While the thought of the most successful corporations may conjure up names like McDonald’s, Walmart, and Samsung, there are several more multi-million, and billion dollar businesses that unbeknownst to many, had very humble beginnings. It seems some of the world’s most lucrative businesses were set in motion in garages, basements, college dorms, with a pocket full of borrowed money and a handy group of friends. Amongst the ultra successful entrepreneurs are the world’s third richest man, a college 'geek', and the man who prompted the Greek yogurt craze in the Unites States. Counting down 10 humble start-up businesses worth millions!
10 Johnny Cupcakes: $3.8 Million
If you’re looking for a frosted delicacy don’t come a knocking to Johnny’s Cupcakes. The bakery themed retail shop features t-shirts, shorts, sweaters, and undergarments for sale using a cupcake motif and a cupcake/skull design as the company’s logo. The founder of the retail shop is none other than Johnny Earle, a young musician who started selling his original designs on t- shirts out of the trunk of his car. The band player showcased his designs when on tour, granting him great exposure, before quitting to pursue the retail business full time.
Adamant about keeping his clothing out of department chains, Earle opened the first Johnny Cupcakes store opened in 2005, after converting his boat garage into a retail store; his start up costs were $6,700. After great success, Earle opened his second shop in his hometown of Boston, generating total sales in the 6 figures on the very first day. Earle was placed on the "Best Entrepreneurs 25 and Under" list in 2008, and also noted for his high quality products, imagination and increased revenue; which was a reported $3.8 million that year.
9 Paragon Space Development: $8 Million
Founded in Tucson, Arizona, in 1993, Paragon Space supplies hardware to spaceflight missions. The team’s start up expenses included a few thousand dollars for glass globes; $30,000 for computers and lab equipment; and $600 a month for lab and office space, while their biggest expense was $20,000 for yearly travel. As of 2008, the company employed 65 people, while the revenue was reported as $8 million. Just last year the company declared a partnership with the “Inspiration Mars Foundation.” The purpose of the collaboration centered around the prospect of a space crew traveling from Earth to Mars and back in 501 days. Paragon will also be developing ideas for Mars One including concepts for life support and spacesuits.
8 Adventure Life: $11 Million
Focusing on travel and adventure, Adventure Life puts together group tours and vacation packages worldwide. While the company was founded in 1999 and focused on South and Central American travel, today they offer trips to unique destinations from Africa to Alaska. The company’s tour programs and cruises focus on the destination’s nature, culture and ecotourism. Adventure Life’s start up costs included $3,000 in brochures, $11,500 on advertising in 1999 and $33,500 in 2000. The company’s revenue was listed as $11 million in 2008. 24,000 clients have traveled with the company since its inception.
7 Sweet Leaf Tea: $12 Million
Based on Clayton Christopher’s Grandma Mimi’s secret brewing technique, Sweet Leaf Tea was established in 1998 with about $3,000 that was used for manufacturing equipment, $3,000 for a used van, and $1,000 for a computer and printer. While the Texan health standards required several changes to the company’s production site, creating further $3,000 in expenses, the company broke even in its third year with a reported revenue of $300,000. With the looks of it, Granny’s original recipe was a big hit, with reported revenue of $12 million in 2008.
6 Tarte Cosmetics: $12 Million
Offering skincare and a wide variety of make-up products, including brushes and body products, Tarte was founded by Maureen Kelly in 1999 and is based in New York, New York. Tarte Cosmetics is synonymous with providing ‘eco-chic’ beauty products that work. A ‘green’ type of cosmetic, Tarte’s products are cruelty free, and manufactured without parabens, mineral oil, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate, triclosan, and synthetic fragrances. While the make-up company grossed a whopping $12 million in 2008, Kelly’s start up cost was $18,000.
5 Edible Arrangements: $19.4 Million
If the thought of sending another floral arrangement bores you stiff, you’ll be happy to know, there’s an equally colorful, and delicious option, Edible Arrangements. Revolutionizing the concept of gift arrangements and fruit baskets, Edible Arrangements specializes in fresh fruit arrangements, offering an array of specialty fruit gift items, gift boxes and premium chocolate dipped fruit, as well as fresh-fruit-to-go products. The concept of fresh fruit arrangements founded by Tariq Farid in 1999 with a start up cost of $100,000. Farid reported his largest expenses as travel and additional franchises. The company’s break even point came at the six month mark, while the franchise 2008 revenue was listed as $19.4 million.
4 Tokyo Joe’s: $22 Million
Who would of thought Japanese food for the average Joe would be worth $22 million a year? Well evidently it is, at least it was in 2008. Currently a chain of 28 fast casual restaurants, Tokyo Joe’s was founded by Larry Leith in Denver Colorado in 1996. While the start up cost was $330,000, opening a new location today would cost $600,000. Leigh’s biggest expenses were reportedly construction, architecture, and engineering materials. Leigh lists his qualifications as "self-taught knowledge of the cuisine, a flair for innovative store design, and a nose for hot locations!"
3 Chobani Yogurt: $1.1 Billion
Originating from the Greek word for Shepherd, Chobani yogurt is the number 1 selling yogurt in the United States. Founded by Turkish immigrant Hamdi Ulukaya in 2005, the success of the yogurt didn't come without its share of controversy. Evidently Ulukaya's ex-wife is claiming her former husband stole the recipe from Fage, a successful Greek yogurt company, responsible for the Greek Yogurt manifesto in the United States. According to Ayse Giray, (Ulukaya’s ex-wife) Ulukaya paid a former Fage employee over $40,000 for the recipe after meeting him in Europe. Ulukaya used loans of under $1 million to buy a closing Kraft Foods facility, kicking off his road to billions; a reported $1.1 billion to date.
2 Facebook: $27 Billion
For those in the dark about the founders of Facebook, the 2010 Hollywood film The Social Network may shed a whole new light on the inception of the world’s biggest social media platform. While the billion-dollar concept is synonymous with the name Mark Zuckerberg, according to the film, and various reports, the initial concept, a Harvard Campus social network called ConnectU, was conceived by twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. The twins who eventually sued Facebook for $140 million for ‘stealing’ their concept, were awarded $20 million in cash and $45 million in shares. In the latest developments, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss attempted to reopen the court case claiming Facebook was untruthful about the company’s value. Today Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth is a reported $27 billion.
1 ZARA: $65 Billion
The third richest man in the world, founder of Inditex, the mother company of several chain stores including Zara, grew up in a row house in La Coruña, in northern Spain. The son of a railway worker and housemaid, Amancio Ortega, had humble beginnings working in a retail store as a teenager, until opening his first Zara store near La Coruña in 1975. While it is reported that a Zara store opens somewhere every day, the company has stuck by Ortega’s originally imposed rules, “refresh stock twice a week and receive orders within 48 hours, tops.” Today Ortega’s net worth is estimated at $65 billion, asides from being a retail giant, he also possesses a real estate portfolio worth $10 billion.