Top 10 businesses started in a garage

By Oliver Milman
Thursday, 01 December 2011

Garages can be used for a multitude of things. Car storage is the obvious one, but Australian garages also contain everything from discarded electronics to framed sporting memorabilia.


However, the humble garage isn’t just a storage space. It can provide the ideal space to launch a new business, as last week’s naming of iiNet founder Michael Malone as Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year demonstrates. 


As Malone told us last year, iiNet launched in his mother’s garage, only moving due to the extraordinary amount of phone lines he needed installed to the premises.


“I’d love to say it was a plan but in reality, we had 300 phone lines coming to my mum’s house by then. Telstra were very accommodating but they ran out of capacity,” he recalled.


“Their recommendation was the CBD because it was the only place they felt they could cope with our growth.”


iiNet now has more than 500,000 customers in Australia. But the businesses rise isn’t a one-off – indeed, some of the world’s leading brands have grown from garage beginnings.


Here are the top 10 garage start-ups. You’ll never view your garage the same way again.



1. Apple


In 1976, two technology enthusiasts, Steve Wozniack and Steve Jobs, decided they wanted to embark upon building a personal computer.


They talked a local electronics retailer into stocking 50 units, which the penniless duo had to fund on credit, based on their first purchase order.


The Steves’ hand-built the 50 computers in 30 days from Wozniack’s garage in Cupertino, California. Thus, the world’s most valuable technology company was born.



2. Google


Twenty-two years on from Apple’s genesis, another Californian garage was spawning a brand that is now world-famous.


Larry Page and Sergey Brin rented the garage from Susan Wojcicki, who needed help paying her mortgage. For the next five months, the duo worked on creating the search engine, in-between raiding Wojcicki’s fridge and relaxing in her hot tub.


Within a year they had to move to what is known as the Googleplex. In 2006, Google bought the house where it was conceived, while Wojcicki went on to work for the business as vice president of product management.



3. Amazon


In 1994, Jeff Bezos decided he wanted to exploit the fledgling online retail space by launching his own book selling portal.


From his garage in Bellvue, Washington, Bezos launched Amazon, which went on to sell its first book – Douglas Hofstadter's Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought – in 1995.


By 1999, Bezos was Time magazine’s Person of the Year, while Amazon is now the world’s largest online retailer.



4. Disney


Another Californian garage start-up, Disney came about when young animator Walt Disney set up shop in his uncle Robert’s premises after winning a contract to produce a series of cartoons based on Alice in Wonderland.


Within a few months, Disney had shifted to a small office in downtown Los Angeles.



5. Hewlett Packard


Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard graduated from Stanford University in 1935 and decided to launch a business together.


Four years later, the duo created HP in Packard’s garage with a start-up investment of $538. Although Packard won a coin toss to decide the business’ title, Hewlett’s name eventually ended up being first.


HP’s first product was an audio oscillator sold, co-incidentally, to Walt Disney.


6. Mattel


Formed by a combination of founders Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler’s names, Mattel started life as a picture frame company, launching from a garage space in 1945.


Handler’s wife Ruth started making doll’s houses from the wood left over from the picture frames, a profitable sideline that convinced the founders that switching to toys would be a good idea.



7. Harley-Davidson


In 1901, childhood friends William Harley and Arthur Davidson began work on a motorised bicycle from a Milwaukee garage.


After realising that the engine was hopelessly underpowered, the friends built what is considered the first Harley-Davidson motorbike. Five years later, they moved to a nearby factory space, which is the company’s headquarters to this day.



8. Dyson


While vacuuming in his house in 1978, UK engineer James Dyson became frustrated at the loss of suction power from his clogged-up Hoover.


While visiting a local sawmill, Dyson realised that large industrial cyclones used to remove sawdust from the air could be applied to vacuum cleaners.


Dyson’s tinkerings were rejected by every major manufacturer for five years, plunging him and his wife into debt. The couple began growing their own vegetables and sewing up old clothes in order to save money, a decision that paid off when Dyson eventually got the breakthrough that changed the industry forever.





Australia’s garages are also a source of start-up innovation. In 2007, Sydney entrepreneur Matt Barrie bought a website from a Swedish man, renamed it and started running the fledgling business from his garage with one employee.


With a few tweaks the site was pulling in so much traffic that it was crashing almost every day.


Barrie had to re-write the code after six months and the website was able to grow globally, with 40% of outsourced jobs now coming from the US compared to 5% from Australia.



10. Grabble


While Grabble, a tech newbie not even into its second year, cannot be compared to the likes of Apple and Amazon, there are high hopes that the business will follow in these illustrious footsteps.


Founded in a Wollongong garage by Stuart Argue and Anthony Marcar, Grabble provides retailers a point-of-service app for purchases.


Picked up by the Startmate accelerator program, Grabble have gone from Wollongong to the US in record time, after being acquired by retail giant Wal-Mart.


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You overlooked - they are no Apple, but they started in a garage, are doing very well AND are Australian to boot.
dplatter , December 06, 2011
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