The Fab Four

There are four excellent companies who dominate how we search, how we shop, how we communicate, and which gadgets we use: Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook.

The first three of these companies also are among the top 5 of the Fortune Magazine’s 50 most admired companies in 2010 . (Facebook is not in this list and this fact does not so much discredit Facebook as discredit the Fortune list).

But why write about this obvious fact of the Fab Four?

All these companies are product driven. This of course applies to Apple. The product is the hero, not the service around it, or the pricing. At Google, an engineer is much more important than a sales person. Just look at the amazing Zurich facility of Google and compare this to any sales office. If you listen to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, he will mostly talk about the product and new features that help Facebooks users to use the site in yet another way. Amazon has lead in meticulous A/B testing of it’s website, to make sure it stays ahead.

The other point I want to talk about is the sheer share of mind of these companies.

“Which startup is hot at the moment?” this question by a friend made me think recently. No offence to my fellow startup entrepreneurs, but it seems to me that at the moment where even a small redesign by Facebook will automatically be more talked about than the most exciting new business idea.

Even the slightest new announcement from Apple, Facebook or Google, – the aptly worded “buzz” as latest example – commands more press interest than a new car model or even the most fantastic new startup. Bloomenergy.com is at least here in Europe virtually unheard of. This share of mind is even more scary than the user numbers, as it makes life harder for new entrants.

The good news: Five years from now, the Fab Four will not be the same companies. Someone will get it wrong, someone else will get it right.

Five years ago, I would have included Ebay in that list, today no more. There is a nice account of how companies historically fail to stay at the top in the Black Swan by Nicholas Taleb. At writing of that book in 2006 , only 74 of the S&P 500 companies of earlier times had survived. But I am willing to bet that even in 5 years from now, at least three out of the four dominating companies will be from the West Coast. Probably the fourth as well, you never know with these Black Swans…