One of the truly wonderful things about capitalism is that when you figure out something people really need, free markets have the ability to help you bring it to the masses faster than would otherwise seem reasonably possible — and it’ll probably make you a lot of money in the process. We all owe a massive debt to people like Thomas Jefferson or Martin Luther King, Jr. for the crucial roles they played in shaping our society, but it’s worth remembering that sometimes the right company with the right product can prove to be just as revolutionary as major social movements or charismatic leaders.
Click through to look at companies worth billions that have completely changed the way we live.
Remember Friendster? Don’t worry, almost nobody does anymore. As of the summer of 2018, Facebook had 1.47 billion daily active users, meaning about one in five people in the world were logging on each day. What’s even more impressive to consider — aside from the company’s exorbitant net worth — is that half the world doesn’t use the internet.
As of 2018, 3 billion people — almost half the people in the world — are smartphone users, per research firm Newzoo. This is pretty good when you consider that 15 years earlier, that number was none. Apple’s seminal iPhone was released in 2007, and the company has since gone on to sell more than a billion of them, which has helped turn Apple into the cash cow it is today.
Jeff Bezos’ rise to the title of the world’s richest man has been fast and furious, but then, so was the rapid expansion of online retail driven by the company he founded, Amazon. As of the start of 2018, nearly one out of every $10 spent on retail was online, more than double the rate just nine years earlier.
It seems a bit odd to include a company here that has yet to hold its IPO, but Uber is almost certainly a billion-dollar company — Toyota pegged them as being worth $71.5 billion when they invested $500 million in the company in late August — and it has clearly changed the way people live. According to a study of debit and credit card data by Earnest Research, some 43 percent of the country used a ride-sharing app in the last year as of 2018, just eight years after the company gave its first ride.
The basic concept of fast food — mass-producing the same product across thousands of franchises for quick, cheap, easy dining — owes its existence to the McDonald brothers and Ray Kroc. Today, the company serves 70 million customers a day in 35,000 restaurants across 120 countries, which itself represents just one slice of the massive industry it created.
If you’re thinking to yourself “Wait, DuPont? What have they ever done?” you’re forgiven. The company isn’t a household name, but its products — like nylon, cellophane, teflon and kevlar — certainly are. So even if you discount the role it might have played in our nation’s continued existence — it started as a gunpowder maker 216 years ago and supplied the U.S. in the War of 1812 and the Union armies during the Civil War — everything from bulletproof vests to saran wrap owes their existence to this company.
Time might not be great for GE these days, but it’s worth noting that up until its ejection this year, it was the only original member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average that was still in the index. But then, that’s part of what happens when you do something like inventing the light bulb — the company was founded under the name Edison General Electric.
What, you were expecting Tesla? Please. Not only did Henry Ford invent the mass-produced car, but he also invented mass production. The moving assembly line — the mastery of which continues to bedevil Elon Musk et al — was initially developed by Ford, and it gave rise to the Model T, a $240 car that the average American could actually afford. That revolutionary model turned the car from a luxury product only the upper class could hope to buy to the ubiquitous mode of transportation it is today.
Okay, so Kodak is not presently a “billion-dollar company,” but that’s a fairly recent development. For decades, Eastman Kodak was among the world’s largest companies. So what happened that led to its 2012 bankruptcy? That would be the development of the digital camera that essentially annihilated the consumer market for film and film cameras in addition to profoundly changing the way that the world collects, views and shares images. And what enterprising company developed this revolutionary product? Well, that would be Eastman Kodak. In 1973. Oops.
Nintendo might not have invented the video game console, but it’s certainly responsible for turning it into the $130 billion-plus industry it is today. Over 30 years since the release of the original NES console, the top 20 gaming consoles have combined sales approaching 1.4 billion units.
A lot of people were very skeptical of Reed Hastings’ plan to pivot Netflix from a mail-order DVD company to one that’s primarily focused on streaming video. Most notable of the doubters were investors as the stock plunged almost 20 percent in a single day. Reed Hastings doesn’t have to say “I told you so,” though.
If you’re not sure why this company is on this list, you should, ahem, Google it. When your name becomes a verb where the widely accepted meaning is essentially “acquire information,” well that’s a pretty clear sign you’ve had an impact. But then, when you’re processing 1.2 trillion searches a year — that’s 40,000 (or more) a second, by the way — you’ve earned it.
Click through to read more about how your favorite brands reinvented themselves and made big money.
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