Two kids hole up in their parent’s garage, put together a few motherboards and pieces of hardware, and next thing you know the kids are being pitched by investors and retailers to sell their product to the world. This sequence of events used to be the storyline behind many startups, but now it almost feels cliche to start off your startup’s story with “my parents’ garage.” The history of Apple takes on this storyline, or at least that’s how the movie with Ashton Kutcher told the story, and that’s what we remember.
Everyone loves the started-from-the-bottom-now-we’re-here story, but how did other prominent tech companies get their start? What led to the crazy idea behind the Google and Dell’s of the world and their subsequent success? Here are our our favorite non-“garage” tech startup stories and why we love them:
Buck’s in Woodside is apparently the “Cheers” of Silicon Valley. Max Levchin had spent 72 hours coding for a demo at this eccentric restaurant and fell asleep at the tables at one point. The original company was called Confinity, and was not the current PayPal product we use and love today. Confinity was a mobile payment platform specifically for Palm Pilots and PDAs.
Why we love this story: Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, and Luke Nosek were just some buddies grabbing some grub and probably talked about this idea of paying someone electronically as if it were some futuristic idea. How many times have you gotten dinner with friends and just talked about random crazy ideas that you would like to see in reality? That’s exactly what Peter, Max, and Luke did back in 1998, except they were able to turn their crazy idea into reality.
Drew Houston was sitting at a bus station in Boston in 2007 and wanted to do some work on his laptop, but realized all of his work files were on a USB drive back home on his desk. I’m sure all of you had carried around thumb drives or even attached them to your keychains at some point with all your “important” information. Drew was frustrated with this situation sitting at the bus station, and started coding Dropbox right then and there.
Why we love this story: Whenever you’re mobile, whether it’s going to the airport or in Drew’s case, waiting for the bus, there are times when you need to get work done but without all your “gear,” you’re forced to find creative solutions to your problems. In today’s world, this means charging your phone on the ground somewhere at the airport, and for Drew, it was as simple has having a thumb drive. Instead of getting down about his situation in the bus station, he sought to find a long-term solution and created one of the best file sharing platforms out there.
Tony Hsieh had sold his company, LinkExchange, for $265 million to Microsoft in 1998. He was on top of the world, and could have spent the rest of his life coasting. He got a call from a young entrepreneur named Nick Swinmurn about this crazy idea of selling shoes online. Tony was apprehensive at first, but what they heck, he just made over $200 million on a deal with Microsoft, so he invested $500K into this tech startup and www.shoesite.com was born. Eventually the name was changed to Zappos, and one of the best customer service (and shoe companies) was born.
Why we love this story: Tony talks about how he almost deleted that voicemail from Nick, but upon hearing about the size of the market ($40 billion), he took his bias about people not buying stuff online out of the equation. You come across an idea that seems so crazy and farfetched that you wonder why it’s even worth keeping the idea in your head. Tony had this voicemail and saved the voicemail and became passionate about the idea over time.