The humble beginnings of tech giants
Even the largest companies in the world had to start somewhere. Shops, factories and drinking establishments have birthed more than their fair share of companies over the years, and recently that list has grown to include dorm rooms and garages too. We’ve rounded up 20 of the world’s biggest tech companies and tracked down where they began life.
On its website, Google makes a big deal of the garage at 232 Santa Margarita Avenue, Menlo Park, where Larry Page and Sergey Brin set up the first Google office. In reality, the company had already received more than a million dollars in venture capital by this time, but nonetheless the company bought the house in 2006 to use it as a landmark of its history.
Steve Jobs lived with his parents at 2066 Crist Drive in Los Altos, California in 1976 when Steve Wozniak began attending meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club. The house’s garage has gone down in history as the place where the pair brainstormed some of their earliest ideas, though Wozniak calls its role "a bit of a myth" and "overblown".
Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the founders of Microsoft, first worked together at 199 California Street NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1975. But the company itself wasn’t born until it took on the lease of Suite 819, Two Park Central Tower Building, 300 San Mateo Blvd, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico, as its official office space in 1976. So we’ll go with that as the true birthplace of Microsoft.
The first famous garage in technology was located behind 367 Addison Avenue in Palo Alto, California, where Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett built their first product, an audio oscillator, which was sold to Disney. It’s now considered the birthplace of Silicon Valley, and is preserved as a private museum.
Jeff Bezos knew his history, so when he moved into a three-bedroom house at 10704 NE 28th, Bellevue, Washington, he demanded that it had a garage so Amazon could boast about it like the technology legends he admired. In reality, the garage had already been converted into a recreation room by the previous owner, but Bezos figured it was close enough.
Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita started the Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation, which later became Sony, in the bomb-damaged Shirokiya department store building in the Nihonbashi district of Tokyo. But it wasn’t until the pair moved into a leaky warehouse in Shinagawa the following year that the company sign was first raised and its earliest products were developed. The building was torn down in the 1960s, but the company headquarters remained on the site until 2007.
7. Carphone Warehouse
Charles Dunstone and Julian Brownlie founded UK company Carphone Warehouse in 1989 with £6,000 from their savings. It sold portable phones, but many were too bulky to carry around and were instead installed in cars. The business was originally run from Dunstone’s rented basement flat on the Marylebone Road in London (around the corner from TechRadar London’s old offices) and remained there until four years later, by which time the company had grown to 20 stores.
One of the biggest computer companies in the world began life as ‘PCs Limited’ in room 2713 of the Dobie Center at the University of Texas in Austin in 1984. Michael Dell built his own IBM-PC compatible computers, assembled from components he’d bought over mail-order, and sold them directly to customers – customised to their requests. It became Dell Computer Corporation in 1988.
Terry Gou borrowed about $7,500 from his mother in 1974 to found Hon Hai Precision Industry, which later became the largest contract electronics manufacturer in the world – Foxconn. He rented a shed in a suburb of Taipei called Tucheng – which means ‘dirt city’, and began making plastic switches for black and white televisions. Today, the shed is long gone but the company maintains a presence in the district.
In 1938, Lee Byung-chul founded Samsung as a trucking and trading company that operated in areas like food processing, textiles, insurance and retail. Its first headquarters was a 16.5 square metre office with a telephone and a noodle machine, located in Ingyo-dong, Daegu, South Korea. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that it entered the electronics industry. Unfortunately, there’s no Google street view coverage of Daegu, but you can get a glimpse of what it looked like in the 1940s here.
Konosuke Matsushita spent seven years at the Osaka Electric Light Company before leaving with savings of less than 100 yen in 1917 to set up a shop in a tiny, dirt-floored tenement with two of his former co-workers and his wife’s brother. The next year, after his co-workers dropped out, he rented a two-storey house and started Matsushita Electric Housewares Manufacturing Works, which would eventually become Panasonic. The tenement is now a park, and the location is marked with a huge stone plaque.
Noted inventor and engineer Tanaka Hisashige was invited by the Japanese government to set up a shop and factory in the Ginza district of Tokyo in 1875. He was aged 76, and died six years later, but his son named his newly-formed company the Tanaka Engineering Works after him, which eventually became Toshiba. You can see a teeny-tiny picture of what the factory looked like at the time right here, but it was destroyed by fire in the earthquake of 1923.
Mark Zuckerberg wrote the code for Facebook in 2004 in his dorm room at Harvard, a six-person room in Kirkland House that’s since become known as "The Zuckerberg Suite". He pressed the button to launch it on 4 February, and had 1,200 users within 24 hours, but it wasn’t incorporated as a company until that summer. The new inhabitants of the room now get the occasional visits from random strangers.
Jerry Yang and David Filo founded a website directory called Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web in January 1994 in a trailer at Stanford University where the pair were studying at the time, but it wasn’t until they moved to 110 Pioneer Way in Mountain View, California that they founded Yahoo! proper and diversified to become a major web portal.
The origins of Huawei are extremely cloudy. The company was founded in 1987 in Shenzhen, China, by the famously reclusive Ren Zhengfei, a military technologist in the research unit of the People’s Liberation Army. The official line is that the company was formed with just 21,000 yuan – about £350 at the time, and sold telephone exchange switches to rural China. However it’s also reported that the company got an initial loan of $8.5 million from a state-owned bank, which is denied by the company. What’s not in debate is that Huawei is now the largest telecommunications equipment maker in the world.
In 1984, ten members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, led by Liu Chuanzhi, met at the Institute of Computing Technology in Beijing. They’d become frustrated with the lack of funding from the government, and decided to form a company to bring in some more funds for their research. They called it the "Chinese Academy of Sciences Computer Technology Research Institute New Technology Development Company". In 2003, thankfully, it was renamed Lenovo.
The history of Motorola ended in 2011 when the company was sold to Google, but it began all the way back in 1928 at 847 West Harrison Street in Chicago. That’s where Paul and Joseph Galvin set up shop after buying battery manufacturing equipment from a bankrupt competitor. Initially the venture was called the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation, but after the company moved into making car stereos in 1930 it was renamed Motorola.
In 1976, Stan Shih, Carolyn Yeh, and five others founded a company called Multitech in a conference room at the Hsinchu Science Park in Hsinchu City, Taiwan. They began distributing electronic parts, but soon moved into making their own products – starting with the Micro-Professor MPF-1. In 1987, the company was renamed Acer.
The history of Nintendo stretches back rather further than most people realise. It began life in Kyoto in 1889 when Fusajiro Yamauchi began manufacturing a type of numberless playing cards called Hanafuda. He called his company Nintendo Koppai, which makes Nintendo the oldest name on this list. The site of his shop in Kyoto is marked today with a plaque.
A day-long brainstorming session in 2006 at the at the offices of Obvious Corp, at 164 South Park Avenue, San Francisco, yielded an idea for an SMS service that people could use to share messages with a small group of their friends. It was called Twttr, and exploded in popularity the following year at SxSW as ‘Twitter’.