Great Companies Are Built In All Economic Climates

Written by

Joe Emery

Published on

December 8, 2020
A team meeting where the one team member is presenting and the rest are actively listening
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The coronavirus crisis swiftly went from epidemic to pandemic. For many nations, recessions have turned into depressions. 

Yet, there is hope for those who have started, or are about to start, a business. Some global names were born in rough economic times — and they're still here to tell their tale today. 

Here, Pitchdrive shares some inspiring stories that'll give you the start-up belief you need to beat COVID-19. Let's start by going back to 1929.


The Great Depression: taking the Mickey

Disney's origins began in 1923 — with brothers Walt and Roy at the helm. It wasn't always a comfortable ride to the market that Disney still dominates nearly 100 years later. 

Much like many greats, including The Beatles, Elvis Presley, J.K. Rowling and Steven Spielberg, Walt Disney was rejected. 

"He lacked imagination and had no good ideas", said the then-Editor of the Kansas City Star, who gave him the boot.

It wasn't until the worst financial crisis known to humankind — the 1929 Great Depression — that Disney really took off.

Walt came up with the idea of a mouse character named Mortimer while on a train — by sketching up a few simple drawings. The mouse was later renamed after his wife disliked the sound of 'Mortimer Mouse'.

The Disney brothers knew that America needed a smile more than ever. 

The adventures of Mickey Mouse and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) buoyed Americans through the Great Depression — while keeping their business afloat. 

Out of a garage: HP

Bill Hewlett and David Packard graduated with degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1935. Their company originated in a tiny rented garage in nearby Palo Alto, California.  

Hewlett and Packard flipped a coin to decide whose name would go first. We all know who won the toss. HP was born on New Year’s Day, 1939 —at the tail end of the Great Depression.

One of the company's earliest clients was none other than Walt and Roy Disney, who needed Hewlett and Packard's audio oscillators for use in their animated film: Fantasia.

Seventies slumps

The two US recessions of the 1970s were short-lived and less impactful compared to many others of the past 100 years. Out of the 70s downturns came FedEx, thanks to Fred Smith, and Microsoft, thanks to two nerdy college dropouts, Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Both companies beat the odds.

2008: As Lehman Brothers deflates, an air mattress inflates

Airbnb started life as an air mattress. Shortly after moving to San Francisco, roommates and former schoolmates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia came up with the idea of putting one in their living room and turning it into a bed and breakfast.

In 2008, they put together a website that offered short-term living quarters and breakfast for those who were unable to book a hotel in a saturated market.

At the end of that year, the world descended into a recession. While the news was filled with images of bankers carrying their belongings in boxes out of a crashed Lehman Brothers, the pair saw an opportunity.

For other organisations that were born during the COVID-19 recession's predecessor of 2008, look no further than Groupon, WhatsApp, and Uber. Slack, founded in 2009, has been pivotal in proving that working from home during the outbreak is viable.

The market and the stock market don't always go hand in hand. Even when the stock market falls, companies will rise.  

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