4 Gigantic Companies That Started From Nothing

Here are four examples of amazing success stories that prove you don't need millions from investors to make it big.
June 17, 2011

We're all familiar with the story about Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack building a computer in a garage, but what about other entrepreneurs like them that started with nothing more than a few thousand dollars and an idea?

There are millions of entrepreneurs across the globe that have started profitable enterprises without the help of big investors, but only tiny fraction make it to the top of their industries.

Here are four examples of amazing success stories that prove you don't need millions from investors to make it big:

1. Hewlett-Packard

HP was the original tech startup formed in a garage. Bill Hewlett and David Packard started the company with $538 in 1939 as an electronics maker, getting a boost from its first successful product, an audio oscillator. The company expanded into all sorts of test electronics, and eventually entered the computer business in 1966 with the HP 2100 minicomputer.

Now 72 years old, HP has grown into one of the world's largest information technology companies. It now has more than 300,000 employees and posted revenues of $126 billion in 2010.

2. Starbucks

Two teachers and a writer got together to start up a Seattle coffee bean seller with their own money in 1971. One of their personal connections was Alfred Peet, the founder of Peet's Coffee & Tea, whom they bought all their coffee from in their first year. It wasn't until Howard Schultz joined the company in 1982 when Starbucks coffee shops came to be, though the founders initially hesitated to change the business plan so drastically.

After the company went public in 1992, Schultz's idea grew into the largest chain of coffeehouses in the world. Its 17,000 stores today are spread across 55 countries and can be found on what often seems like every street corner.

3. Subway

Founded by Fred DeLuca with $1,000 of buddy-turned-partner Peter Buck's money back in 1965, Subway's original goal was to open 32 stores in its first 10 years. Nine years later, they realized that they were going to come up short, so the pair started franchising.

Subway now has more locations worldwide than fast food juggernaut McDonald's, with more than 34,000 locations in 98 countries, and the company hauled in $15.2 billion in revenue in 2010. It's still privately held, and is owned by DeLuca and Buck's company Doctor's Associates.

4. Mattel

Originally a picture-frame maker run out of the house of founders Ruth and Elliot Handler in 1945, the still-tiny Mattel got into the toy business by using leftover wooden scraps from the frames to build dollhouses. Its first toy to make it big was the Uke-A-Doodle musical toy in 1947.

Mattel had already grown into a $5 million venture by the mid-1950s, but in 1959 Ruth Handler came up with the Barbie doll, changing the toy industry forever.

It's now the world's largest toy company based on revenue ($5.9 billion in 2010), and no longer has any toy factories in the U.S.