7 Fascinating Facts About Hugely Successful U.S. Companies

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It’s easy to assume that iconic companies were always established. But they weren’t, and their origin stories are much like those of superheros – humble, intriguing, and inspirational.

Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about companies you know and love:

1. Microsoft’s founder was a ladykiller-in-training

In high school, Bill Gates coded a class scheduling program for his school to help determine who should be in which classes, when.

He adjusted the code to ensure that he ended up in classes with predominantly female students.

2. Half of the stake in Domino’s Pizza was once traded for a used car

Domino’s was founded by two brothers, Tom James Monaghan, who bought a pizza restaurant called DomiNick’s for $500. Early on, James traded 50% of the ownership of the company to his brother for a used Volkswagen Beetle.

Close to 40 years later, Tom retired, selling most of his stake in the company. His takeaway that his bro missed out on? One billion dollars (cue Austin Powers).

4. Google’s algorithm was once called BackRub

Google’s primary ranking algorithm is PageRank, which assigns every page a rank that determines the page’s fit in search engine results. Interestingly, PageRank is not named after its purpose, but after Google’s co-founder, Larry Page. And back in the day, it was called BackRub. Why? Apparently it referenced the underlying algorithm, which counted backlinks as affirmative votes.

Bonus fact: The reason Google’s homepage design is so sparse because Page and Brin didn’t know very much HTML at the time.

4. The first iteration of Ben Jerry’s was a bagel company

Ben and Jerry (né Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield) were actually planning on founding a bagel company. However, the equipment was so expensive they switched tacks, instead investing $5 in a correspondence course on ice cream making from Pennsylvania State University.

Bonus fact: Ben Cohen has no sense of taste, so he used “mouth feel” to make decisions on what was delicious. This is why big chunks of fruit, nuts, or chocolate are so often a part of their ice cream flavors.

5. Smirnoff once branded itself as ‘white whiskey’

Smirnoff was originally a Russian company that changed hands to American ones in 1939. At the time, Americans were huge whiskey drinkers and knew little about vodka. Enter an inspired marketing idea: Smirnoff branded itself as “white whiskey,” one of the advantages of which was that it had “no taste, no smell.”

The drink became particularly popular with people who wanted to drink early in the day without smelling of alcohol.

6. The FedEx founder once saved the company by gambling in Vegas

Three years later after Frederick Smith founded FedEx, rising fuel costs drove the company to the verge of bankruptcy — it was losing over $1M per month.

When the company had just $5,000 left, Smith took the money to Las Vegas on a Friday and played blackjack all weekend. By Monday he’d made $32,000, which was just enough to cover fuel and continue operations for a few days.

It was enough time for Smith to then raise enough money to keep the company solvent. FedEx became profitable in 1976, and now has an estimated worth of $25-35 billion.

Bonus fact: Smith was one of George W. Bush’s fraternity brothers in college, and was later offered the position of Defense Secretary in Bush’s administration.

7. The bite in Apple’s logo was added so it wouldn’t be confused with a cherry

Ever wonder why the Apple’s apple has a bite taken out of it? The original logo included Isaac Newton perching under an apple tree. That was eventually switched to the one we know today, a simple apple. The bite was added to the silhouette after the fact to distinguish the fruit from a cherry.