know YouTube was started in a cubicle? That’s right. Chad Hurley and Steven Chen wanted a simpler way to share videos with friends online. This idea turned into one of the largest online companies, worth $40 billion and serving up more than a billion videos a day. The lesson? You never know when your small business idea will be the product everyone can’t live without. No matter what your passion is, you can succeed in the business world.
Talk about innovation: Sara Blakley turned ugly old-fashioned girdles into Spanx, a billion-dollar venture. Spanx started as a self-funded project out of Blakely’s Decatur, Ga., apartment. Her business grew mostly from word-of-mouth, but she also made smart marketing decisions, focusing on appealing packaging and copy. Rather than calling her products girdles, she gave each one a hip name — like Bra-llelujah and Tight-End Tights — and marketed them as cute accessories.
The Walt Disney Company
It’s hard to go even one day without seeing something from the Disney universe, but this entertainment juggernaut had humble beginnings. Walt Disney and his brother, Roy, started The Walt Disney Company in the back of a small Los Angeles apartment in 1923. Now Disney is a $92 billion company and brand that we simply can’t imagine life without.
Do your kids have a favorite toy? Chances are it came from Mattel, one of the world’s largest toy manufacturers. Now nearly a $6 billion enterprise, Mattel was founded by the daughter of Polish immigrants, Ruth, and her husband, Elliot Handler. The couple didn’t have much business experience or capital, but they saw the baby boomers as a prime market for toy sales.
Apple continually dazzles the world with technology so advanced it seems out of this world. But it’s beginnings were very down to earth: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak launched their tech giant in a garage. Beginning with a simple computer, the pair refined their products, eventually developing the devices many of us use — and love — on a daily basis.
Can you imagine life without Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping? Due to the hard work of Jeff Bezos, we don’t have to. Bezos started the online retailer by shipping books out of his garage. As the dotcom world continued to grow and innovate, so did Bezos. Now Amazon is a $292 billion company.
In 2006 Blake Mycoskie took a vacation to Argentina where he met a woman volunteering for a shoe drive. When he noticed she didn’t have enough inventory to suit the needs of shoeless children, he decided to create a TOMS. The company donates a new pair of shoes to someone in need whenever a customer buys a pair of kicks. The giving-back business model took off, and the brand is now worth $300 million dollars.
Ben & Jerry’s
While you can find the iconic pints in nearly every grocery and convenience store in America, Ben & Jerry’s started small. After taking a $5 correspondence course on ice cream, childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened their first ice cream shop in Burlington, Vermont, with just $12,000 in investment cash.
While it’s difficult to imagine any of these successful companies having humble beginnings, each one was created by just a handful of people working in a small space. Here’s to small business owners and their big ideas!