Brands that Made it Big on a Small Budget

We have a tendency to take big brands for granted. Starbucks, Apple – they’re multi-billion dollar corporations made by rich people looking to get richer. These brands practically popped up overnight and instantly took the world by storm. Right?

Some people don’t seem to realize that many of the most valuable brands in the world were founded in garages on a minimum budget. The origins of so many iconic and globally recognised companies were far from glamorous. Here are some examples that should inspire you when you doubt the potential success of your own humble business beginnings.


In 2007, two 27-year old roommates in San Francisco were struggling to pay rent. They knew the city was expensive, and thought maybe they could help others while also helping themselves – so they bought three mattresses and advertised the sleeping spaces to tourists. When three people showed up and paid to stay for the night, they realized they could be onto something big. In 2008, they teamed up with another friend and used their savings of 30,000 to start an online listing where anyone could advertise their spare living spaces – giving a share of the profit to the young founders in question.

Steadily, the three men started making a few hundred dollars each week, They consider ways to maximise their profits even more. They realized that higher quality photos of living spaces resulted in more bookings, so they went door to door in San Francisco and started taking photos of the accommodation themselves. Now the site was exploding in popularity, and expanding to other locations. Investors started getting interested. By 2010, they’d raised 7.2 million. By 2011, that sum jumped to $112 million. Within the space of five years, these men went from struggling to pay rent to owning a multi million-dollar company.


Andrew Black came from a working class background, hopping between entry level jobs and occasionally studying before he started working in a software company at the age of 26. At this time, Black became interested in sports betting and gambling. Using his newly acquired knowledge of software design, he put into motion a betting concept over which he’d been mulling for quite some time. Black envisioned a website through which users could place bets against each other, essentially removing the need for a bookmaker. With a working model in place, he pitched the idea to a number of established betting brands and venture capitalists. Convincing investors to join him on what he felt to be an unstoppable shift in the gambling industry, Black raised $1 million in just one year. Fast forward to modern times, and Betfair is the sports biggest internet betting site in the entire world, and has expanded to include online poker games.


Yet another brand with humble beginnings; Starbucks is regarded by many as the biggest threat  to small and local coffee shops, so it’s weird to think the multi-million dollar cafe chain started out as one single, small coffee shop itself. In Seattle, 1971, an English teacher, a history teacher and writer who had all met through the University of San Francisco, devised a business plan based on their love for finely roasted coffee. They initially been impressed by coffee houses they’d seen in places like Milan, and felt there was a gap in the market for coffee lovers back home in Seattle.

Their first store proved to be a huge success, so they opened two more. Soon, the brand was recognized for its franchising potential by investors, and Starbucks started expanding across the US and abroad too. By 1990, Starbucks had honed its brand image, style and services; unique in the type and the quality of their beverages and food. Each year since 2010, Starbucks has been opening around 1,000 new stores across the world.


In 1976, two college-dropouts by the names of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs built the first ever Apple computer in a tiny garage belonging to Jobs’ adopted parents. They refined the model several times before finally receiving their first order – a retailer who wanted 50 computers for $500 each. Amazingly, they were able to produce this order in just under a month. Though the road to success was far from smooth from that point onwards,  by 1981 Apple had become one of the three biggest computer brands in the world.


With just $585 in their pockets, two Stanford graduates started work on an audio oscillator in the garage of the house they were renting. One of their first customers was Walt Disney Productions which bought audio oscillators for certifying the surround sound systems installed in cinemas across America for the screening of Fantasia. The success of Disney helped propel the success of Hewlett-Packard, and within a few years they were a giant corporations recognised around the world. The garage where it all started can be visited today – often described as ‘the birthplace of Silicon Valley’.

Five hugely popular and successful brands – five humble beginnings. If that doesn’t instil a sense of hope in your own small budget business ventures, then we don’t know what will!