Many of the great Silicon Valley success stories – Xerox, Hewlett Packard, Dell, Apple – started in a garage. At least that’s how the story is often told.
The Palo Alto garage where William Hewlett and David Packard tinkered with electronics in the late 1930s and ultimately created Hewlett-Packard is marked with a plaque declaring it the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley.”
There’s even a Silicon Valley venture capital firm named “Garage Technology Ventures.”
Getting started in a garage isn’t just a Silicon Valley thing. Garages are central to the creation myths of Disney, toy companies Mattel and Wham-O and, of course, Apple.
On Thursday, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak refuted Apple’s inspiring creation myth: that he and Steve Jobs founded the world’s most valuable company in Jobs’ parent’s garage, a legend so prevalent that said garage was christened a historic site last year.
“The garage is a bit of a myth. It’s overblown,” Wozniak told Bloomberg BusinessWeek on Thursday. “The garage represents us better than anything else, but we did no designs there. We would drive the finished products to the garage, make them work and then we’d drive them down to the store that paid us cash.”
He added: “There were hardly ever more than two people in the garage and mostly they were sitting around kind of doing nothing productive.” They quickly outgrew it, Woz said.
The garage wasn’t that important to Apple’s history, but became a key feature of the company’s founding myth as the genesis chapter of Apple was told and re-told by those inspired by their success. Why? Perhaps because the garage “evokes the image of the lone individual who relies primarily on his or her extraordinary efforts and talent to overcome the difficulties inherent in creating a new business,” according to a 2009 article in California Management Review titled “A Garage and an Idea: What More Does an Entrepreneur Need?” by Pino Audia of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and Christopher Rider of Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.
Audia and Rider argue it’s not as common as people think for entrepreneurs to start companies in garages. They surveyed business students and found they believed 48 percent of companies got started in garages. A subsequent survey of 32 startups found only 25 percent got started in a garage, basement, dorm room or home. Of those, 91 percent were businesses related to the founders’ prior experience.
They point out Apple’s brilliant ideas weren’t the product of tinkering in a garage. They were the products of years of working in related industries, Wozniak at HP and Jobs at Atari. The garage myth discounts the role of “prior organizations in providing Jobs and Wozniak with confidence, exposure to fine-grained information, knowledge of the business, and access to key social ties,” Audia and Rider argue.