When you reach such a Brobdingnagian pinnacle, size itself becomes your greatest problem. You don’t disrupt–you get disrupted. Protecting the revenue stream that made you the trillion dollars is critical. But doing so only translates into success in the current marketplace. Whatever the future marketplace is, you’re not making your money there.
It winds up to be weirdly difficult for the giants to begin a new business, because the early returns for such an effort seem so paltry. Look at all the great products, such as Reader and Blogger, that Google killed because they were small potatoes. In normal companies, the idea of a new billion-dollar business is met with excitement. But for the trillionaires, creating a product that adds one-thousandth of the firm’s net worth doesn’t even evoke a meh. Such ideas, though, might wind up becoming the next generation’s dominant product.
One workaround for a huge company is to use its cash to buy upstart competitors. With antitrust scrutiny on the rise, that approach might lose some luster. Regulators and legislators are accusing the big tech companies of abusing their power, and the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are actively investigating. Experts note that bigness alone does not constitute an antitrust violation, but it’s a hell of a start. Even if the investigations don’t break up any companies, the Trillion Club may find it harder to get big acquisitions approved.
So while attaining the trillion level means big riches, further growth will be a struggle. That’s a good thing. A worst-case scenario is these powerful behemoths lock their legacy products into our lives, while deploying their wealth to crush competitors and influence regulators and politicians.
In the best case, the trillionaires will be lumbering dinosaurs–slow-moving targets for rising innovators. Innovators who aren’t worried about maintaining a constant waterfall of revenues just to prop up a gargantuan stock price. Innovators who will eventually usurp the Trillion Dollar Club. Not to make their own trillion bucks, but to make our lives better.
That was the way the founders of the current trillionaire club started out. And then they accumulated all those zeros.
When Apple went public in December 1980, the market valued the three-year-old company at $1.7 billion. The largest shareholder, cofounder Steve Jobs, was suddenly worth $217 million. In late 1983, a few weeks before releasing the first Macintosh, Steve Jobs met me for a pizza dinner and invoked the biggest number he could think of while sharing his hopes for the company and the upcoming Mac launch.