Some startups don't have the endurance to be more than a passing trend, but this was never an issue for Amazon, Netflix, and Facebook.
Imagine a world where Amazon is now a subsidiary owned by Barnes & Noble. Where there’s still a Blockbuster in every town because Netflix fizzled out. Or where MySpace simplified their interface and took Facebook down before it took off.
At one point in time, all of these scenarios were a possibility. These three disruptive companies could have easily become just another flash in the pan on their way to the top. But Amazon, Netflix, and Facebook managed to avoid the trend trap and stay relevant in a rapidly changing world.
The trend trap
A promising new product or company can easily become last week’s old news. This is especially the case with startups as they try to sprint and disrupt their way to unicorn status. Over time, the premise of the business gets tired, the market floods with copycats, and the startup starts to lose its customer base and revenue. I recently wrote about a few companies that are currently falling into the trend trap, but what about the ones that avoided it entirely? There’s a lot we can learn from these companies–so let’s take a look at what went right.
Amazon extends far beyond the books
Jeff Bezos may have started out selling books, but he always knew he wanted Amazon to become the “sell everything store.” It was this crystal clear vision that prevented him from ever getting complacent. From trying (and failing) to compete with eBay, to creating the Kindle, to taking on the medical industry, Amazon and stagnation don’t mix.
And it’s because of the company’s willingness to take risks and test out new offerings that Amazon will never be considered a fad.
Netflix says goodbye to Qwikster
Everything changed when Netflix disrupted the movie rental industry by offering DVD mail rentals. They took the hassle out of having to physically venture out to rent a movie by bringing the DVDs straight to your door.
But as the Digital Age advanced, Netflix was savvy enough to see the writing on the wall. This company knew the time had come to invest in digital streaming. But what would that look like for their business? Initially, it started out as a botched attempt to split up the company, which resulted in a lot of backlash from customers. Netflix course corrected and instead invested heavily in its online streaming options over time.
This investment was a slow burn and one that paid off. Today, Netflix is its own production company, airing several original and critically acclaimed series. Plus, they still offer DVD mail rentals (seriously, check it out).
Facebook changes things up and invests in key companies
If there’s one thing Facebook does well, it’s finding new ways to keep users engaged. The platform was originally only available to college students, but Zuckerberg made the smart decision to open the platform up to everyone. Then, Facebook rolled out Timeline, changed the newsfeed algorithm, started selling ads, adopted live video streaming, and bought both Whatsapp and Instagram.
If Facebook remained a college-only platform with a wall similar to MySpace, they would have faded away years ago. But they kept switching things up, tested new things out, and continued to diversify their offerings. That’s not to say they aren’t facing challenges today, but it’s clear this company is more than a passing trend.
What went right
There are two main takeaways we can learn from the companies above:
1. They took well-calculated risks
No one can sum this up better than Jeff Bezos himself when he said, “Companies that don’t continue to experiment, companies that don’t embrace failure, they eventually get in a desperate position where the only thing they can do is a Hail Mary bet at the end of their corporate existence. Whereas companies that are making bets all along, even big bets, but not bet-the-company bets, prevail.”
It’s important to keep innovating, to take risks, to try new ways to surprise and delight your customers. This is how you go from being just another trendy bookseller to the sell-everything store.
2. They pivoted when necessary
When things didn’t work out as planned, these companies knew how and when to shift away from what wasn’t working. Agility cannot be underestimated. As the pace of business continues to accelerate in our Digital Age, being able to adapt to the ever-changing needs of your customers to crucial.
In the business world, it takes a lot of energy to move a startup from big bang to a steadily burning power source. But with an approach that focuses on innovation and agility, you can ensure your business stays around for the long haul. It’s this approach that helped Amazon, Netflix, and Facebook avoid falling into the trend trap. Today, these businesses have the type of endurance and hold in the market that startup founders hope to one day possess.