Most of us are familiar with the word pivoting in the startup culture, which basically means that if your products or business strategies are not working, you choose different products and strategies. In simple terms, you move away from your original idea and start something else. Most of the time, we think it is only small startups that have to change their product or strategies. However, if you look at the history of many big companies, you’ll be surprised that many of them started with completely different products than what they are now famous for. Here we’ve compiled a list of 10 big companies that were completely different businesses than what they are famous for today.
1. The world leader in electronics and mobile phone market Samsung sold noodles in its early days.
In 1938, Lee Byung-chull founded Samsun Sanghoe. Initially, Samsung was a small trading company that traded in dried-fish, locally grown groceries, and noodles. In 1947, they moved the headquarters to Seoul as the company grew. Lee was forced to move out of Seoul when the Korean War started, and that’s when he started a sugar refinery in Busan. Over the years, Samsung entered into a wide range of industries and eventually entered into the electronics market in the late 1960s. Today, after almost half a century, Samsung Electronics is the world’s 2nd largest information technology company measured by 2015 revenues and is the 5th in market value.(source)
2. The world’s largest video game company by revenue, Nintendo, started off as a small company producing the handmade playing cards “hanafuda” in 1989.
The name “Nintendo” is commonly assumed to mean “leave luck to heaven.” Nintendo handmade playing cards started gaining in popularity soon after they were launched. In 1953, Nintendo became the first company in Japan to produce playing cards from plastic. In the 60s and early 70s, Nintendo struggled to stay alive and were forced to enter into the electronic video game market for survival. Their first commercially available video game console was the “Magnavox Odyssey,” and it had a light-gun accessory and a shooting gallery.(source)
3. For more than a century, the world’s most recognized mobile phone manufacturer, Nokia, was just a conventional groundwood pulp mill.
In 1865, Fredrick Ideastam founded a groundwood pulp mill on the banks of the Tammerkoski River, and after 6 years and having founded another mill in the town of Nokia, he transformed it into “Nokia Ab.” In early 20th century, Nokia Ab started electricity generation. When Nokia Ab was nearly bankrupt after world war I, Finnish Rubber Works, which was the manufacturer of galoshes and other rubber products in the town of Nokia, acquired Nokia AB for the continuation of electricity. After another 10 years, they acquired Finnish Cable Works, the producer of telephone, telegraph, and electrical cables. These three companies were merged to form a new industrial conglomerate, Nokia Corporation, in 1967. Nokia ventured into network equipment in the 70s and personal computers in the 80s before stepping into the telecommunication market in the 90s.(source)
4. Lamborghini was originally a tractor manufacturer that only started making the luxury supercar after the owner Ferruccio Lamborghini was insulted by the owner of the luxury car maker Ferrari.
As the story goes, the self-made millionaire, Ferruccio Lamborghini, started his business from a small garage and made millions building tractors from army surplus left by allied forces in 1945. He also started building oil burners and air-conditioning systems after the success of his tractor plant. With the success of these businesses, he became one of the richest men in Italy. When his Ferrari started giving him problems with the clutch and when local garages couldn’t fix it, Ferruccio drove to Modena and confronted Enzo Ferrari. Known for his arrogance, Enzo told the “farmer” to take a walk as “the problem is not with the car but with the driver!” and he should look after his tractors. This insult was what resulted in Ferruccio manufacturing one of the most popular GT cars.(source)
5. One of the top ten car brands in the world, BMW, originally started off as an aircraft manufacturing company. World War I forced BMW to make cars.
Rapp Motorenwerke Aircraft firm that restructured BMW became a business entity in 1917 and after a year in 1918 the first product of BMW, an inline six-cylinder aircraft engine called “BMW IIIa” was launched. This engine was known for its fast and reliable performance. After World War I, the company couldn’t produce more aircraft engines because of the terms of Versailles Armistice Treaty. As a result, BMW shifted their focus and started manufacturing motorcycles. In 1923, BMW launched their first motorcycle and in 1928 the company manufactured their first car, the DIXI, based on the Austin 7. Today, BMW is the world’s 12th largest producer of motor vehicles, with 2,279,503 vehicles produced.(source)
7. The world’s most popular chewing-gum-making company, Wrigley, initially sold soap and baking powder.
In 1891, William Wrigley Jr. moved from Philadelphia to Chicago and started selling necessities like soap and baking powder. He was giving away sticks of gum to his customers for the purchases they made as incentives when he noticed that the gum was more popular than the merchandise itself. So, as any good businessman would do, he started selling gum. A century later, the company currently sells its products in more than 180 countries, has operations in over 50 countries, and has 21 production facilities in 14 countries including the U. S., Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, France, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, China, India, Japan, Kenya, Taiwan, and Australia.(source)
8. Today, Berkshire Hathaway may be known as Warren Buffett’s insurance and investment company, but it was originally a textile manufacturer.
In 1839, Oliver Chance started a textile manufacturing company called “Valley Falls Company” in Valley Falls, Rhode Island. In 1929, it merged with Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company, and the combined company was known as “Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates.” In 1955, this company merged with the Hathaway Manufacturing company and became “Berkshire Hathaway Company” and had 15 plants employing over 12,000 workers with over $120 million in revenue at the time of the merger. In 1962, Warren Buffett started buying stocks, eventually becoming the majority owner of Berkshire Hathaway. By 1967, Buffett started expanding the company’s business into insurance and investments. Today, Berkshire Hathaway is the 3rd largest public company in the world and the 9th largest conglomerate by revenue. And, Warren Buffett is the second wealthiest man in the world.(source)
9. American Express, the world’s most elite credit card company, started as a postal service
Henry Wells of Wells & Co. joined with William G.Fargo of Livingston, Fargo & Co. and John Warren Butterfield of Wells, Butterfield & Co. in 1850 to form an express mail service in Buffalo, New York named “American Express.” During that time, the U. S. Postal Service didn’t allow shipment of packages, and AmEx tapped into that market by concentrating on valuable, large-sized shipments. Their main customers were banks and brokers who were using their services to send stock certificates, interbank transfers, checks, etc. Thus, seven years after the foundation, AmEx ventured into the financial market by offering money orders in 1857. Today, the AmEx network accounts for 22.9% of the total dollar volume of credit card transactions with 109.9 million cards all over the world. It is the 25th most valuable brand in the world according to Interbrand, and with over $18 billion estimated worth, Forbes ranks it the 17th most admired brand in the world.(source)
10. NASCAR was started at the pub and has its origins in bootlegging during the U.S. Prohibition when bootleggers needed to deliver alcohol to their customers fast.
During prohibition, bootleggers needed to distribute their illicit whiskey to their customers without getting caught by police. So, in the Appalachian region of the U.S., drivers started using small, fast vehicles to evade police. Some of the drivers, in order to be faster, started modifying their cars for speed and handling and for increased cargo capacity, while some just loved fast-paced driving on the mountain roads. When Prohibition ended, these cars continued to run for pride and profit while continuing to improve in the races. These races became very popular in southern U.S. So, NASCAR was born which today is only second to the National Football League among professional sports franchises in terms of television viewers and fans in the U.S. Worldwide, 150 countries watch NASCAR on their television.(source)