Some people are born and quickly find a purpose. In 1762, at the age of six, Mozart was performing in exhibitions at the court of Maximilian III of Bavaria in Munich. Carl Friedrich Gauss, who lent his name to the measurement, completed his masterwork, Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, at the age of 21, before going on to earn the moniker of “greatest mathematician since antiquity.”
Just like people, some companies are formed around a concept that defines them for their lifetime. In 1708, when Sebastien Artois became the master brewer at Den Horen, the brewery took his name, becoming Stella Artois, which went on to become a part of ABInBev, the world’s largest brewer. Established in 1526 and owned by the same family for over 500 years, Beretta had its humble beginnings as a supplier of arquebus barrels to the Arsenal of Venice.
But there are also those companies who wander aimlessly in the general direction of a strategy. Those companies, who become entrepreneurial magpies, snatch up whatever shiny objects they can find, hoping some consumer, somewhere, might be willing to pay for them. To these companies, adaptability is the raft that has kept them afloat and allowed them to weather the often dicey seas of business. In their search for profitability and stability, many of these companies have utterly redefined their goals, strategies and marketing techniques. They have overhauled production processes and, in some cases, sought advice from the unlikeliest of sources.
Today, we discuss some major companies that embraced change and found success.
Originally founded in 1998, Confinity Inc. — creators of PayPal — was based around a service that allowed the transfer of funds between two Palm Pilots. The idea was simple and elegant: with millions of people carrying both PDAs and wallets, PayPal would combine the purposes of the two items in a way that allowed consumers to pay their bills and make purchases digitally via their PDAs. At the time, online money transfers constituted a secondary, less viable stream of revenue for the company.
All that would change in 2000, when PayPal enabled eBay payments. Revenue from online transfers and payments for auction items suddenly dwarfed revenue generated from Palm Pilot transfers. By the end of the year, PayPal had discontinued its Palm Pilot service entirely.
By 2001, with over 1 million users, PayPal had gone public on the NASDAQ, and in 2002, the company was purchased by eBay for $1.5 billion.
Formed in 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi, Nintendo was originally founded as a purveyor of handmade hanafuda playing cards. By the late 1960s, the company had unsuccessfully attempted to enter a number of markets, including taxi services, a TV network, and “love hotels.” As the public’s interest in playing cards waned, the company’s stock plummeted to an all-time low, and the fate of the company hung in the balance.
The company’s fortunes changed in 1966, when an assembly line engineer named Gunpei Yokoi brought one of his personal projects to work. That project, called the Ultra Hand, marked Nintendo’s first venture into the toy market. The Ultra Hand went on to sell 1.2 million units in Japan and its success led to Yokoi’s promotion to the newly formed Nintendo Games.
In 1974, Nintendo entered the video game industry. A student by the name of Shigeru Miyamoto was placed under Yokoi’s direction, tasked with designing cases for Nintendo’s Color TV system. Miyamoto went on to design one of Nintendo’s most iconic games, Donkey Kong, which introduced the world to Mario, the company’s longstanding mascot.
As of May 2013, according to Forbes, Nintendo has a market capitalization of $14.39 billion.
Founded in 1923 by Henry, Hilal and Herman Hassenfeld, Hassenfeld Brothers was a company that dealt in the sale of textile remnants. It remained a textile dealer for the next 20 years, eventually widening its horizons to manufacture pencil cases and school supplies.
Everything changed in the early 1940’s when Hassenfeld Brothers produced toy versions of doctor and nurse kits. By 1942, the company had transitioned into being a full-time toy company. Ten years later, it hit pay dirt when it purchased a creation called Mr. Potato Head from inventor George Lerner. The toy was a runaway success and led, in part, to the company becoming a Disney licensee in 1954.
Changing its name to Hasbro Industries in 1968, the company went public. It continued producing popular toy lines such as G.I. Joe and Transformers for the next 45 years, eventually surpassing Mattel as the world’s largest toy manufacturer. As of September 2013, the company has a market capitalization of $6.48 billion.