10 huge companies that started out surprisingly tiny


Written by:

From cozy living room startups to bustling garage workshops, the origin stories of some of the world’s largest companies are nothing short of inspiring. While we often marvel at tech titans like Apple Inc and Dell, who ignited their empires from garages, it’s equally fascinating to celebrate the unsung heroes—the mom and pop shops that transformed into remarkable success stories.

In this listicle, we’ll introduce you to 10 colossal companies that began as modest family businesses. Their inspiring journey from mom-and-pop to global top serves as a powerful reminder that every enterprise, no matter how massive, starts with a single step.

We delved into company websites, pored over their ‘About Us’ pages, and read through their origin stories, pieced together their humble beginnings and how they transformed, step by step, into the corporate giants we know today.

Take a look!

1. Whole Foods Market

In 1978, John Mackey and Renee Lawson took a loan of $45,000 from their family and friends to establish a small natural foods store named SaferWay in Austin, Texas. The name was a playful parody of the popular supermarket chain Safeway. However, when they were evicted from their apartment for storing food products, they decided to reside at the store. Since it was a commercial zone, there was no shower stall available, so they improvised by using a water hose connected to their dishwasher for bathing. Two years later, Mackey and Lawson joined forces with Craig Weller and Mark Skiles, merging SaferWay with Clarksville Natural Grocery to create the original Whole Foods Market. Unlike the typical health food stores of that time, the store was quite spacious, spanning 10,500 square feet (980 m2), and had a team of 19 staff members. Today, with  509 stores in three countries,  95,000 employees and annual revenue of $469.82 billion, Whole Foods has become a powerhouse in the world of groceries.

2. Walmart

Walton’s Five and Dime

The world’s largest company by revenue, with over $500 billion, and the biggest private employer, with 2.2 million employees globally, started from humble beginnings. It was 1945, and Sam Walton had a dream. He opened Walton’s Five and Dime in Bentonville, Arkansas, with a mission to sell products at lower prices to get higher-volume sales. By 1962, Walton had opened the first store branded as Walmart. It was located in Rogers, Arkansas. His low-price policy was encapsulated in Walmart’s promise to customers: “We sell for less.”  Walmart began to expand in the 1970s, going public in 1970 and becoming a nationwide brand by the 80s with stores across the country.

3. Nike

Nike founders

Here’s a story that’s bound to get your adrenaline pumping! The sportswear behemoth Nike started off in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports, operating entirely out of Phil Knight’s car. With his former University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman, they initially sold Onitsuka Tiger shoes out of their cars during track meets. They operated as a distributor for Onitsuka Tiger shoes, importing them from Japan to the United States. In 1966, Bowerman and Knight decided to expand their business and opened their first retail store in Santa Monica, California, which they named “Nike” after the Greek goddess of victory. As the demand for their shoes increased, Knight and Bowerman decided to develop their own line of footwear. They worked with athletes and designers to create innovative and high-performance shoes that would cater to the needs of athletes. One of their early breakthroughs was the introduction of the “waffle” sole, which provided better traction on running tracks. In 1971, the Blue Ribbon Sports brand transitioned to Nike, Inc. The iconic Nike “swoosh” logo, designed by Carolyn Davidson, was introduced around the same time.

4. Estée Lauder Companies

Estée and Joseph Lauder started their cosmetics empire in 1946, armed with a passion for beauty, a few skincare concoctions, and a belief in the transformative power of good face cream. From their New York apartment, they produced creams and lotions packaged in pretty jars. Estée would offer free demonstrations and samples at beauty salons and hotels, gaining a cult following. Fast-forward to now and Estée Lauder products are sold in more than 150 countries  Not bad for a small family business, huh?

5. Mattel

Barbie doll

Barbie doll

Now, who hasn’t heard of Barbie or Hot Wheels? But did you know that the creators of these beloved toys, Mattel, started in a garage in Southern California in 1945? Co-founders Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler initially sold picture frames. However, the dollhouse furniture made from picture frame scraps quickly took off, and before they knew it, toys became their main business. They introduced the world to Barbie in 1959, and the world of play has never been the same since!

6. Starbucks

Interior of the Pike Place Market location in 1977. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Picture this: it’s 1971, you’re in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and a small store selling coffee beans and coffee-making equipment opens up. This was the humble beginning of Starbucks, started by three students from the University of San Francisco – Jerry Baldwin, Gordon Bowker, and Zev Siegl. It wasn’t until 1982 when a marketer called Howard Schultz joined the company that the Starbucks we know today – selling brewed coffee – came into existence. Now, with over 30,000 locations globally, you’re never too far from your next Frappuccino!

7. Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry’s

It was 1978, in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, where childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened their first ice cream shop. With a $5 correspondence course in ice cream-making from Penn State and a $12,000 investment ($4,000 of it borrowed), they began their foray into the world of ice cream. Despite initial challenges, their creatively named flavors and commitment to social causes soon made them a local favorite. Today, Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey are just a few iconic flavors enjoyed by ice cream lovers worldwide.

8. Spanx

Sara Blakely

In 1998, Sarah Blakely was getting ready for a party and realized she didn’t have the right undergarment to provide a smooth look under white pants. Frustrated with the options available at the time, she cut off the feet of her control-top pantyhose and found that it provided the desired effect. Recognizing the potential of her invention, Blakely embarked on a journey to bring her idea to life. She invested her savings of $5,000 and researched the industry to understand manufacturing and patents. Blakely faced numerous rejections from manufacturers and potential investors, but she persevered and eventually found a hosiery mill that was willing to produce her product.In 2000, Sara Blakely launched Spanx with a single product: footless pantyhose called “Footless Body-Shaping Pantyhose.” Initially, she sold her products by cold-calling department stores and pitching them directly. Her dedication and belief in her product paid off when she secured a meeting with a buyer from Neiman Marcus, a luxury department store, and convinced them to give Spanx a chance. Today, Spanx is worn by women (and men!) across the globe, and Blakely has become one of the world’s youngest self-made female billionaires.

9. HP (Hewlett-Packard)

Hewlett-Packard corporate headquarters

In 1939, with just $538, a one-car garage and a potent mix of technical smarts and entrepreneurial spirit, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard laid the foundations for Silicon Valley. Yes, we’re talking about HP, a name that’s now synonymous with computers, printers, and software. They started with a range of electronic products and, fun fact, one of their first customers was Walt Disney Studios, who bought eight audio oscillators for their new movie, Fantasia!

10. Burt’s Bees

In the 1980s in Maine, Burt Shavitz, a beekeeper, picked up a hitchhiker named Roxanne Quimby. She was a waitress and single mother trying to support her twin daughters. Burt lived an extremely minimalist lifestyle, residing in a turkey coop without electricity or running water. He made his living selling honey in pickle jars from the back of his truck. Quimby, who had a background in arts, started making candles with Burt’s leftover beeswax. They made $200 at their first craft fair; within a year, they’d made $20,000. Pretty sweet, right? By 1989, a New York boutique, Zona, was stocking their beeswax candles. From here, Roxanne expanded their product line to include soaps, perfumes, and now-iconic lip balms.

This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.

Like MediaFeed’s content? Be sure to follow us.