When I was a kid, Nintendo was the king of video game consoles, no one, not even Sega, could touch 'em. If you would've told me that within a decade Nintendo would be the third ranked console game maker and Sega wouldn't even be in the fight I would've called you a flat out liar, right there to your face.
It was inconceivable that Nintendo could fall so far, so fast. And now, while my daughter and I sometimes enjoy a mean game of Mario Kart Wii, chances are high my children will grow up never asking for Nintendo anything for Christmas or birthdays, something that a kid from my generation couldn't even imagine1.
I bring up this example because there seems to be a pervasive thought among people I know that it's too late to start something, every idea has already been done to death, every thought written down. So let's see if that really is the case, shall we?
No Way I could build a billion dollar company
You might be interested to know that the Fortune 500 turns over about 30 companies annually. Here's the top 10 on the list over three different periods.
While there are some companies with staying power, there are also new additions. In fact, this is entirely normal:
Because no company, no matter how successful, lasts forever, and because only a fraction of companies survive more than a few decades, turnover of varying degrees is entirely natural.
Because this ebb and flow of new companies onto, and off, the list is a natural occurrence, it means there is always time to start a new company.
It's impossible to make a living as an Author
This one is near and dear to my heart, not just because it's an inside joke in my family, but because my brother-in-law actually just published his first novel. Let's take a look at the best selling authors over three different periods2.
|1||The Chamber by John Grisham||The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown||Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James|
|2||Debt of Honor by Tom Clancy||The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom||The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins|
|3||The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield||The Last Juror by John Grisham||Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James|
|4||The Gift by Danielle Steel||Glorious Appearing by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye||Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James|
|5||Insomnia by Stephen King||Angels & Demons by Dan Brown||Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins|
|6||Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner||State of Fear by Michael Crichton||Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins|
|7||Wings by Danielle Steel||London Bridges by James Patterson||Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney|
|8||Accident by Danielle Steel||Trace by Patricia Cornwell||Fifty Shades Trilogy Box Set by E.L. James|
|9||Disclosure by Michael Crichton||The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason||The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan|
|10||Remember Me by Mary Higgins Clark||The Da Vinci Code: Special Illustrated Collector's Edition by Dan Brown||Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn|
I could never build a best selling iOS app
|Rank||2009 paid||2009 free||2012 paid||2012 free|
|1||Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D||Angry Birds||Clash of Clans|
|2||Koi Pond||Google Earth||Doodle Jump||Skype|
|3||Enigmo||Pandora Radio||Fruit Ninja||eBay|
|4||Bejeweled 2 + Blitz||Tap Tap Revenge Classic||Angry Birds Seasons||Google Earth|
|5||iBeer||Shazam||Cut the Rope||Google Search|
|6||Moto Chaser||PAC-MAN Lite||TuneIn Radio Pro|
|8||Flick Fishing||Touch Hockey||Angry Birds Rio||Bump|
|9||Tetris||Labyrinth Lite Edition||FatBooth||BBC News|
|10||Texas Hold'em||Flashlight||Flight Control||Shazam|
Angry birds pretty much dominated 2012, but if you go check the overall top app lists right now (don't worry, I'll wait) you'll see Angry Birds is no where to be found in the top 10 anymore.
So what's your point?
Take any other industry or segment and you will likely find similar churn5. This isn't to say your idea will rise to the top, or that it will be easy. On the contrary, it will take a tremendous amount of work, lot's of concentrated effort, and a little bit of luck (the actual luck and the self made kind). This was just to show you that nothing is set in stone, and things do change, in fact, they seem to be changing faster than ever. And as my wife so succinctly put it, "there's always room for the next big thing."
Some other things I've found since this was written.
The 25 largest companies by market cap every 15 years from 1927-2017. The ones in yellow are those that were top 25 in 1927, or their offspring. Changing the guard is slow, then sudden.
In 1990, eight of the ten largest companies in the world were from Japan. Today, eight of the ten largest are from the United States.
here is a look at the number of Top 10 names that have historically drifted from the largest 10 over the next decade. The average in the U.S. has been around 6-7 on average.
Patrick McKenzie in 2019:
Question I get fairly frequently: is it still possible to make money in startups or as a creator on the Internet, or has the opportunity passed or been sewed up by AppAmaGooBookSoft or similar?
The answer to this: unambiguously, yes, opportunities are changing but better.
You should prefer being a founder in 2019 to being in the same position in 2009 or 1999. The larger market, much better ecosystem, existence of mobile, better OSS, etc swamp the impact of year to year availability of capital or increased competition or what have you.
Now given that you may not have a time machine available and aren’t choosing between those periods but are actually choosing “start now” or “start later” I think it’s a nuanced conversation but in general I’d be in the “bias towards earlier” camp.
The nuance is mostly about your relative rate of skill/network/etc growth and leverage available at whatever the thing you’re doing right now versus the likely higher-but-different skill growth and very variable leverage available from running something.
I asked for a Nintendo every year for years, then a Super Nintendo. ↩
And seriously, was I the only one that had no idea 50 Shades of Grey had more than one book? ↩
This was the hardest data to find, and the problem with it is I think things like Facebook drop off the list because everyone downloads them once and has them on their phone forever more. ↩
I also compiled a list of best selling albums, but I'm sick of making tables. ↩