As recently as 25 years ago, if you had suggested that by 2018 some of the world's biggest companies would primarily be operating online it's very unlikely that anyone would have believed you. But back in the 1990s no one could have predicted just how huge the internet was going and how many parts of our lives it was going to affect.
One just has to stand back for a moment and think about how complex life was before we had so much information, and such rich connectivity, in our hands as we do today. Everything from booking a holiday to finding where to get the cheapest life or car insurance was a painfully drawn out process of hanging on phones or visiting various agents while they searched for the best deal for us.
Or take calling for a cab. Now, thanks to services like Uber and Lyft, it's a simple process using their respective apps. Within minutes your car will be picking you up ready to whisk you to your destination and your bank account will be automatically debited for the fare. So the online world has pretty much eliminated the need to carry cash too.
Of course, a lot of this has been made possible through the advances in technology. A mobile phone today has many times the computing power of a PC from the early days of the internet. This development, along with the growth of internet connectivity, even in rural communities, has helped to create the ideal conditions for the online explosion. The fact that more and more communities that were previously fairly isolated from access to stores and services are now connected has also helped to open up whole new markets for businesses.
From humble origins
It's hard to believe it but some of the biggest online companies of today had relatively modest beginnings, but the fact that they've grown to be so large and successful today is testament to the power and reach of the internet.
Take Amazon, for example. Established in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, and originally called Cadabra.com, initially the aim was to simply be a bookseller and trade under the slogan "the world's biggest book store". In a phrase this perfectly expressed the advantage that an online business could have over a bricks and mortar one - namely that the amount of stock it could carry would be almost limitless. But the beginnings of Amazon were slow and it wasn't until 2001 that the business first made a profit, albeit a very modest one of $5 million on a turnover of $1billion. However, this did show that the whole new business model proposed by Bezos could succeed.
We hardly need to say that since then Amazon has gone on to be a true goliath of a company with over 300,000 employees worldwide as well as being many people's first port of call when they're looking to purchase virtually anything online. They've achieved this success not only through keen pricing but also by continually looking to expand into new markets and exploiting the global nature of the internet.
Gambling on success
Another huge area for business on the internet is online gambling. Figures suggest that this year global revenues for the activity could reach the incredible sum of $56 billion - a $30 billion increase from 2009. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of big players in the sector but one which has been seeing especially good results recently is 888 Holdings, the business behind some of the highest profile sites online. In their report for 2017 it showed that the company's revenue had increased by 4% to $541.8 million and that they had paid $70.5 million in shareholder dividends, up from $56.6 million the year before.
The company was first established in 1997 in the Caribbean before moving all operations to Gibraltar in 2003 and since then it's been one long success story. Much of this has been down to the fact that it has continued to use the latest in online technology to produce a better gaming experience than many of its rivals. It has also made some shrewd acquisitions along the way. In 2009, they made the purchase of Wink Bingo following the initial success of this venture, they launched a companion site, Wink Slots, this helped to ensure that 888 Holdings caters for a huge range of people with different interests including traditional casino games and sports betting.
The Netflix phenomenon
Another form of leisure lies behind another of the new giants of the internet - Netflix. Again, from fairly modest beginnings, this is an online company that has come a long, long way since its launch in 1998. Originally it was just an online DVD rental service - the age of streaming was yet to come - but it proved to be very popular right from the outset. In 2002 it had gained 700,000 subscribers but by 2005 this figure had increased more than five-fold to 3.6 million.
By 2007, internet speeds had increased to a level where streaming was now possible and this was when the business really began to take off. Initially offering a range of films and TV series, as its income grew it began creating original content and this is what many believe has led to it having an incredible 117 million subscribers worldwide today. The company's estimated annual production budget is now around £6.3 billion making it a major rival to most of the major networks in the US as well as a highly respected producer of original content including series like Orange Is The New Black and The Crown.
So if any of these businesses have shown anything it's that the online environment offers almost limitless potential provided that there is the drive and vision to succeed. No doubt there are already many more fledgling businesses out there which will become the online giants of tomorrow and with public spending bucking predictions and continuing to rise it would seem like the conditions are perfect. And, with a world that is ever more connected, national boundaries are increasingly irrelevant to businesses with true global ambitions - so the sky really could be the limit for them all.