Stories about billion-dollar corporate deals are in the headlines daily. Carl
Sagan used to regale us with the mysteries of the "billions and billions" of
stars in the universe. The population of China is more than 1.32 billion, or
about one-fifth of the world's population.
A billion is a big number, no matter what you're talking about. Most of us can't
begin to comprehend just how much a billion is, but a friend sent me some
statistics to put it into perspective.
• A billion seconds ago it was 1975 (1,000,000,000 seconds is about 31.7 years).
• A billion minutes ago it was about 100 A.D. (1,000,000,000 minutes is about
• A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age (1,000,000,000
hours is about 114,155 years).
• A billion days ago nobody walked on the Earth - at least on two feet
(1,000,000,000 days is about 2,739,726 years).
Why is it important to think in terms of billions and trillions, when most of us
would be happy to see a million dollars? It's the world we live in, and in all
likelihood, those colossal numbers will only get bigger. Not only do large
companies employ huge numbers of workers, but they also determine how we live,
and in many cases, tell us what we need. But they still have to respond to
customers' demands in order to stay profitable.
Telecommunications companies, computer giants, airlines, big-box stores,
automakers, insurance companies and even Tiger Woods and Martha Stewart are
billion-dollar industries. How much is $1 billion worth of cheesecake? Ask the
Cheesecake Factory, which topped a billion in sales a year or so ago. No, there
are not a billion Starbucks locations, but they make money like there are. And
three different dollar-store chains are in the top 100 retailers, all with sales
in the billion-dollar range.
But my personal favorite of the mega-success stories has to be YouTube, founded
in February 2005 as a medium to allow people to upload and share video clips
(some serious, some downright outrageous). In October 2006, Google acquired
YouTube for a whopping $1.65 billion in stock. Just for the record, YouTube
delivers 100 million video views every day (that's 1 billion every 10 days),
with 65,000 new videos uploaded daily.
In fact, about 5 percent of U.S. companies (about 450) that went public since
1980 have reached $1 billion in sales. How did they do it? According to Fortune
Small Business, they followed one of three paths:
• Created an entirely new market for their products and services (like
• Redefined an existing market (Starbucks).
• Underpriced the competition (Staples and Home Depot).
So what about the 95 percent of businesses that don't hit the big time? Are they
Don't automatically assume bigger is better. If small business is the backbone
of America, big business is the muscle. We need both. Not every business is cut
out for enormous growth, and not every manager or employee thrives in the World
of a Lot of Zeroes.
What is most important, in my view, is that every business, regardless of size,
treats each customer as though they are one in a billion. Treats them like their
only customer . . . and their most important customer. Addresses their needs and
listens to their concerns. Maintains high standards of quality and service.
Looks at the customer as a single person and not just another demographic.
Then, and only then, will success follow. Customers, after all, will be a major
determining factor in the growth of any company. If a company wants to reach the
$1 billion sales mark, it had better spend a lot of time finding ways to keep