7 Companies That Didn't Invent Their Industry, But Ended Up Owning It

When you think of watching movies at home, you think of Netflix. When you think of buying music, you think of iTunes. When you think of search, you think of Google. Each industry has its leader—and in some cases, that leadership turns a company into a verb. You don't "search" for something online. You "Google" it.

But go back in time and you'll find the companies that now dominate their respective industries were not the ones to invent it. They were the ones to reinvent it.

All of these companies took something that was already established, already "working," and found a way to do it better. They saw things in a different way—and made moves toward where everyone should be, not where everyone already was.

"Anytime something becomes 'dogma,' it becomes dangerous ground," says Aaron Webber, the Managing Partner of BGO (Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious), an advertising agency that prides itself on acting nothing like an advertising agency at all. "Because then no one considers change. They think, 'This is the way we've always done things, so why would we do anything different?'"

To give a clear example of how a new company can take an outdated industry and reinvent it, BGO is a great place to look.

"If you pull back the curtain on the advertising industry, you don't find a whole lot of creative people. You find big media companies with sales projections they need to hit," says Ron Gibori, Head of Strategy, BGO. "People forget that the big agencies are biased, because they are owned by the very media they sell. Billboards and TV ads might not be what your brand needs, but they sell them to you anyway because that's their inventory, that's what they sell to make a profit. And on top of that, they charge a commission for handling a transaction that is in their best interest to make. That's not what brands need—and that's what we wanted to change. The agency model is broken. We're here to reinvent it. We help brands understand what marketing they need based on their business goals, and we're not married to any one channel because we have nothing to push."

What are some other examples of brands that reinvented their respective industries?

Walmart (Retail)

40 years ago, Walmart entered the market and took out Sears, JC Penny, and a whole slew of other major retailers, because they employed a completely different strategy. Instead of only servicing dense populations, they serviced small towns and played the volume game. Only recently have they put big stores in big cities—but they are the undisputed retail king.

FedEx (Shipping)

When FedEx entered the shipping business, no one could understand why anyone would use something other than the U.S. Postal Service. But FedEx wanted to approach things differently. They executed a "hub-and-spoke" method of shipping, putting their primary headquarters in Memphis and having all packages go in and out of there—because it would be cheaper than trying to create ancillary locations elsewhere. They were the first ones to make overnight shipping accessible, and now they are a verb. You "FedEx" something when you need it right away.

Apple (Music Distribution / Mobile Communications)

Apple reinvented two mammoth industries, back to back. First, they took the concept of music and put it in your pocket with the iPod, paired with the iconic music player, iTunes. iTunes was not the first music player, but it certainly became the primary source for all online music, and a marketplace for artists struggling with physical CD sales. Next, they took on the telephone industry, combining the creative freedom from their computers and installing them into cell phones. Again, why it took a tech company like Apple to reinvent a telephone industry with already established brands is a perfect example of reinvention. And it was only recently that Apple was no longer the undisputed champion of that market. They now have competitors.

Spotify (Music Distribution)

Although iTunes took over the music distribution market, Spotify came in with a twist. They believed that consumers didn't want to "own" music, as much as they wanted to "rent" it. However, Spotify was not the first one in the streaming music space. Pandora had a significant "first-mover" advantage, however their monetization strategy was to run ads, just like the radio, not charge a subscription. Spotify came in with the subscription model, along with a much more intuitive and modern user interface, and quickly became the market leader.

Netflix (Television Programming)

One of the biggest blunders of all time was Blockbuster's miss on the video streaming market. Why did it take an independent company with no name recognition to reinvent an industry Blockbuster undisputedly owned? How did they not see what was right around the corner? This is another clear example of how, just because you invent something, does not mean you will own it forever. Blockbuster's fall was rampant, and once it began, it was inevitable. Netflix is today what Blockbuster could have been.

Google (Search)

Depending on what year you were born, you remember the days of AskJeeves and Alta Vista. These were search engines prior to Google that, at the time, were the go-to resources for search. Google, a company quietly being formed in a dorm room, decided to take a different approach—and before these early established giants could blink, Google sat as the default browser page on just about every computer. Today, they are one of the most innovative companies in a handful of different industries. But it all started because they took a specialized, focused, and unique approach to search.

Uber (Car Service)

And finally, a familiar and recent example of a company taking a long-established industry by storm is Uber. They certainly weren't the ones to invent the marketplace for taxis, but they sure did reinvent it. And the way things are looking, Uber is set to put the entire taxi industry out of business by combining technology with convenience. But had you asked ten, five, or even three years ago whether the taxi industry was in trouble, nobody would have nodded in agreement. They thought the whole thing was rock solid—until Uber cars started showing up everywhere, and now every medallion owner is scrambling.

"Reinvention is crucial to keep a business alive," says Gibori. "And the inability to reinvent is lethal."

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