These are a few of my favorite things
This is my site Written by Alora on February 15, 2010 – 10:05 am

One of my favorite parts of the end of any year are the ‘year in review’ and/or ‘next year’s prediction’ lists.  And when it’s a year that ends in a “0,” the lists are usually longer, more interesting and cover a longer window.  So, too, already with this year.  As we head into 2010, we are already starting to see the ‘decade in review’ lists.  My favorite one so far, is Inc.’s Entrepreneur of the Decade list.

Of course, part of the reason that I find this decade’s list so interesting is because almost every company listed has touched my life — some more directly than others.  And, quite rightly, most of the entrepreneur’s Inc. calls out have created brands whose influence has become deeply baked into our culture in ways we never would have predicted in 2000, but which we take for granted today.

  1. Steve Jobs of Apple
  2. Jeff Bezos of Amazon
  3. Jack Ma of Alibaba.com
  4. Martha Stewart
  5. John Mackey of Whole Foods
  6. Leslie Blodgett of Bare Escentuals
  7. Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com
  8. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook
  9. Tony Hsieh of Zappos
  10. Peter Theil of PayPal
  11. Reed Hastings of Netflix
  12. David Neeleman of JetBlue
  13. Nick Denton of Gawker Media
  14. Stefan Persson of H&M
  15. Evan Williams and Biz Stone of Twitter
  16. Nandan Nilekani of Infosys Technologies
  17. Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google

Aside from some of the more obvious companies that made this list — e.g. PayPal, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Apple and Amazon — part of what I love about this list are the non-tech companies that make an appearance: Whole Foods, Bare Escentuals, JetBlue and H&M.

Coming from a tech-centric background, it’s often easy to forget that “innovation” is not synonomous with “technology.”  I think this is something that is often forgotten, particularly when it comes to startups.  The focus is often put on technology, instead of on creating innovative solutions.

Zappos and Netflix are two of my favorite examples, because they are often lumped into the category of “tech companies,” yet in reality, their true market differentiator has almost nothing to do with the actual technology itself.  The technology they use — in both cases ecommerce, and in Netflix case especially, a super-heavy dose of social commerce — is a means to an end, but their real innovation is around service.  Because, let’s face it, there is nothing about either of their core business that is new: Zappos sells apparel items and Netflix rents movies.

Yet in a world where apparel distributors are operating on razor-thin margins while eating enormous costs in real estate and related overhead, Zappos stands out as a customer service example to etailers everywhere.  And while Blockbuster is closing down stores by the hundreds and the movie studios scream about online piracy problems, Netflix continues to demonstrate that there really is money to be made in renting movies. (And we will skip the extent to which both companies continue to be examples of great business cultures with enviable employee engagement levels.)

The greatest thing about this list, though, is how much of it represents massive change to the small business arena itself.  Apple, Amazon, Salesforce, PayPal, Twitter and Google have all been phenomenally disruptive influences that have helped set the stage for the new era of small business opportunity.  Whether they all started out with that intent or not, each of them has helped build a new set of business models and standards that foster more opportunities for small business success.

At what prior point in history would a list like this have included so many amazing influences that have helped entrepreneurs have access to more tools and services, and help make them more successful?  None, really.  So the real reason I love this list is because it continues to show that, even the biggest success stories we can find, are successful because, in large part, they are continuing to fan the flames of entrepreneurship far beyond their own front doors.

(This post is part of my Entrepreneur Evangelist series and was originally published on WorkingPoint‘s Small Business Blog.)