4 Companies That Risked Reinvention — and Won

In technology, innovation is a necessity. Sometimes, though, the ability of companies to innovate comes only through reinvention — by shaking up everything, from business models to brands.

Reinvention is always a risky venture, but the rewards can be well worth it. As Mark Zuckerberg said, “In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” Here are just a few companies that have gambled on reinvention and won. In fact, it can be said that some of these companies are in a perpetual state of reinvention. No doubt you’ll recognize a few of the names.

In the 1990s, Amazon became one of the first e-commerce success stories by flipping the business of bookselling to an entirely new page. Today, Amazon is far from a startup: It’s the world’s largest consumer e-commerce site and has played a large role in transforming the retail industry itself. While Amazon began as an online bookstore, its mission today is “to be Earth's most customer-centric company where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online.” To meet that lofty goal, Amazon must continually take its business in new directions (including into the cloud) — places that even its founder, Jeff Bezos, may not have envisioned. Among Amazon’s recent innovations designed to give its customers what they want, when they want it: Its Amazon Prime two-day shipping service, which had 20 million members at the start of 2014; AmazonFresh, a same-day grocery delivery service that’s being test-marketed on the West Coast; and the Kindle Fire HDX tablet, which is meant to provide users with an immersive entertainment experience. Just last week, Amazon confirmed months of rumors when it unveiled its new Fire Phone, which displays images in 3D — even in the dark. The smartphone’s Firefly feature helps users buy things more easily offline and online, and especially from Amazon. (Of course, whether the Fire Phone is the answer to what consumers want remains to be seen.) What’s next from Amazon? Drone delivery service, perhaps?

Dropbox was not an immediate success when it launched in 2007, largely because file-sharing was a relatively new concept. Although Dropbox was originally marketed to consumers, it has become an essential tool for millions of business users and is now heavily targeting corporate users. Today, the cloud service provider supports more than 300 million users. Dropbox can attribute its steep growth trajectory in recent years to three things:

  1. It is focused on finding new ways to make it convenient for people to share and store files and collaborate with others.
  2. It is willing to explore new avenues to expand its offerings to customers (mobile-friendly email app Mailbox and photo-management app Carousel are just two recent examples).
  3. And most important, perhaps, it is highly motivated to get creative so it can take on some stiff competition in the enterprise space.

Two decades ago, LG Electronics Inc., a multinational electronics company based in South Korea, was known as the Lucky Goldstar Group. To compete more effectively in western markets, it rebranded to “LG” in 1995, introduced its friendly-faced logo and adopted the tagline “Life’s Good.” And things have been pretty swell for LG since reinventing its brand image: It is not only a leading global manufacturer of appliances and electronics, it also has become the third-leading smartphone manufacturer in the United States, behind Samsung and Apple. Now, LG is helping to shape the Internet of Things (defined here by Cisco) and home automation by introducing devices such as the Smart Lamp, which can be controlled by an iOS or Android device over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. As part of the AllSeen Alliance, LG is also one of the companies at the forefront of promoting unified communications standards for all connected devices that eventually will form the Internet of Things.

If you’re a fan of the Netflix original series House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, you don’t need to read further. You’re already aware that Netflix is a company that knows how to push the (red) envelope. Netflix pioneered, and mastered, the DVD-by-mail market. But it had a bumpy road adapting to digital video streaming, and lost a few customers in the process. The damage proved to be little more than a bad bruise, however: Netflix has become the world’s leading Internet television network, with over 48 million members in more than 40 countries watching more than 1 billion hours of TV shows and movies per month. Because its initial missteps with streaming video made it difficult for Netflix to license great online video on attractive terms, it turned to creating its own content. Its growing collection of awards for its programming shows that it chose the right direction. In fact, House of Cards was the first online-only web television series to win a major acting award (Robin Wright, Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama). No doubt, if Netflix was Frank Underwood, the protagonist in House of Cards, it would be double-tapping its ring on its desk.