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What Do Dropbox, Green Mountain and 3-D Printing Have in Common?

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Cloud file-sharing service Dropbox recently raised at least $350 million in a financing round that valued the company at a whopping $10 Billion.

In late February, Coke invested $1.25 billion dollars in Green Mountain Coffee (maker of Keurig coffee machines) for a 10 percent stake in the company. Green Mountain Coffee's stock price soared 25 percent the same day.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in early January, 3-D printing technology was white hot and is projected to be a multi-billion industry over the next couple years.

Related: 10 Thoughts on Tech, Trends and Innovation at CES 2014

What are these companies doing right? They are all successfully jumping on the self-service consumer movement. Each is feeding off an ongoing trend to empower individuals to create their own unique solutions to everyday needs, wants and problems. Whether at work or home, no longer do we have to wait for companies to design the products we want -- we increasingly have the ability to create our own, when we want them, where we want them and how we want them.

For instance, Green Mountain Coffee's Keurig single-brewer coffee maker paved the way for the new market focused on "at-home coffee." For many years, consumers had to live with the inflexible, waste-prone process of brewing a whole pot of coffee just to make a single cup. Keurig completely changed this experience. Now a single family can literally stock dozens of ready-to-brew individual cups and make a single serving of premium coffee however they want it whenever they want it. Not only can they choose the blend, but they can also pick the temperature, strength and size of their cup.

Dropbox is in a completely different market but the approach is fundamentally the same. For many years, individuals and workers have had to contend with complex, inflexible and cumbersome applications at work for even basic functions like organizing and sharing files. Dropbox decided to build a solution that makes it easy for the everyday worker to access and share files anytime, anywhere and from any device. As a result, the company has signed up more than one hundred million users onto its service.

Related: The Cloud Wars Rage On: Dropbox Raises Mega Money as Box Has Reportedly Filed for IPO

But file sharing is just a foot in the door to a host of broader enterprise applications. Dropbox's $10 billion valuation brings awareness of the overwhelming trend of workers figuring out for themselves how to get work done in the enterprise. They are bringing new tools and approaches to the workplace that work for them. There is an enormous opportunity for self-service software vendors like Dropbox to disrupt the massively lucrative but extremely worker-unfriendly traditional enterprise-software market.

Going farther into the future we can see the promise of technologies, such as 3-D printers, which allows consumers to build the exact products they want whenever and wherever they need them.

Related: 3-D Printers Take a Step Toward the Mainstream

These above examples, along with many other companies, highlight a new age we are entering. For many years, we've heard "consumer is king:" In the late 90s and early 2000s one-to-one marketing became an important concept. The idea was to tailor product offerings to individual needs. We now realize this wasn't enough. Companies just can't innovate their products to keep up with varying consumer needs.

Enter the new golden age for the customer. Now anyone can design and build products for themselves. They create their own drinks. They bring their own solutions to work. They even manufacture their own products. This is the age of the self-service consumer. It's a revolution that's happening everywhere from enterprise technology to consumer products and manufacturing. It's disrupting entire industries.

The lesson? To be relevant, companies must cater to the individual and empower her to make her own decisions. They must be flexible and not impose other people's needs. They must be simple and easy to use. They must give her a voice. That's where future value lies.

Related: 5 Strategies for Generating Consumer Demand

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