When two co-founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia started Airbnb, their vision wasn’t to build a global empire that leverages the existing network of privately held accommodations. Rather their intention was to make some extra cash to cover their rent. In 2007, they caught wind of the fact that there wasn’t enough accommodation facility to cater the major conference in San Francisco. With that in mind, they quickly purchased several airbeds and offered a place to stay (including breakfast) for merely $80.
And… it worked. A year later, they did the same in Denver when there was a surge in demand for temporary housing. That worked again, although it was far from a breakthrough. The duo is still falling short on cash to build a real business. It was also the time the duo realized their vision is perhaps too small.
The co-founders eventually came up with the concept of Airbnb service, but unfortunately the idea attracted zero interest from the investors. Chesky recalls most would literally walk out halfway through the presentation. They thought it was insane. It took several years before their radically transformative idea took hold. Today, Airbnb is the world’s largest accommodation provider. Unlike Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton or any other global players, they own no properties and enjoy a valuation of about $35billion.
In 2005, Steven Chen, Jawed Karim and Chad Hurley started a sort-of online dating website, named ‘YouTube’. Their slogan was ‘Tune in, Hook up.’. To attract users, the cofounders advertised on Craigslists in several cities, offering women $20 if they upload a video describing their dream date. Unfortunately, all their efforts weren’t paying off. There was little to no public interest in YouTube dating website.
And so, Chen said, “Okay, forget the dating aspect, let’s just open it up to any video”. And he recalls that’s when people started accepting YouTube. The users began sharing videos of their dogs, vacations, anything. The lightbulb moment followed, Chen added, “Why not let the users define what YouTube is all about?”. And so, they completely revamped the website, making it appeal to the general public.
A year later, YouTube was acquired by Google for $1.65billion.
In 2010, Kevin Systrom built Burbn, an iPhone app named for his favorite adult beverage. Burbn allowed users to check in at locations for meetups, earn points for hanging out and post pictures of their time together. In a sense, it was a direct competition to Facebook and Foursquare.
Burbn was showing initial success but much of the app was too cluttered and difficult to navigate. And Kevin did a mistake of going head-to-head with industry incumbents. Blue ocean strategy challenges the companies to break out of the red ocean of bloody competition by creating uncontested market space that makes the competition irrelevant. Ultimately, that’s what Kevin pivoted to.
After teaming up with Mike Krieger, the duo discovered their users weren’t using the check-in feature at all. They didn’t care about the points either. Instead, they loved sharing photos. And that was enough for a new direction. The duo removed all the features except the ability to upload, comment and like photos. They also renamed the app as Instagram. Three months later, more than one million users were sharing and liking photos on their platform.
In 2012, Instagram was acquired by Facebook for $1billion. Today, Instagram worth’s more than $100billion.
In 2007, Netflix decided to revision from DVD mailing business to video streaming platform. Skeptics were quick to criticize their new vision, and many believed the streaming model would show no commercial success.
And then there’s that unforgettable moment when Reed Hastings (Netflix co-founder) pitched Blockbuster’s CEO, John Antioco, the vision of running Blockbuster’s brand online while Blockbuster ran Netflix’s brand in their stores. Netflix’s then CFO recalled “They just about laughed us out of their office.” Blockbuster leadership saw Netflix as a very small niche business.
Netflix’s transition from DVD subscription model to streaming model was made possible by their ability to adapt to changing technologies and consumer needs. Netflix was ranked as the highest-rated TV network in US as of April 2018. Their original content won many awards and revenues spiked.
Today, Blockbuster is operating their last and the only store in Oregon.
Amazon is a mature company that is prone to stagnation if they play it safe. For almost a decade, Amazon did what they did best – selling a wide array of merchandise relatively inexpensive over the Internet. And they retained their pioneering culture through constant innovation as if they were an aggressive startup. Look no further than their Alex-enabled devices. Alexa is now at the heart of Amazon’s AI strategy alongside Amazon Go (retail store with no checkout counters), and Amazon Prime. Amazon is also equally obsessed with their customers and is been ranked as the number one in American Customer Satsifaction index year after year.
“No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it.” said Jeff Bezos. At its core, Amazon believes it’s always ‘Day 1’, because ‘Day 2 is decline, followed by death’. It’s by constantly re-visioning that Amazon stays young while it matures as a company.
When Bill Gates stepped down from his role as the CEO, Microsoft was a company that was at the top of its game (with 9 out of 10 PCs in the world running Windows). Over the next dozen or so years, Microsoft began its decline which is widely know as ‘Microsoft’s loss decade’. Ballmer’s reliance on Gates legacy and his lack of vision killed endless opportunities and created mediocre products. Worse, Microsoft failed to anticipate industry trends and prepare for the next big thing.
Ballmer once said “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” And iPhone went on to generate more revenue than all of Microsoft’s products combined.
Luckily, Microsoft got back its much-needed vision change from the new CEO Satya Nadella in 2014. Nadella was quick to identify the internal issues choking Microsoft’s success. His fresh vision deviates from the status-quo as he shifts the company’s focus from staying offline to going ‘cloud and mobile’ first. And so, he reinvented Microsoft to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.
And… it all worked. In 2019, Microsoft became the third company in US history to reach a $1 trillion market valuation.
Many people know Marvel today for its commercially successful superhero movie franchises. But there was a time before when Marvel almost went bankrupt. It was in 1996 that Marvel saw its darkest hours. Marvel auction the film rights to several of their top heroes including Super-Man, the X-men, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four.
After several years of legal wrangling, Marvel joined forces with ToyBiz. Emerging from bankruptcy in 1998, Marvel Enterprises sold needed a new vision if they were to live another day and recoup their rightful place.
Marvel’s revisioning was comprised of three things. First, they decided to focus on movies rather than comic books. Second, they leveraged their remaining figures (such as Thor and Captain America) to secure massive cash reserves. Third, they decided to make movies out of minor characters (such as Black Panther). It was wise of Marvel to not leave the decision of selecting the action hero up to the executives. Instead, they left it to their audience, primarily movie-going kids. They also asked the kids which ones they’d most like to play with as a toy. Overwhelmingly to the surprise of many at Marvel, it was Iron Man.
Marvel listened. The first installment of Iron Man made over $500million worldwide. The second and third installments made more – bringing the three-movie franchise to whopping $2.4billion. And that doesn’t include toys, soundtracks and licensing revenue. Marvel has since then proved again and again their ability to taken lesser-known heroes like Black Panther and turned them into box office successes. Today, Marvel’s cinematic universe is second to none in film industry. Their latest installment Avengers Endgame enjoyed a record-breaking $1.2billion worldwide ticket bonanza – in their first weekend of release.