« Back to Blog

10 successful companies that launched for less than $1,000

Some of the most profitable businesses in the world came from humble beginnings and limited resources. They are a testament to the importance of vision and determination, and prove that product development and a good business model can overcome a lack of money or backing from a wealthy board.

These success stories may be outliers, but again, they serve as a reminder that the right idea and perseverance can go a long way.

1. Apple
Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne famously developed the first Apple computer not in a fancy R&D lab, but in a garage. During the late 1970's, the three men would meet at Jobs' parents' house to build personal computer prototypes.

According to TIME, Jobs and Wozniak sold handmade Apple 1 computers for months, despite the fact that the machines lacked keyboard, monitors or casing. Although these cost just a few hundred dollars at the time, an original Apple I computer sold for $50,000 in 1999, a symbol for how important the small operation eventually became, and an inspiration for any small-business owners with big dreams.

2. Microsoft
Like Apple, Microsoft's founders began developing their computers in a home garage. Around the same time that Jobs, Wozniak and Wayne were building their computers, Bill Gates and Paul Allen were busy working on their Microsoft software. According to Accounting Degree, Microsoft caught the eye of IBM, but even so, the company that would become Microsoft only earned $80,000 in initial investment. 

Today, Windows is the most popular and profitable computer operating system in the world, and Bill Gates is famous for being the world's richest individual. 

3. Whole Foods Market
Tech companies aren't the only businesses to start with next to nothing. Whole Foods Market, according to Business Pundit, was created in Austin, Texas under very humble circumstances.

Founders John Mackey and Rene Lawson Hardy borrowed money from friends and family to open a small natural food store in 1978. After being evicted from their apartment for using it for storage, the couple lived full time in the store.

Eventually the couple earned enough money to expand the store, and in 1980 they hired 19 employees. By 1984 Whole Foods began expanding to other cities, and according to Business Pundit, the company is now ranked 369 on the Fortune 500 and worth billions of dollars.

4. Mattel
Another now famous success story, the founders of Mattel originally made picture frames out of their home. Business Pundit stated that shortly after World War II, Ruth and Elliot Handler began selling their homemade frames out of their house. 

Ruth began to make doll houses and toys using scraps from the picture frames, and in 1947, their first big hit, a miniature plastic ukulele, brought the company initial success. By 1955, Mattel was a sponsor for the television program "The Mickey Mouse Club", and soon after, the world-famous doll Barbie was released. 

Mattel is now worth billions of dollars and sells toys all over the world.

5. eBay
The success of eBay is a lesson in the importance of building a strong team and professional network. eBay was also launched from a private home, but by bringing in the right connections and consultation, founders Pierre Omiydar and Jeff Skoll were able to expand their business very rapidly. 

In 1995, Omiydar launched his website out of a home in San Jose, and according to Brandeis University, he and Skoll brought in Meg Whitman in 1998 because of her marketing background working for Hasbro. Not only did Whitman bring vision to the budding company, but through connections at PepsiCo and Disney, she was able to help build eBay into the social marketplace it is today.

6. Amazon
Not all successful companies start out of a garage, but some of the world's most recognizable brands were started from next to nothing. After working on Wall Street, Jeff Bezos quit his job and moved to Seattle. American Express reported that Bezos believed that the online marketplace for books would be very lucrative, and his dream led him to a small office in a garage in Bellevue, Washington.

Because his garage was unsightly, Bezos held his initial meetings at a nearby Barnes and Nobles, and in 1995, Amazon.com was up and running. Two years later Bezos announced the company's IPO, and now Amazon is the world's largest online retailer. 

7. Hewlett-Packard
Stanford graduates Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard launched what would become the Hewlett-Packard Company, also known as HP, with just $538 in initial investment. According to American Express, HP is another example of a successful company launched from a home garage, which housed HP's initial research, development and manufacturing for nearly a year before the company sought to expand. Today the garage is a private museum and considered the "birthplace of Silicon Valley".

American Express reported that one of HP's first customers was Walt Disney Productions, another company founded with very little money. HP's audio oscillators were used by Disney for the film Fantasia.

8. Disney
According to American Express, the Walt Disney Co. is the highest grossing media conglomerate in the world, and it too was founded in a home garage. Originally called the Disney Brother's studio, Walt and his brother Roy shot films from their uncle Robert's one-car garage.

Later the brothers would move to a bigger production facility before signing with Universal Studios.

9. Dell
As a 19-year old pre-med student, Michael Dell began selling personalized computer products from his off-campus dorm room. Dell is considered one of the first computer companies to utilize a direct business model according to Catalogs, and soon the young Dell was making north of $80,000 a month.

Dell dropped out of school to incorporate his business in 1984, and by 1988, the newly formed Dell Computer Corporation went public. 

10. Nike
Originally known as Blue Ribbon Sports, the Huffington Post reported that Nike founder Phil Knight originally sold athletic gear from the trunk of his car. Knight and his University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman aggressively researched running shoes to try and develop better designs.

In 1966, the two men opened their first retail store in Santa Monica, California, and by 1978, BRS Inc was officially renamed Nike.

Like what you read? Great. Our blog is packed with FREE b2b content and meaningful research data aimed to help business professionals . It's free to join, all you have to do is enter a few details below.

« Back to Blog

Join for free!


I agree to the Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.