The Weird and Wild Origins of 3 Tech Giants!

December 20th, 2013 | Articles, Food for Thought, Industry News | No Comments »

Nintendo Origin

Did you know Samsung originally exported fish and produce to a hungry East Asian market? Nintendo debuted in 19th century Japan with handcrafted playing cards that yakuzas absolutely loved. Oddly enough, Nokia processed wood pulp for European paper mills before its metamorphosis into an electronics icon.

And now Google is following in those footsteps as it evolves from being the world’s premier search engine into something more: a company that takes the stuff of science fiction and makes it a vivid reality. Evolution is a necessity for any business. Here is how these companies have kept themselves from becoming just another entry in the history books.

Samsung: Edamame to Electronics

How does a modest transporter of dried seafood and fresh produce go on to be a near ubiquitous tech company? It’s all thanks to the shrewd, occasionally questionable maneuverings of founder Lee Byung-Chull. Though the business originally ran aground with an early bankruptcy, Lee Byung-Chull recuperated and built a prosperous mercantile empire capable of weathering the red tide of communist forces coming into Seoul and even the anticorruption charges levied on him in a post war South Korea.


Certainly, he had to concede to the ultimatum given him by the newly formed junta government – follow our economic agenda or rot behind bars – but Samsung emerged from the other side of the rabbit hole with enough capital to start investigating the electronics market.

Through its government contracts, Samsung moved beyond regional or continental thinking. By the time the company began to experiment with televisions, learning their inner workings by vivisecting and reassembling their parts, it was already blossoming into an international icon. Under both Byung-Chull and his successor, son Kun-hee, the company continued to regularly reinvent itself and envelop emerging technology into its collection of high tech commodities.

Samsung’s resolve to never stagnate is what has kept it competitive for decades and allowed it to expand into diverse, often disparate markets. Google is on the same path with its Google X division. Google Glass, driverless cars, and the acquisition of DARPA funded robotics startups are taking the tech giant into ever-expanding realms of technology. Which is a savvy move: companies that want to survive have to make unimaginable leaps from time to time.

Nintendo: Gambling to Gaming

Any company with a hundred year notch punched into its belt is bound to have a few sordid stories and Nintendo is no exception.

The original company was a one man shop, run by founder Fusajiro Yamauchi, that sold handcrafted hanafuda playing card with ornate depictions of mythical warriors and monsters. Sounds innocuous enough? The cards themselves were commonly used for gambling, so it’s no surprise that they saw true success when the local yakuza, Japanese gangsters with a samurai streak, began to stock them in their gambling dens.

In fact, though there is some contention about the origin of Nintendo’s name, some contend that its roots are tied to the phrase ninkyo dantai (translating to chivalrous organizations), which is the way yakuza often refer to themselvesNintendo

Through the yakuza patronage, Nintendo was able to grow under Fusajiro’s reign until he handed it off on his death bed to his grandson, Hiroshi Yamauchi, in 1949. That’s when real change began. Hiroshi’s imaginative nature as a businessman dictated the company’s growth in the coming years. To be candid, there were countless misfires – board games, baseball pitching machines, and toy ray guns all flopped – but he ultimately hit pay dirt when he assigned an arcade game project to the young Shigeru Miyamoto. It resulted in the creation of Donkey Kong, the first of many iconic characters that Miyamoto would conjure up for the Nintendo empire.

Nintendo had to explore every avenue in the entertainment industry until it found a niche where it could thrive. There are questions as to whether Nintendo will remain (or still is) a gaming console contender but if it makes the bold explorations of its pioneering leaders, it can bound back. Google, which gives itself the blanket label of tech company, is examining every corner of its self-perceived industry. Competitive companies always have room to grow beyond their niche.

Nokia: Paper to Telecom

Though modern day Nokia came together from the merger of several companies, the oldest was a wood pulp mill in Southwestern Finland. Founder Fredrik Idestam made products that were in demand from Russia to Great Britain and hedged his business with funds in case of any future bad times.

Nokia Lumia

Later, Nokia absorbed an electrical generator, and transitioned completely to energy production. However, after the first World War, the company was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. That’s when it was bought out by Finnish Rubber Works, which eventually bought Finnish Cable Works and started the company on the telecom path. Starting in the 1960s, the company expanded into radio phones, car phones, and even the clunking mobile handhelds that were characteristic of the late 1980s.

Nokia has been spry enough to move with the times and, once it mastered something, hone products in the right direction. Google has done that with the search engine market and is following that model with every market it enters.

Who will be next?

The ability to innovate is at the core of all these companies. The modern business world is evolving so quickly, you almost have to adopt that flexible business model to even survive a fraction of the time of these tech giants. Modern businesses have to constantly move forward, changing in new ways that may intimidate or leave them in uncharted waters but the rewards, in the long run, can come in the form of windfall growth and revenue. The alternative is extinction, ending a business run alongside companies that clung to cassette tapes, mimeographs, or any other antiques gathering dust.

by James Walsh

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