In the last two decades, the world of business has changed beyond recognition. The high-street retailers that used to dominate the “Richest Companies” list are struggling to keep sales up in face of competition from the internet, and the new super-powers are tech companies, that make all their money online. They can spring from one basic idea – a search engine, a mail server – but they have grown to enormous worldwide brands. True, none of them have yet topped Walmart’s $469bn revenue, but things may change again. For now, here are the Top 10 Most Powerful Web Companies based on revenue from 2013.
This name might not be as well known as some of the others on the list, but with a revenue of $3.05bn it’s a mighty force in the tech industry. Its sector is cloud computing – taking data storage and communication off hardware and onto virtual servers that can be shared by an entire team. Its natural application is for use by sales teams, but it has a number of different products aimed at different markets. Salesforce.com was founded by Mark Benioff in 1999 and has since acquired a clutch of companies to increase the company value to its current $3 billion. It was also named as one of the best companies to work for by Fortune.
Another change that’s happened in the last decade is the rise of Chinese companies. Their National Petroleum Company is now the fourth biggest in the world, with a revenue of $425bn and their tech companies are coming up fast to compete with American ones too. Baidu is China’s biggest search engine and has a revenue of $3.54bn. It also contains the Baidu Baike – the Chinese equivalent of Wikipedia, with 6.2 million articles. Like most Chinese web services, it is highly likely that Baike has been censored according to government regulations, so if you read Chinese don’t believe everything you might find on there! Wikipedia itself has been banned in China since 2005, which has contributed to Baidu’s rise in popularity. It has a 63% market share in China and is planning further expansion into social media.
Yahoo was an early player in the dotcom business, starting life as “Jerry’s guide to the World Wide Web” in January 1994, named after co-founder Jerry Yang. At its birth, it was a list of other websites, arranged in a hierarchy which led to the acronym “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle” or “Yahoo”, the company’s new name in March 1994. It is now a web portal, offering search, news, articles and mail services although the latter has attracted criticism for trying to ape the look and feel of gmail, rather than the distinctive Yahoo Mail of the past. Although the company is lagging behind Google in revenue, it still pulled in an impressive $4.99bn in 2013 and at one point in July 2013 beat Google for visitor numbers. It’s currently headed by CEO Marissa Mayer, named as the 8th most powerful businesswoman in America in 2013 by Fortune.
Ten years younger than Yahoo but widely recognized throughout the world, Facebook is seen as the ultimate social media tool, with around 1bn users and a revenue of $5.09bn. It was started in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, and was intended to be an exclusive site for students of Harvard. It then rolled out to other top universities before being the worldwide megalith that it is now. As with most social media sites, it has its lovers and haters – its users have expressed repeated privacy concerns, when new versions of Facebook reset their privacy setting without warning or explanation. But for many users, it has changed the way they think and operate, relying on the system to remember birthdays, organise events and keep in touch with friends. It’s even got its own syndrome – “Facebook envy“, where users experience feelings of depression through comparing their lives to the edited highlights of others’. It may be a relative newcomer on the scene but its impact on day-to-day life is almost unrivalled.
With a publicity campaign fronted by “Star Trek” veteran William Shatner, this price comparison site is well known in America, but less so overseas. Still, it has revenue of $5.6bn and pioneered the “Name Your Own Price” model, where customers decided what price they wanted to pay for flights, hotels etc and then the site found suitable matches. While it was innovative, it was also flawed and was derided as a “scam” because the flights were sometimes more expensive than on the airline’s own website. It has since changed the format so that customers see which airline or hotel they’re booking before they pay for it, in a similar way to other price comparison websites. It found itself in trouble in 2000, though, for misleading its customers. Still, this hasn’t harmed the company’s fortunes, appearing at number six in the list.
The sole Japanese company in the list, this is an e-commerce company that has swallowed other companies whole and expanded its reach around the globe. It started in May 1997, as Rakuten Shopping Mall, and was renamed as Rakuten Inc in 1999. Its founder, Hiroshi Mikitani, still acts as the Chief Executive today. Since 2010, the company has been rapidly expanding, acquiring buy.com and the French Priceminister, before following it up with the acquisition of the UK’s play.com in 2011. The rapid expansion has raised the revenue to $5.56bn and established the company’s presence in Europe, North America and South America as well as its home territory of Asia. It still has a way to go before taking on the world’s biggest e-commerce company but it is a very viable competitor
The highest-ranking non-American company on the list, this is China’s biggest social networking platform, with an instant messaging system that caters to 647.6million users. There are also online, multi-player games and smartphone services. It has often been accused of being derivative, with founder Ma Huateng saying “[To] copy is not evil”, despite legal precedent suggesting that to copy may be undesirable. However, the copying claims have not affected the site’s popularity, with a revenue of $6.96bn and around 25,000 employees. Other social networking sites are banned in China, thanks to the government limiting contact with the outside world, so Tencent has benefited from the lack of international competitors. In time, it might even join the top 3 of the list.
But it still has a way to go before joining the big three. The revenue suddenly leaps up at this point, with third-largest company eBay being worth $14.07bn. Established in 1995, this auction site has become a runaway phenomenon, with some traders earning their living buying and selling on the site. It has numerous international sites, with offices in 30 countries, and is one of the few on this list to charge fees for its services, making the business model a very straightforward one. Sellers pay to list, whether the item sells or not. As with anywhere that facilitates strangers making financial transactions with each other, there are often disputes and the site has been criticised for always siding with the buyer. But there’s no denying it’s a massive success and is often used as an example of one of the biggest businesses to come out of the “dotcom bubble”.
Another massive dotcom company is Google, which has become so ubiquitous that its name has made its way into everyday language. No-one searches the web for information any more- if you want to find out something, you google it. Starting out as a search engine, Google has expanded into all aspects of web use, including e-mail, document storage and diary planning. With smartphones set up to sync with a user’s Google account, the message is that you don’t need to use any other system – Google will do everything for you. Depending on how comfortable you are with technology, that could either make you feel excited or a little freaked out. It certainly has implications for users’ privacy, an issue which came to light when members of the public were caught on camera on Google Street View. Still, it’s a megalith of a tech company and weighs in with a mighty revenue of $50.18, making it almost unstoppable.
But the biggest web company in the world is, of course, Amazon. Founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, Amazon started life as an online bookstore. Then it expanded into the logical, similar product ranges – CDs and DVDs. 20 years on and you can buy almost anything on there, from kitchen utensils to shoes. Its revenue in 2013 was an astounding $61.09bn and it has local sites for 12 countries, with shipping to many more. Of course, it has been accused of everything from tax evasion to undercutting local businesses and for that reason many people choose to boycott the company. But it would take a lot of boycotts to make Amazon take notice as it is a retailer on a different scale to nearly any other and continues to lead the market with innovations like the Kindle and e-books. The definitive web company and certainly the most powerful in the world.