Lessons From Home-Based Entrepreneurs Who Built Empires

Disney, Jobs, Bezos, and Other Famous Entrepreneurs

The garage where Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin set up Google
The garage where Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin set up Google. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

It's well known that Amazon and Apple were both home-based startups, but they're not alone. There are countless companies throughout history that started as an idea launched from home and, that today, are corporate giants

The challenges these great founders face are the same ones you face; although most didn't have the resources you have at your fingertips, such as informative guides on how to start a home business and social media to spread the word.

Each of these once small-time companies was headed by people who struggled, just as you do, in their ventures. Many had dismal failures and catastrophic setbacks. And yet, all of them are household names and are examples of how a great idea and perseverance can pay off. Here are five famous CEOs of well-known companies, and what you can learn from their startup experience.

Bill Hewlett and David Packard, Hewlett-Packard

With an initial investment of $538, Bill Hewlett and David Packard started Hewlett-Packard (HP) in a Palo Alto, California garage in 1939, creating audio oscillators. The eight oscillator units they famously sold to Walt Disney to help in his movie Fantasia, were the company’s first big break. Since then, HP has become a diversified technology company with an annual revenue of $103 billion.

While success and riches are a key goal of many would-be entrepreneurs, Bill and David recommend that you, “Set out to build a company and make a contribution, not an empire and a fortune.”

HP teaches that providing value to a market is the key to success.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Apple

In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Woz) worked diligently on the Apple I in Jobs’ childhood home. The garage, which was recently named a historic site by the city of Los Altos, California, was essential to the company’s beginnings.

“Apple was about as pure of a Silicon Valley company as you could imagine,” Jobs said in an interview with Newsweek. “We started in a garage. Woz and I both grew up in Silicon Valley. Our role model was Hewlett-Packard. And so I guess that’s what we went into it thinking.”

From their garage, the Jobs and Woz went on to develop one of the most groundbreaking devices, the Apple Mac, which drastically changed computer and operating system design. From there, Apple has changed how people listen to music, work, and stay connected with their iPod and iPhone products. Interestingly, Jobs, who has been the face of Apple, and even at one point was fired from the company he started, wasn’t a tech geek. Instead, he focused on aesthetics, simple design, and ease of use.

Jobs and Woz prove that innovation, especially in making people's life more fun or easier, can change the world.

Walt and Roy Disney, Disney

The Walt Disney and his brother Roy started making their first films in their uncle’s Anaheim, California garage in 1923. These early films--“Alice Comedies”--would later constitute the Alice in Wonderland. They nearly didn’t become a success, when they lost the rights to their money-maker, Oswald the Rabbit.

Walt created Mickey Mouse during the company’s early, dark times: "He (Mickey Mouse) popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad 20 years ago on a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood at a time when the business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at lowest ebb, and disaster seemed right around the corner.” Mickey, voiced by Walt himself until 1947, would go on to become incredibly popular and would embody Disney’s values and aims.  

Today, Disney has become one of the largest and most popular media conglomerates in the world.

Disney shows us that the long road to success is often littered with difficulty and even failure, but as long as you remain resilient in the face of defeat, you too can have a successful, long-lasting business.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon

In 1994, Jeff Bezos quit his job on Wall Street and rented a 3-bedroom house with a garage in Seattle, and decided to take advantage opportunities presented by the Internet to start Amazon.com.

“The wake-up call was finding this startling statistic that web usage in the spring of 1994 was growing at 2,300 percent a year. You know, things just don’t grow that fast. It’s highly unusual, and that started me about thinking, ‘What kind of business plan might make sense in the context of that growth?’” After a brief investigation into what product made the most sense, Bezos decided on books, which were low-cost, but in high demand.

Twenty-two years later, Amazon is the largest online retailer in the world with 97,000 employees and over $61 billion in annual revenue. Not only does he sell books, but nearly anything else you can want or need from clothing to groceries and more. Further, he’s revolutionized how people read through the Kindle eReader, and even made it cheaper and easier for authors to get their books to their readers, without agents and publishers.

Bezos teaches that opportunity is everywhere if you pay attention. He didn’t invent the Internet or books, and yet, he found a way to combine them in a way no one had before and built an empire. He did it with ebooks and publishing, and he continues to seek out opportunities.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google

In September 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin rented out their friend Sarah Wojcicki’s garage with one goal: create a website that could gather and catalog online data that would be accessible to internet users around the globe. Several months later, they developed the initial ideas and mechanisms of Google. It didn’t take long for the company to grow large enough to interfere with Page and Brin’s graduate school work at Stanford, so they attempted to sell the company for $1 million.

After the sale failed, the duo dropped out of college and pursued the growing the company. It turned out to be a wise choice, as Google is one of today’s most innovative, successful internet companies--on the verge of major shifts in artificial intelligence and the automotive industry. Page’s said that "...part of the reason we're successful so far is that originally we didn't really want to start a business…” Instead, they emphasize the importance of your own investment and excitement about your work: “Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting.”

What Page and Brin teach, similar to the success stories before them, is that innovation, providing value and simplicity to the market, and a passion for your project are key factors to building a successful business.

The list of big companies started from home don't stop there. Mattel, Microsoft, Facebook... the list goes on and one. And like the five companies listed above, they started out just like most other home businesses; with little capital and resources, but big ideas and a willingness to work hard. They ran on sheer commitment to their causes and goals, whether that meant foreseeing and navigating a major shift in retail like Bezos or bearing the brunt of years of failure and difficulty like the Disney brothers. With the same kind of determination and stamina, you too can grow your business and, maybe one day, add your name to these famed tiny-to-towering success stories.