Today technology is accelerating the pace of disruption. This change is best seen by contrasting the history of a past disrupter Walmart with a new disrupter Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). Walmart opened its first store in 1962 and, with its everyday low pricing model, strong management and tight cost control, enjoyed real competitive advantages relative to the much larger and better regarded existing competition. Eighteen years later, the company reached $1 billion in sales and today has sales approaching $500 billion, dwarfing its competitors such as Kmart and Sears that have largely been left in the dust. In contrast, Amazon has disrupted entrenched competitors in a matter of years not decades. Remembering Walmart took 18 years to reach sales of $1 billion, we consider it astonishing that Amazon was selling approximately $95 billion worth of merchandise in its 18th year, almost 100 times more than Walmart sold during the comparable period in its history.
With Amazon achieving success at such a rapid pace, investors who were slow to study the company because of its short operating history not only missed out on its potential as an investment but also were slow to identify the threat it posed to so many other retailers. Companies ranging from Borders and Blockbuster to Circuit City and RadioShack have already filed for bankruptcy and many more are sure to follow. While extraordinary, Amazon is hardly a lone example. Companies such as Google, Netflix and Facebook have overpowered many traditional media businesses, Uber and AirBNB are challenging the taxi and hotel industries, and a number of new companies are using biotechnology to challenge traditional pharmaceutical businesses. The bottom line is technological disruption is rapidly changing the investment landscape, creating great opportunities for investors who can adapt and enormous risks for investors who cannot. Continue Reading »