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Building your empire: 5 businesses that came from nothing

The greatest corporations we know today started like most startups: humble and small. Here's 5 of them.

More often than not, the Googles, Facebooks and Apples of today started with nothing but an idea and a handful of capital Through perseverence and innovation, they found success Companies like Shutterstock, HP and Apple can trace their journey back to such humble origins

If you’re just starting out in business and think your dreams of major success seem a long way off, it’s worth considering some of the largest and most successful businesses started from pretty much nowhere to become some of the world’s most famous brands.

Some businesses that started with barely a handful of dollars and nothing more than a back bedroom or garage as their base now have multiple transactions worldwide being recorded by POS (Point of Sale) systems all day every day such is their global popularity.

Here are five businesses that achieved huge success from humble beginnings:

1. AppleA tale of two Steves: sometime hippy and visionary Steve Jobs teamed up with tech wizard Steve Wozniak to build computers.

They sold their most valuable possessions – Jobs’ VW van and Wozniak’s HP calculator – to raise money and used the $1,500 proceeds to form Apple Computer in 1976 working out of a borrowed garage.

They built the Apple I computer that eventually made them a handy $774,000 return on that $1,500 investment, and the rest is history as Apple grew from the specialist computer company to the worldwide tech behemoth it is today with hugely successful iconic brands such as the iMac, iPhone and iPad.

Read: Apple’s business model is undergoing a complete makeover

2. Starbucks

The unlikely combination of two teachers and a writer teamed up in 1971 with $1,350 each to start a coffee business in Seattle.

The Starbucks name didn’t come into being until 1982 when Howard Schultz joined and had the idea of rolling out a chain of coffee shops; to start with they just sold the coffee beans. 

Today Starbucks has more than 16,000 stores in 55 countries and interesting facts about the coffee giant abound from the origin of its logo to a dispute with singer Carly Simon.

3. Shutterstock
Search the web for photos and there’s a good chance photo library Shutterstock will appear.

The brainchild of Jon Oringer, it’s a perfect example of a business marrying the skills and interests of its founder to create a winning business model. Oringer was a professional software developer and a keen and prolific amateur photographer.

He combined his assets – his software skills and a personal library of 30,000-plus photographs – to start this stock photo service in 2003 that’s now worth some $2 billion.

Read: This Secret Weapon can help your Startup grow

4. Hewlett-Packard
The archetypal ‘tech garage start up,’ the company famous for its computers and printers was formed by Bill Hewlett and David Packard in 1939 with $538.

Their first product was an audio oscillator and they eventually focused on the computer arena with their first offering in 1966. From here, the company grew considerably with the rise of computer technology and now employs more than 300,000 people with revenues comfortably exceeding $100 billion per year.

5. Harley-DavidsonThe name Harley Davidson is the very epitome of all things American, and its 1903 beginnings seem almost comical: the founders William Harley and brother Arthur and Walter Davidson basically strapped an engine to a bicycle and, through trial and error, developed the motorcycle.

No-one quite knows how much money the three founders had to start what would become one of the world’s most iconic brands but it probably wasn’t much. They initially worked out of a borrowed shed in Milwaukee and built three ‘bicycles with engines’ in their first year.

Harley Davidson has come a long way and its motorbikes have travelled a long way across America and the rest of the world since; they’re also one of the minority of famous US brands that can still sport a ‘made in America’ tag.

Success stories abound

While new business mortality rates are unfortunately high, there are many more stories like the above to show what can be done with next to no resources but a strong vision.

Read: Quick Guide: 2 Ways to Fix Bad Team Dynamics in a Startup