Brilliant companies can define an era and capture the spirit of a generation. GM, Apple, AOL, Amazon, Google, Netflix, Facebook--all of these brands elicit a response that is emotional and generational.
Case in point: I remember Blockbuster. Not the sad, dusty, blighted Blockbuster of recent years (quite oddly purchased by Dish Network in April). No, definitely not that one. I remember the hustling, bustling, sparkling Blockbuster where everyone rushed on Friday nights to rent the most recent Jason Bourne video (and later DVD). People came in herds to peruse aisle after aisle of movies.
Yes, it's true: Just a few years ago, you had to walk through a retail store to rent a DVD. And get this--if you didn't return said DVD by 5 p.m. the next day, a hefty penalty was levied. Enter Netflix. Buh-bye, late fee. Exit Blockbuster.
Innovation is what drives brilliance. But equally important is the relationship between a company and its tribe. That's the kind of brilliance that puts the previous generation of brilliance out of business. Netflix nailed it with its hassle-free approach to the old video store model (and the spiking of the late fee), and continues to remain relevant by delivering with pinpoint accuracy exactly what its customers want.
And then there's Apple. Love it or hate it, Apple, too, has come to define an era. The company has torn down barriers and re-imagined mobility, music and communications. Its innovation and mystique has triggered speculation, intrigue, curiosity, irritation, copycatting and constant surprise. Entrepreneurs strive to be Apple-onian because Apple continues to innovate. Brilliant companies are disruptive and take pleasure in tackling impossible challenges. That's Apple in a nutshell.
Here's how to be brilliant: Innovate without fear, adopt a certain amount of experimentation and, most important, execute with a laser-like focus on customers. Also, don't forget the revenue streams. That, my friends, is the most important part.
And so we give you the 100 Brilliant Companies of 2011. These companies are challenging old-school thinking, in many cases creating something out of nothing and reshaping the way we experience everything from fitness to old age. The fact is, you don't have to be Apple or Netflix to be brilliant. (In fact, neither Apple nor Netflix made our list this year.) Brilliance comes in all sizes and shapes--though it is worth noting that none of our 100 Brilliant Companies make cupcakes.
This year's Brilliant 100 share a characteristic that can only be defined as greatness--that special quality that is undeniable, hard to measure and can only be accurately described as "a vibe."
And who knows? Maybe the next Netflix is in the mix. In fact, maybe you are the next Netflix.
Amy C. Cosper,
Editor in chief
Follow me on Twitter, @EntMagazineAmy