When you hear the phrase small business, you may think of just mom-and-pop shops that have a few employees or are run only by their owners. However, according to the Small Business Administration, small businesses make up 99.7% of all firms within the United States. Small businesses make a significant impact on the nation’s economy.
For a business to be considered small, they need to have a maximum of 500 employees.
There are roughly 28 million small businesses in the U.S., and more than half of the working population in the country works for a small business.
But not all businesses that start small stay that way. Some of the most successful companies in the country started as small businesses. These businesses had to succeed on a small scale, to begin with, but then grew to become giants in their industry—and the world.
Small companies that grew to become powerhouses have a lot of lessons for us to learn. Let’s take a look at the story of some of the most successful such cases to see how to replicate their experiences.
8 Small Businesses that Became Giants
YouTube began as an idea from three PayPal employees.
Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim have explained that they realized there wasn’t one central place on the internet where videos could be shared. They came up with the idea after Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl as well as the tsunami in Asia that happened that same year.
The trio registered the domain name in their “headquarters,” April 2005, the site was acquired by Google the next year for roughly $1.65 billion.
Today, the company is worth almost $40 billion, and it is one of the most visited sites on the internet across the world.
That company that acquired YouTube was once a small business itself.
In 1995, Larry Page and Sergey Brin met, and the two began working on a project they called BackRub that would change the way people search the internet. After creating and running their new search engine on servers at Stanford University for a year, the site was eventually moved off to its own server, and the domain name Google.com was purchased in 1997.
From humble beginnings as a two-person operation, Google got a $100,000 check from Andy Bechtolsheim, the co-founder of Sun, in 1998 to help propel the business further. Today, it would be hard to believe that people wouldn’t know what Google is.
The company is worth an estimated $605 billion, and it has dabbled in all sorts of things in the world of technology.
Facebook is probably the most recognizable social media name in the world. But despite being worth approximately $350 billion today, Facebook started extremely small.
Many people know the story of Facebook because of the movie “The Social Network.” But if you haven’t, it was started by Mark Zuckerberg and some friends in their dorm room at Harvard. It was a project based on their interest in coding and connecting people on campus.
Only a few years later, it became a phenomenon and expanded exponentially.
4. The Walt Disney Company
Not all small businesses that grew to become giants are tech companies.
The Walt Disney Company started extremely small, with brothers Walt and Roy Disney starting the animation company in the back of an apartment in Los Angeles in 1923.
Today, Disney as a whole is worth a whopping $92 billion and includes animated and live-action movies, theme parks, and even media companies such as FOX and ESPN.
5. Ben & Jerry’s
If you go to a grocery store or a convenience store anywhere in the U.S., you’re likely to find pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in the freezer section. With funky flavor combinations and names for all their ice creams, it’s no surprise that their product caught on.
The company started in Burlington, Vermont, after Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield—who were childhood friends—decided to take a $5 course on how to make ice cream. They started their first ice cream shop with only $12,000 in 1978 and quickly grew.
In 2000, the company was purchased by Unilever—which also owns Good Humor and Breyer’s—for roughly $236 million in cash. The larger company helped Ben & Jerry’s grow into an even bigger behemoth.
Sara Blakley funded her project for Spanx by herself and ran the company out of her apartment in Decatur, Georgia. Spanx were just girdles, but instead of calling them by that name, she re-named the different products she made, such as Tight-End Tights and Bra-llelujah.
This ingenious naming mechanism, cute packaging, and creative marketing grew Blakley’s small project into something huge. She started the business by investing only $5,000 into it, and by 2012, it had turned it into a $1 billion company.
Mattel manufactures some of the most popular toys in the world. From Hot Wheels to Barbie as well as Thomas & Friends, the toys Mattel created and produced are some of the most popular among kids around the world.
It’s no surprise, then, that its value in 2016 was $6 billion. But the company started very small, as a venture between husband and wife Elliot and Ruth Handler, the latter of which was the daughter of Polish immigrants.
Neither Elliot nor Ruth had much experience at all in the business world, and they didn’t have much capital, but they correctly predicted Baby Boomers would be an excellent market for their toy sales.
8. The Body Shop
This cosmetics and skincare company was founded in 1976 by Annita Roddick. She wanted to offer healthy, natural, and free of animal cruelty cosmetics. She got a store and started making all her products from home. But to finance this venture, she got a $6,500 loan.
Now, what started as a small store is now an international empire bought, in 2017 by Natura, for more than one billion dollars.
What Lessons can we Learn?
There are many valuable lessons that these small business growth success stories offer.
Some of the most common lessons you can use, no matter what industry you’re in are:
- While it doesn’t take a boatload of money to start a business, you need to have enough capital to make sure you get off the ground.
- Research your location and figure out whether your products will have a market.
- Business is all-encompassing, but make sure you etch out some time for yourself, too.
- Don’t ever give up. All these industry giants grew because they were unwilling to throw the towel.
- Seek out help, whether it be in your personal or professional life.
- Loans are a fantastic tool to help you invest in your business and grow.
- Set goals, both small and large.
- Create solid processes for how you want to run your business.
- Take advantage of any marketing you can, as there are plenty of free options available.
- Business is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to catch on sometimes.
- Success isn’t easy. You have to work for it.
Start Growing Today!
Growing a small business takes time, a lot of effort, and a little luck. But if and when you’re feeling stuck, you can always take inspiration from one of the small businesses above that grew to become giants—or any other number of businesses that did the same.
Keep in mind that, in addition to having a great idea and working hard to make it happen, you’ll need the financial backing necessary to propel your small business forward. At Camino Financial, we specialize in lending to help small businesses grow. We live up to our motto of “No Business Left Behind” by offering great loan programs as well as educational tools.
There are plenty of ways you could help your business move forward with some financial help. If you want some ideas, we invite you to read: