6 Famous Australian Companies Started During Recessions

The economic fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic, trade tensions and a horrific bushfire season has plunged Australia’s economy into its first recession in almost 30 years. Undoubtedly, it’s a time of uncertainty for many Australians, especially those with wishes of starting their own business in 2021. However, the latest economic data gives us reason to be optimistic. In fact, some of Australia’s most successful brands are companies started during recessions. These indicate that in tough economic times, there is still an opportunity to provide real value to customers and create a sustainable business launchpad. In this article, we’ll talk about the companies started during recessions and how they went on to become the big brands we know today.

1. JB Hi Fi

Year Launched: 1974
2019 Revenue:
$7.1 Billion

In mid-1974, Australia was in an economic recession, recovering from the 1973 Oil Crisis. It was during this recession that John Barbuto started the first JB Hi Fi store in East Keilor, Victoria. His mission was simple – deliver a unique range of music for the lowest price possible. It’s now safe to say that he has succeeded, with JB Hi Fi being Australia’s largest home entertainment retailer.

2. Billabong

Year Launched: 1973
2017 Revenue:
$917 Million

In 1973, passionate surfer Gordon Merchant & his wife Rena started Billabong. Originally designing board shorts at home to sell at the local surf shop, now Billabong is in over 100+ countries & has 11,000+ stores worldwide. Billabong’s parent company, Quiksilver, sells over 2000 products under numerous brand names such as RVCA and Roxy.

3. Harvey Norman

Year Launched: 1982
2019 Revenue:
$5.66 Billion

The 1982-83 post Vietnam war recession did little to deter Gerry Harvey & Ian Norman from starting their home retail chain, Harvey Norman. Today, the pair have launched nearly 200 franchises across Australia and over 100 stores in offshore locations. Harvey Norman also employs over 5500 people and is on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

4. Priceline Pharmacy

Year Launched: 1982
2019 Revenue:
$2.2 Billion

Priceline started in Highpoint Shopping Centre in Victoria as a simple pharmacy, health, and beauty store for women. Since the 1982 recession, Priceline Pharmacy has evolved to having over 470 stores nationwide and has Australia’s largest health & beauty loyalty program with over 7 million members.

5. Cotton On

Year Launched: 1991
2019 Revenue:
$2.08 Billion

During the midst of the 1991 recession, Nigel Austin founded Cotton On clothing in East Geelong and quickly expanded to a second store in Victoria, all as a family affair. Austin had sold his first pair of jeans in 1988 as an 18 year old at a Geelong market, showing that a recession was no deterrent for his entrepreneurial passion. Cotton On today is one of Australia’s largest privately-owned companies. As at the time of writing they have over 1500 stores in 18 different countries and employ over 15,000 people.


Year Launched: 1992
2018 Revenue: $489 Million

MYOB was originally founded by a group of software developers who worked at Teleware Co during the 1980s recession. The MYOB brand was created and listed on the ASX in 1999. The company provides tax, accounting and other business services software for small and medium size businesses.

Global Brands

It’s not only Australian businesses which have come out of bleak economic times – here’s 3 Silicon Valley companies started during recessions. These have all gone on to become multi-billion dollar businesses, with no sign of slowing down.


Year Launched: 2009
2019 Revenue: $4.7 Billion USD

As America was still recovering from the GFC recession, serial entrepreneur Garrett Camp went into business with Travis Kalanick to form Uber Cabs. Since then, Uber Technologies has become a global phenomenon. Uber has over 100 million active monthly users worldwide and dominates the market in ride sharing and food delivery. Of the companies started during a recession on this list, Uber sets the blueprint for ambitious entrepreneurs.


Year Launched: 2008
2019 Revenue: $4.7 Billion USD

A visionary co-founder trio that were college students at the time of the GFC recession had an idea to rent out a mattress in their living room. Soon after, Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk started Air Bed & Breakfast. Since then, the company has been privately valued at $31 billion USD and is primed to launch its IPO in mid-December 2020.


Year Launched: 2008
2019 Revenue: $142 Million USD

Asana holds itself as one of the world’s leading team-based work management tools. Founded in the midst of the 2008-09 recession by Dustin Mokovitz & Justin Rosenstein, Asana has seen its yearly revenue nearly double in the past 3 years.

This list of companies started during a recession is just a short summary of what is possible when starting a business and following a passion. There should be nothing that stops you from pursuing your dreams, whether they be a large multinational corporation or a small side hustle.

If you’ve been inspired to start a business but don’t have an idea yet, check out our comprehensive 204 Business Ideas page. Alternatively, if you’re already ahead of the game and want to make your business more formal, you can also register your company with us.

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