Everything has a starting point. If you’re passionate about something but don’t know where to begin, just start somewhere and believe in the outcome. It might be difficult to imagine that today’s self-made billionaires like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk have ever struggled to get their businesses on the road, but nothing happens overnight.
So, let’s go back in time and see the very first products that helped yesterday’s small companies become today’s huge business empires. Who knows, we might even learn a thing or two!
#1 Rice Cooker (1946)
Founders – Masaru Ibuka, Akio Morita, Sony
First location – Tokyo, Japan
Japanese company Sony might be best known for its TVs and stereos, but Sony’s first creation ever was actually a rice cooker. The product was invented after Japan conceded defeat in World War II, by Sony founder Masaru Ibuka.
The rice cooker, which consisted of interlocking aluminum electrodes on the bottom of a wooden bucket, was intended to help millions of households. Unfortunately, the product was a failure because it produced undercooked or overcooked rice instead of the tasty rice everyone was dreaming of. As a result, the rice cooker never hit the market.
If you’re curious to see what the rice cooker looked like, there’s a prototype displayed at the Sony Archives in Shinagawa which can give you a fun glimpse into the past of today’s modern appliances.
#2 Online Bookstore (1994)
Founders – Jeff Bezos, Amazon
First location – Bellevue, WA
Long before it was crowned as the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon was just a website that only sold books. Its name was not even Amazon in the first place. Founder Jeff Bezos initially called the online bookstore “Cadabra”, after the magical words Abracadabra. It wasn’t until his lawyer mispronounced it and called it “cadaver”, that Bezos decided to change it to Amazon.com, Inc.
The name was inspired by the biggest river in the world, the Amazon, and expressed what Bezos wanted people to associate with his online business: uniqueness and greatness. On top of that, he wanted to make sure that the company is at the top of the alphabetical lists on Google, which was definitely an advantage.
#3 Card Game (1889)
Founders – Fusajiro Yamauchi, Nintendo
First location – Kyoto, Japan
Most of us played Mario, The Legend of Zelda and Pokemon when we were kids (especially if you are a millennial) but long before video games became popular in the 80s and throughout the 90s, there was the age of card games. Founded in Kyoto by Fusajiro Yamauchi, Nintendo became a major card game manufacturer in Japan.
Yamauchi opened the first shop in fall 1889, producing hand-made hanafuda cards, soon after playing cards was no longer considered illegal by the authorities. According to Wikipedia, the name “Nintendo” is commonly assumed to mean “leave luck to heaven” or “Work hard, but in the end, it is in heaven’s hands.”
#4 Wooden Toys (1923)
Founders – Ole Kirk Christiansen, LEGO
First location – Billund, Denmark
Let’s face it! Legos are the ultimate playsets for children (and adults, for that matter). Where did it all start? In the workshop of Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter from Billund, Denmark, who started making wooden toys in 1932.
His first wooden toys among which trains, automobiles, and a wooden duck on wheels, came from the scraps of the wood that he used to build furniture during Denmark’s recession of the 1930s. It wasn’t until 1947 that he began using plastic for his tiny creations. At first, Christiansen did not manage to convince department stores to sell the plastic bricks. Fortunately, he did not take no for an answer and managed to turn LEGO toys into the most popular plastic building-block toys ever.
According to the LEGO official page, “the name ‘LEGO’ is an abbreviation of the two Danish words “leg godt”, meaning “play well”. It’s our name and it’s our ideal.”
#5 Computer Apple I (1976)
Founders – S.Jobs, S.Wozniak, R.Wayne, Apple
First location – Cupertino, CA
Before the iMac, the MacBook Air, the iPod, iPhone, iPad and Watch, Apple’s first computer was the Apple Computer I, also called the Apple I. The early version of a personal computer was designed and built by Steve Wozniak in 1975 for a Homebrew Computer Club meeting in Silicon Valley. According to Wozniak, it was “the first time in history anyone had typed a character on a keyboard and seen it show up on their own computer’s screen right in front of them.” Just imagine what a breakthrough!
