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How we got started

The founders of four breakout companies on how they built billion-dollar global brands like Costco and Re/Max from scratch.

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Costco's boostrapping days
Costco's boostrapping days
Jim Sinegal (left) and Jeffrey Brotman, in their startup days.
Costco was once a scrappy startup with the relatively modest goal of raising $7.5 million to open a few warehouses.

Jim Sinegal was a former Price Club executive. Jeffrey Brotman was a lawyer who had returned from a trip to Paris with a vision of importing a retail concept the French embraced.

"I called around to retail contacts and asked them to list executives who could run such a business. Jim was on most lists. I cold-called him one day and flew to California to meet him," Brotman recalls.

In 1983 they opened the first Costco, in Seattle, financing the business with savings and credit cards.

"Jim and I went to a hardware show in Las Vegas. By then we had hired buyers, who were using our credit cards to check in. But the bank had canceled the cards, so they were denied entrance," Brotman says. "They had worked with us for only a month and were probably wondering whether we'd make it. I thought we'd lose half of them, but they stayed."

NEXT: From $0 to $1 billion

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LAST UPDATE: Sep 09 2009 | 12:52 PM ET
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