Businesses that have changed our lives

If there is one word that has revolutionised life as we know it in the last decade, it is innovation. More than just a trend or a passing phase, innovation is a concept that most companies strive to achieve, and most consumers look for when buying a product.

To thrive in such an environment, business leaders have to constantly keep a finger on the pulse of what customers need, identify the gaps, and come up with products that actually bridge this gap, and make customers’ lives easier. Innovative success is about designing a product that can create a long-lasting impact, despite any knockbacks and criticism from other leaders in the field.

Here are four companies that did this, becoming leaders in their respective niches, and making it look easy, too.

Apple
In 2007, Steve Jobs unveiled "An iPod. A Phone. And an Internet communicator." Overnight, Apple's new world of apps, social media on-the-go and sharing your every moment with your followers was created, heralding criticism from those resenting the ‘hyper connectivity’ phenomenon.

That said, in the decade that's followed, the iPhone has triggered a societal shift; we are always connected. To work, to our friends, to those that we want to be like and want to be like us. They help us find and build communities. The iPhone and all the devices it's inspired in the decade since its inception have gone beyond "convenience" to "lifeline."

Amazon
Prior to the existence of Amazon, shopping meant braving the traffic, pollution and other irritants like having to go to several shops to complete your weekly shop. Then along came Amazon, giving people the luxury of sitting at home and shopping for everything they needed; the world’s first e-commerce platform to succeed for nearly two decades. Returns and refunds were never so hassle-free.

Airbnb

Before Airbnb, travellers depended on run-of-the-mill hotels and guesthouses. Fancy or not, most came with a set of impersonal features, and generic architecture and furniture – it didn’t matter if you were in Delhi or Dubai. If you wanted something different, it meant shelling out a lot more money for a boutique hotel.

But when Airbnb introduced its services, globetrotters were exposed to the option to rent affordable houses and apartments, helping them discover their destination from a more local perspective.

Netflix
Before Netflix, you had to go out to rent a DVD, or risk ‘breaking the law’ by downloading illegal versions of films and TV series’ from illicit websites, exposing your device to malicious viruses. And if you didn’t return the DVD on time, you risked paying a fortune in late fees.

Netflix changed all that. What began as a subscription-based DVD rental business (with no late fees) evolved into to a streaming service for an affordable monthly charge. Subscribers can stream any of Netflix’s thousands of films and series (several are Netflix originals) and watch these when they want to watch, on any device – a TV set, a tablet or a mobile phone.

Key advice to business leaders

  1. Be brave - if you believe in your product/service and are constantly under criticism, ride the wave and withstand the condemnation. Some predict a contraction in the sharing economy but Brian Chesky, the co-founder of Airbnb thinks that trading experiences and skills will become more important as “artificial intelligence and automation displace tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of jobs over the next 20 years.” True belief in your industry and your business model is hard to falter.
  2. Persist – if you have a ground-breaking business idea do not give up on it; The iPhone took two and a half years to develop, and Steve Jobs was told that “his smoke-and-mirrors regime” would never succeed, only to continue to develop a $750bn business.
  3. Think big - plan for what you want the company to become, not for what restrictions are currently placed on the market. Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix has said: “There's a reason we didn't call the company 'DVD-by-Mail.com.'" The long-term business was streaming, so Hastings chose a name that covered both the early stages of the business and what he expected it to become over time -- both were about getting flicks over the net.

A key common theme in the trendsetter companies listed above is innovation; all provide the customer with a unique service, one previously unidentified by competitors. Whilst the leaders listed above have come under significant scrutiny over the years, the ways in which they have conducted their businesses, overcoming significant challenges and setbacks, has led to their success.

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