Wozniak’s friend and member of the club, Steve Jobs came up with the idea to sell the computer and facilitated the sale of 50 units for $500 each to a local computer store. The gig brought the two entrepreneurs more than $50,000. In July 1976, the Apple I hit the market at the price of $666.66 while Wozniak and Jobs started working on Apple II and the rest is history.
#6 Search Engine (1998)
Founders – Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Google
First location – Menlo Park, CA
Whenever we want to find out something, we google it. The practice is so common that it even has its own verb. But who do we have to thank for creating the all-knowing search engine?
Well, it all started in 1996 with PhD students at Stanford University Larry Page and Sergey Brin and their “BackRub” research project. With the help of Scott Hassan, who was involved in writing the code for the original Google Search engine, Page and Brin developed the search algorithm and used Page’s own Stanford home page as a starting point. The first version of the search engine was launched in August 1996 on the Stanford website and officially released in 1998 and by the end of that year, Google had an index of about 60 million pages (1). Google is now something most of us cannot live without.
#7 Fast-Food Restaurant (1955)
Founders – Richard McDonald, Maurice McDonald, McDonald’s
First location – San Bernardino, CA
Before becoming the world’s largest fast-food restaurant company, McDonald’s was a small food stand called “The Airdrome” and opened by Patrick McDonald in 1937 on Huntington Drive (Route 66) near the Monrovia Airport in the Los Angeles County city of Monrovia, California. It first started with hot dogs. Hamburgers were later on added to the menu as well as all-you-can-drink orange juice.
In 1940, the business was moved to San Bernardino, California by McDonald’s sons Maurice and Richard and rebranded into “McDonald’s Bar-B-Que”. As the name suggested, their main focus was on barbecue items. Later on, they switched to hamburgers, cheeseburgers, French fries and milkshakes but everything changed in 1954 when Ray Kroc, “a seller of Prince Castle brand Multimixer milkshake machines” paid a visit to the brothers’ San Bernardino restaurant. Kroc proposed the brothers to go national with their restaurants. One year later, the first McDonald’s restaurant opened at 400 North Lee Street in Des Plaines, Illinois, near Chicago.
Bonus info: The Big Mac hamburger debuted debut in 1968.
#8 Image Computer (1986)
Founders – Edwin Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith, Steve Jobs, PIXAR
First location – Richmond, CA
When you say WALL-E, Toy Story (the first-ever computer-animated feature film) or Finding Nemo, you say Pixar. The company, originally known as The Graphics Group, was started in 1979 as part of the Lucasfilm computer division. Dr. Ed Catmull from the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) and Alvy Ray Smith were named in charge of the division and its CG developments.
A few years later “a designer suggested naming a new digital compositing computer the “Picture Maker”. Smith suggested that the laser-based device have a catchier name, and came up with “Pixer”, which after a meeting was changed to “Pixar”.
Pixar originally started as a computer hardware company that sold Pixar Image Computer to government institutions and medical groups. In 2006, it became a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios.
#9 Online Payments Service (1998)
Founders – Ken Howery, Luke Nosek, Max Levchin, Peter Thiel, Yu Pan Russel Simmons, Elon Musk, PayPal
First location – Palo Alto, CA
Some people still don’t trust online payment services, but at their core, they were meant to make people’s lives easier and facilitate the safe transfer of money. PayPal history begins in December 1998, in Palo Alto, California when Max Levchin, Peter Thiel, Luke Nosek, Ken Howery, Yu Pan and Russel Simmons established it as security software company Confinity.
Two years later, Confinity merged with X.com, Elon Musk’s online banking company, and started focusing on developing the money transfer business. It was given the name PayPal in 2001 and officially released in 2002.
#10 Microblogging Service (2006)
Founders – Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, Twitter
First location – San Francisco, CA
Before becoming President Donald Trump’s favorite social media platform, Twitter was designed as an SMS tool that would help users distribute short messages to small groups of people. It was created in 2006 by Evan Williams and Biz Stone, previous Google employees, and founders of the podcasting venture Odeo.
The now popular online microblogging service was initially called “status” then twttr (deriving from the dictionary word twitter). Dorsey even announced that he was “just setting up my twttr” in the first-ever Twitter message. The first twitter version was officially released in July 2006 and in April 2007, Twitter became an independent company.