Like it or not, small business owners can learn a lot from their big business counterparts. After all, we all start somewhere, right?

As we watch companies in their humble beginnings, we wonder whether or not they’ll survive, let alone succeed. It’s easy to be a naysayer (and statistics tell us that most businesses do fail) and assume it’ll never work out. Negativity in today’s business world is pretty widespread and often knee-jerk; however, some companies do manage to surprise us in the end.

When we take a look at some of today’s biggest, most dominant brands and businesses, we wonder how they got there. In this blog, we’ll take a look at four industry giants and how they managed to rise to the top and conquer (with even more room to grow). While comparing Google to Apple or Netflix to Spotify may seem like apples (pun intended) and oranges, there’s a common thread between such businesses that manage to rise to the top:

  • Emphasis on convenience and speed
  • A high-quality, sleek product and consistent service
  • Unique look and feel versus the competition

Big brands making billions may not mean much to your small business; however, SMBs can learn and grow their companies based on the very same principles which caused the following companies to blow up. How so?


Google is the undisputed king of search. With over 5 billion Google searches per day and an entire search marketing industry dedicated to what the big G is up to, who could have ever imagined that such a dominant web empire would rise from this?

It’s especially surprising when you consider that Google was swimming in a sea of competition during the 90’s. Remember Lycos? Ask Jeeves? Altavista? While such names might be fading memories to most users, Google was fighting an uphill battle in an over-saturated search market.

Quirky branding and a high-quality product were the name of the game for Google. Between the color scheme we’ve all come to know and Google’s integration with just about every facet of the web, Google took the concept of “search” to a whole new level. We could all learn a thing or two from such an approach, including:

  1. The importance of a strong, dedicated team
  2. The ability to evolve, adapt and integrate
  3. The strength of unique, recognizable branding


What really needs to be said about Apple?

Let’s start here: Apple did not invent the mp3 player. Or the tablet. Or the cell phone. You wouldn’t be able to tell, however, based on the number of Apple products sold (over 350 million iPods alone) and the fact that “i” anything has become synonymous with modern electronics. What did Apple, a company at times on the brink of collapse, manage to pull it all off?

In short, Apple made electronics sexy in a time where such products were anything but. Apple had a unique product from an aesthetic standpoint, combined with a feel of exclusivity built around their marketing. Apple products developed a cult-like following which eventually exploded into a worldwide phenomena. For the first time, electronics become a sort of must-have fashion statement rather than something clunky or boring.

Like Google, Apple did not reinvent the wheel. They continue to deliver a strong, familiar

and consistent product while creating a feeling of exclusivity among their users. While developing such a product or cult-like following may seem like a daunting task, SMBs have an inherent advantage in such marketing if they focus on loyal, local buyers.


What if you had a product that was essentially more convenient than receiving something for free? Sounds impossible; however, that’s exactly what Spotify managed to do. Spotify isn’t the first of its kind. Access to massive music libraries in exchange for a monthly fee has been around since the mid-2000’s.

The size of Spotify’s library and appeal to mobile users, however, gives a prime example of a business being in the right place at the right time. Furthermore, in an era where physical music sales are slumping and piracy runs rampant, Spotify offers a service that’s more convenient than downloading or purchasing music in the first place.

A service that’s literally more convenient than stealing. Think about that.

Between its ease of access and ever-growing music library (combined with free and paid subscriptions), Spotify is ultimately changing the game in terms of how we purchase and digest music in the modern era. Such a strategy begs the question; how much convenience are you offering your customers?


Like most businesses, big or small, Netflix started as a concept. The concept? Compete with the big-box movie rental companies by offering rentals via mail. Obviously, the concept was successful with Netflix achieving its billionth rental in 2007 after launching ten years prior. The introduction of its instant-streaming service, however, is working to change the face of television as we know it.

Much like Spotify, Netflix relies on ease of access for its users. Additionally, their library is constantly growing and offers titles that go far beyond your typical movies-to-go rental system (think: Redbox).

The instant gratification of Netflix’s streaming service is huge, meanwhile its implications on the future of television are even bigger. By launching its own independent series’ and providing much of what’s already on television, many users are ditching cable altogether in favor or something that’s fast and commercial-free.

Netflix’s model asks two big questions of your small business:

  1. What does your business offer in terms of instant gratification?
  2. To what degree does your business and its focus have to evolve?

The Bottom Line

Sometimes it’s not the rags-to-riches stories that matter most to entrepreneurs, but rather the principles and strategies of once-budding businesses which allowed them to rise to the top. What does your small business have in common with the giants mentioned above?