Column Outside the box / by Thomas Masuch — 17 May 2023
Companies that have exciting origin stories can count themselves lucky. They’re automatically more interesting to customers and investors, and employees also identify more strongly with their organization as a result. The best tales of how a firm got its start are based on a founding myth that often begins in a garage: Surrounded by dusty tennis rackets and used tires, brilliant inventors and daring business buffs put their heads together to lay the groundwork for a wildly successful corporation.
The most famous garage in the history of business can be found at 2066 Crist Drive in Los Altos, California. It was here that Steve Jobs, his adopted sister, Patricia, and Steve Wozniak cobbled together the Apple 1 some 46 years ago. Customers stopped by the garage to see this new “computer”, and it was also the place where the Apple Computer Company was officially established with U.S.$1,300 in seed capital in 1976. Today, Apple Inc. is worth far in excess of U.S.$2 trillion, and the old Jobs garage is a protected historical site.
Jobs and Wozniak were actually following the blueprint laid out by Bill Hewlett and David Packard, who had founded HP just a few kilometers away in Palo Alto in 1939 – in a garage, of course. Google and Microsoft also got off the ground in similar environs.
Perhaps you’re asking yourself the same question we are: Why are nearly all these stories about garage start-ups set in the United States? Does it have to do with the particularly entrepreneurial spirit one finds in the Land of Unlimited Possibilities, or maybe just with the country’s very spacious garages? The vehicles there are generally much bigger than those here in Europe, for example.
While we’re not aware of any founding myth of this kind that took place in Germany, that’s not necessarily due to a lack of creativity on the part of the country’s inventors. Some of the largest German companies were founded back in the 19th century, including BASF (1865) and the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (1890, but operating as Daimler-Benz AG since 2022). Back then, there just weren’t that many cars, and that meant no garages, either.
The fact that more recent German history hasn’t delivered any celebrated accounts of firms established in the midst of old license plates and questionable calendars (although the AM sector seems to offer fertile ground for such ventures – see Interview with Frank Carsten Herzog) is more difficult to explain. It’s likely the fault of Germany’s painstaking bureaucracy, which has earned itself a very meticulous reputation around the world and prescribes to the letter what is and isn’t permitted in the country’s garages. To make sure our young creators don’t have it too easy, each German state actually has its own garage regulations, and they all state that such spaces can only be used for vehicles and associated items (tires, for instance).
Storing other things – or, heaven forbid, setting up a workshop – is verboten, which makes a founding myth in the style of Apple or HP more or less impossible. Someone with an active imagination might consider installing a 3D printer in a car they could then park in their garage, but we can’t guarantee this would be completely kosher from a legal point of view. What we can say for sure is that new German companies will have to find another place to celebrate their first accomplishments; parties aren’t allowed in German garages, either!
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