Behind the brands: Stories of how some of the
world’s top businesses began

From Apple to YouTube, many of the world’s largest and most successful companies started from humble beginnings. Steve Jobs sold computers from his parents’ garage. The first video uploaded to YouTube was of founder Jawed Karim at the zoo.

You don’t necessarily need a lot of money or even a specialised skill if you’re thinking of creating a product or starting a business. All you need is a great idea, a vision and the determination to make it work. Here are some great examples of how big ideas came to life.


The Sydney Opera House: People often say that big things start small, which is definitely true for Australia’s prized landmark, Sydney Opera House. It was first imagined through an architect’s schematic sketch, entered into a competition.

In 1957, Jorn Utzon scribbled his idea for a construction to be built on Sydney Harbour. He entered the ‘International Competition for a National Opera House at Bennelong Point, Sydney’ and was announced the winner. The judges called his work ‘outstanding’ and on October 20 1973, Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the world-renowned Sydney Opera House.


Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook from his college dorm while studying at Harvard more than ten years ago. Armed with a computer and a single big idea, he and his friends built a website that would allow people around his university to connect.

Within 24 hours, over a thousand Harvard students had signed up for ‘The facebook’, as it was first known. Within a month, more than half of the students on campus had a profile. Today, Facebook is the world’s most popular social networking site, connecting almost 1.23 billion users


Harry Potter: JK Rowling was on a train from Manhattan to London’s Kings Cross when she penned her first idea for the world-renowned ‘Harry Potter’ series in 1990. The author’s road to success was far from an easy one.

Twelve publishing houses turned down her original Harry Potter manuscripts. In 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was accepted for publication by Bloomsbury, and became a bestseller after more than 4.5 million copies sold worldwide.


Jamie Oliver: The culinary superstar got his big break in 1997 when he was first filmed for TV at the restaurant he was working at. The producers spotted Jamie in the background of a documentary about ‘The River Café’ and immediately fell in love with the cheeky young chef.

In 1998, Jamie Oliver starred in his own program, ‘The Naked Chef’, which revolutionised food entertainment. Oliver is now a household name in many countries. He has starred in countless TV series, published over 15 cookbooks and even hosts his own YouTube channel called ‘Food Tube’.


Lipton tea: The world’s best-selling tea brand started as a family-owned grocery store. In 1871, Thomas Lipton used his savings to open a small shop in Glasgow, Scotland. The business began to flourish and Lipton began opening up several other stores in Glasgow and London.

Thomas Lipton sailed to Australia in 1878, with a diversion to Colombo, Ceylon. There he bought several struggling coffee plantations and planted tea bushes. He harvested and manufactured tea to be sold in more than 300 of his stores. His tea business boomed, and more than a century later, the Lipton Tea Company owned more than 14 per cent of the world tea market.


frank body scrub – With global success for its coffee-based body scrubs and a cult-like following on social media, frank body is at the top of the list when it comes to inspiring Australian start-up stories.

The concept came to life in a coffee shop in Prahran, Melbourne, when Bree Johnson overheard two women asking for old coffee grinds to use as a natural exfoliator. Following extensive product development, the frank body team discovered fresh coffee should be used to achieve the best exfoliation results. The team launched the product on social media and it immediately proved a hit. The brand boasts selling one product every 50 seconds. Frank body is expected to turnover $20 million this year, supported by an army of ‘frankfurts’ who are spreading the word through social media of this innovative beauty brand.


Samsung: The man who founded the world’s largest electronics corporation first worked as a food exporter in South Korea. Byung-Chul Lee operated under the business name Samsung, and shipped items like dried fish, fruit and flour to China and Mongolia

In the 1950s and 1960s Samsung ventured into other industries, such as life insurance and textiles. In 1969, the company began making black-and-white televisions and Samsung Electronics was born. Today, Samsung is among the world’s top 10 brands and is an industry leader in technology.


Post-it note: Spencer Silver, a chemist working at American multinational manufacturing conglomerate 3M, was attempting to develop a super strong adhesive for the aerospace industry when he created instead a weak, pressure-sensitive adhesive called Acrylate Copolymer Microsphere.

Silver struggled to find a use for his invention, and it took 12 years after the technology was first used to seeing Post-its being sold. Spencer Silver had his eureka moment when he tried to get his bookmarks to stick to the book without falling off. Fifty years on, the Post-it note has become one of the most-used stationery items.