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5 Stories of the Biggest Businesses with Humble Beginnings

We’ve all heard the famous saying – you’ve got to start somewhere.

Even the biggest businesses that dominate the global marketplace today had to do start with humble beginnings, with many of them beginning their journey with nothing more to their name than a vision for the future and the will to succeed.

Here are five of the most impressive rags-to-riches stories of tiny start-ups operating on a shoestring budget and transforming into the most recognisable household names on the planet. Read through their incredible histories to gain inspiration for how your own enterprise can do the same.



Everyone has heard the name Jeff Bezos, but you might not be aware of exactly how he came to form one of the biggest companies in the world today. At the outset, Bezos launched the company out of his garage, selling exclusively books to interested buyers across the United States. He initially wanted to call the brand ‘Cadabra’, imagining it have a magical ring to it, but his lawyer convinced him it sounded too much like ‘Cadaver’ and so Bezos settled for Amazon.

In the early days, the servers used to power Amazon took up all the energy in Bezos’ home, meaning his wife couldn’t even switching on a hairdryer without blowing a fuse! Before long, however, the company had graduated to its own office and to selling wares other than just dusty tomes, and now it’s the 26thbiggest company in the world, according to the Fortune 500 list.



If there’s ever a story that epitomises the idea of never being too old to try new things, it’s the tale of Colonel Sanders. After a long life which had involved jobs as a railroad worker, insurance salesman and petrol station manager, Harland Sanders finally concentrated on his real passion – cooking – in his mid-forties. Originally selling his chicken out of the filling station in which he worked, Sanders was given the honorary title of “Colonel” in 1950 by the Governor of Kentucky Ruby Laffoon.

Eager to look the part, the Colonel soon began to wear a goatee beard, black coat (soon to be replaced by a white suit) and refer to himself under that title. It wasn’t until 1952 – when Sanders was 62 years old – that the first KFC opened up in Utah. He popularised the consumption of chicken as fast food, rivalling the hamburger, and had expanded overseas within a decade. Now, KFC has almost 20,000 outlets in over 100 countries around the world.

Wrigley's Spearmint


Probably the most famous brand of chewing gum in the world, Wrigley’s didn’t even start out selling the stuff. The company was first launched in 1891 by William Wrigley Jr, a soap salesman, in Chicago. As an incentive for customers to buy his wares, Wrigley included a free can of baking powder with every purchase, before soon realising that the baking powder was more in demand.

After switching to baking powder as his main product, Wrigley kept up the incentive idea – this time with chewing gum. Again, the opportunistic entrepreneur noticed that the gum was more popular than the powder… and the rest is history. With the launch of Spearmint and Juicy Fruit flavours, Wrigley’s became the world’s favourite gum and is found in 180 countries today.



Anyone who has seen The Social Network will have at least a vague understanding of the beginnings of today’s most popular social media platform. Initially created in his dorm room by Mark Zuckerberg as a way for Harvard students to compare the attractiveness of their fellow scholars, the site was quickly shut down and Zuckerberg almost expelled. However, the charges were dropped and the seed was sown; expanding the platform to allow other universities – and eventually, anyone with a valid email address – allowed Zuckerberg to create a new form of online communication.

Controversy has dogged the Facebook founder, with Zuckerberg being sued by his roommate and co-founder of the platform Eduardo Saverin, other Harvard students and most recently, several plaintiffs over Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. However, the undeniable business acumen of the man has grown Facebook to become a global phenomenon, with almost a third of the world’s population using the site today.

Starbucks Coffee


You can hardly turn around in any city in the UK without bumping into a Starbucks nowadays, and the same is true for many countries around the world. However, the ubiquitous coffee chain started out as a humble beans and spices specialist in 1971. Founded by three former students of the University of San Francisco (one writer and two teachers), the company originally only sold packages of coffee beans and spices for customers to make their own drinks at home.

After about a decade of trading, a fourth partner entered the scene and revolutionised the way Starbucks operated. By introducing premade coffees and teas for customers to consume in-store, Starbucks multiplied their profits exponentially and converted themselves into one of the most recognisable brands in the world. Today, the chain can be found in over 25,000 locations worldwide.

Follow your own dream

Of course, achieving the same level of incredible success as these businesses takes a whole lot of hard work and more than a little slice of luck, but it’s all about making that first step. If you’re interested in getting your foot on the first rung of the commercial ladder, get in touch with Hilton Smythe to scent out the best business opportunities in your particular niche. The first day of the rest of your life began this morning!

Interested in buying a business? You’re sure to find your dream business. Need help with finance, then Hilton Smythe Finance can help with that too.

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