Many companies are founded with simple goals in mind, and there’s no reason a simple goal can’t lead to great success. A roofer who starts a roofing company and lays down the best roofs he can is likely to have success in the roofing industry, for example. On the other hand, some companies are launched with an apparently narrow focus, but end up expanding in ways hardly imaginable at the outset. Nowhere is this truer than in the technology sector, where expansion and innovation potential exists like nowhere else. A successful tech company doesn’t do the equivalent of that “best roof,” but rather invents a totally new paradigm.
Remember when Google was just a white screen with a search bar in the center? Sure, the browser got great results, but what a limited scope of operations. Of course, it turned out that the company was merely biding its time, slowly growing into the multibillion dollar, multinational giant it has become, a company now offering so many online tools and services that it has become ubiquitous not just in web searches, but in email, mapping, online chat and much more. And recently Google finally made the jump from software to hardware, with offerings such as smartphones and Google Glass.
This online retailer of everything artsy started off as a veritable cottage industry selling handmade clothes, vintage goods and eclectic sundries of all kinds. It also started off small. In fact, there were just three people behind the site’s launch in 2005. Today, the online “craft fair” boasts more than 30 million members (meaning sellers and buyers) and is in task to see more than a billion dollars of sales stream through it this year, with corporate revenues nearing half that huge number. Etsy has managed to maintain a warm, person-to-person vibe while expanding into a massive sales empire.
Remember when the name Netflix conjured images of mail-order DVDs lying around (often unwatched for weeks) in those deep red envelopes? The company will still mail you DVDs, but as that technology has been surpassed by newer formats, rather than grow obsolete along with its initial bread-and-butter, Netflix innovated. They initially moved into online streaming, meeting customer demand with digital supply. Then, Netflix decided they were tired of letting producers have all the fun, and they started making their own media, such as the award-nominated show “House of Cards.”
Amazon.com started out as an online bookseller. That’s right, books. And not digital ebooks or anything like that, mind you: these guys mailed you printed sheets of paper bound together between various types of cover. Today, Amazon will gladly mail you books, or DVDs, or toys, or makeup, or tools, or anything else you can imagine. They will also let you stream content online, so no need to even order movies in the mail if you don’t want to wait 48 hours for Amazon Prime shipping. And want groceries delivered to your door same-day? In a handful of cities, this onetime bookseller has got that covered, too.
1 Khan Academy
Khan Academy has become one of the world’s largest educational institutions in a matter of seven years. And it all started because founder Salman Khan wanted to help his cousin with some schoolwork. Khan created a few video lessons for the relative and posted them online. The clarity and directness of his tutorials soon turned these lessons into viral hits, and Khan, a man who holds plural degrees from MIT and attended Harvard’s business school, was soon at the forefront of an educational revolution. His nonprofit organization has now shared more than a quarter billion lessons with people all around the globe.