When Big Businesses Were Small

Billion Dollar Babies

Introducing Slate’s special series about the early days of iconic companies.


Siri Stafford

Behind every big business—every Starbucks, every Google, every Procter & Gamble—there was a small startup. These origin stories can make for irresistible reading, judging by two of the fall’s most anticipated nonfiction books, Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (out this week) and Nick Bilton’s Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship and Betrayal (out next month). It’s hard to imagine any corporate behemoth as a new kid on the block, but this Slate series will do just that: Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll look back at the beginnings of some of America’s great companies and zero in on the pivotal moments when a promising little venture transformed into an unstoppable triumph.

Slate’s Future Tense lead blogger Will Oremus starts off by examining how Google’s founding duo landed on the idea that guided them to massive profitability. Moneybox columnist Matthew Yglesias will disclose the real secret of KFC’s success—turns out it had not much to do with 11 herbs and spices. Slate managing editor Rachael Larimore will analyze the brilliant alchemy of ruthless capitalism and kind-hearted humanism that made Starbucks into the world’s caffeine supplier. We’ll also revisit the creation myths of Victoria’s Secret, the Gap, organic-food pioneers Annie’s Homegrown, and more. We hope you’ll join us in retracing the baby steps of some of the most powerful companies on the planet.