How the Tech Giants Make Their Billions
At a glance, it may seem like the world’s biggest technology companies have a lot in common.
For starters, all five of the Big Tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Alphabet) have emerged as some of the most valuable publicly-traded companies in the world, with founders such as Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates sitting atop the global billionaire list.
These tech giants also have a consumer-facing aspect to their business that is front and center. With billions of people using their platforms globally, these companies leverage user data to tighten their grip even more on market share. At the same time, this data is a double-edged sword, as these same companies often find themselves in the crosshairs for mishandling personal information.
Finally, all of these companies have a similar origin story: they were founded or incubated on the fertile digital grounds of the West Coast. The company that has the weakest claim to such origins would be Facebook, but even it has been based in Silicon Valley since June 2004.
Sizing Up the Tech Giants
For all of their commonalities, it seems that there is less of a mold for how these tech giants end up generating cashflow.
But before we get to how Big Tech makes its money, let’s start by looking at the financials at a higher level. The following data comes from the 2018 10-K reports filed last year.
|Company||Revenue (2018)||Net Income (2018)||Margin|
|Combined||$801.5 billion||$139.0 billion||17.3%|
|Apple||$265.6 billion||$59.5 billion||22.4%|
|Amazon||$232.9 billion||$10.1 billion||4.3%|
|Alphabet||$136.8 billion||$30.7 billion||22.4%|
|Microsoft||$110.4 billion||$16.6 billion||15.0%|
|$55.8 billion||$22.1 billion||39.6%|
Together, the Big Five tech giants combined for just over $800 billion of revenue in 2018, which would be among the world’s 20 largest countries in terms of GDP. More precisely, they would just edge out Saudi Arabia ($684 billion GDP) in terms of size.
Meanwhile, they generated a total of $139 billion of net income for their shareholders, good for a 17.3% profit margin.
How Big Tech Makes Money
Let’s dig deeper, and see the differences in how these companies generate their revenue.
You are the Customer
In the broadest sense, three of the tech giants make money in the same way: you pay them money, and they give you a product or service.
Apple (Revenue in 2018: $265.6 billion)
- Apple generates a staggering 62.8% of its revenue from the iPhone
- The iPad and Mac are good for 7.1% and 9.6% of revenues, respectively
- All other products and services – including Apple TV, Apple Watch, Beats products, Apple Pay, AppleCare, etc. – combine to just 20.6% of revenues
Amazon (Revenue in 2018: $232.9 billion)
- Amazon gets the most from its online stores (52.8%) as well as third-party seller services (18.4%)
- Amazon’s fastest-growing segment is offline sales in physical stores
- Offline sales generate $17.2 billion in current revenue, growing 197% year-over-year
- Amazon Web Services (AWS) is well-known for being Amazon’s most profitable segment, and it counts for 11.0% of revenue
- Amazon’s “Other” segment is also rising fast – it mainly includes ad sales
Microsoft (Revenue in 2018: $110.4 billion)
- Microsoft has the most diversified revenue of any of the tech giants
- This is part of the reason it currently has the largest market capitalization ($901 billion) of the Big Five
- Microsoft has eight different segments that generate ~5% or more of revenue
- The biggest three are “Office products and cloud services” (25.7%), “Server products and cloud services” (23.7%), and Windows (17.7%)
The remaining tech giants charge you nothing as a consumer, so how are they worth so much?
You are the Product
Both Alphabet and Facebook also generate billions of dollars of revenue, but they make this money from advertising. Their platforms allow advertisers to target you at scale with incredible precision, which is why they dominate the online ad industry.
Here’s how their revenues break down:
Alphabet (Revenue in 2018: $136.8 billion)
- Despite having a wider umbrella name, ad revenue (via Google, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Ads, etc.) still drives 85% of revenue for the company
- Other Google products and services, like Google Play or the Google Pixel phone, help to generate 14.5% of total revenue
- Other Bets count to 0.4% of revenue – these are Alphabet’s moonshot attempts to find the “next Google” for its shareholders
Facebook (Revenue in 2018: $55.8 billion)
- Facebook generates almost all revenue (98.5%) from ads
- Meanwhile, 1.5% comes from payments and other fees
- Despite Facebook being a free service for users, the company generated more revenue per user than Netflix, which charges for its service
- In 2018 Q4, for example, Facebook made $35 per user. Netflix made $30.
So while the tech giants may have many similarities, how they generate their billions can vary considerably.
Some are marketing products to you, while others are marketing you as the product.
Ranked: The 10 Organizations With the Best (and Worst) Reputations
According to a representational poll of 18,228 Americans, these are the organizations considered to have the best and worst reputations.
There is no shortcut to gaining a bulletproof reputation.
To get there, businesses not only need to think long term, but they also need to do what is considered “right” in every possible situation.
Aspiring companies must be truly customer-centric, going above and beyond in how they treat their customers. They also require a cohesive vision that helps create a loyal and fervent fanbase that will go to bat for them anytime it’s needed.
The Best and Worst Reputations in America
Today’s infographic from TitleMax highlights the 10 organizations that have the best reputations in the country, followed by 10 that fall on the exact opposite end of the spectrum.
In total, the visualization shows five years of data, so you can see how the rankings have changed over this stretch of time.
As you can see, the reputations of organizations are very much in flux.
In fact, you can even see the impact of recent news cycles on the rankings for 2019.
For example, Patagonia shot up the rankings to become the #3 most respected company after donating its entire $10 million tax cut to environmental groups, while the U.S. government and Facebook both make an appearance on the worst list, thanks to recent negative media coverage.
The Best Reputations Over Five Years
If you haven’t heard of Wegmans Food Market, you might want to stop by a location the next time you’re in the Northeast.
With 99 stores and about $9 billion in revenue per year, this family-run supermarket chain believes that in order to be a great place to shop, it must also be a great place to work. This mantra must be effective, since Wegmans consistently ranks as having one of the best reputations in the entire country.
Also ranking high on the list is Amazon, which was founded as an “obsessively” customer-oriented company. The online retailer has taken the #1 spot in the rankings in three of the last five years, despite a generally negative sentiment hanging over tech giants in recent months.
“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”
— Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com
The Worst Reputations Over Five Years
As Warren Buffett quipped, a reputation can be built over decades, but it can also be lost in just five minutes.
Various companies that have experienced recent scandals make the list here (i.e., Facebook, Volkswagen, Equifax). It’s also interesting to see that years after each scandal, rankings seem to normalize as the media and public get preoccupied with newer events.
The ranking is based on a survey by Harris Poll, in which the 100 Most Visible Companies in the country are scored and ranked using a proprietary “Reputation Quotient”. For the 2019 edition, the poll had 18,228 respondents from a nationally representative sample.
The World’s 100 Most Valuable Brands in 2019
Technology brands account for 20 of the world’s 100 most valuable brands in 2019, combining for a whopping 43% of total brand value.
The World’s 100 Most Valuable Brands in 2019
Brand equity can be a challenging thing to build.
Even with access to deep pockets and an innovative product, it can take decades of grit to scrape your way into the mainstream consciousness of consumers.
On the path to becoming established as a globally significant brand, companies must fight through fierce competition, publicity scandals, changing regulations, and rapidly-evolving consumer tastes – all to take a bite from the same piece of pie.
Cream of the Crop
Today’s visualization comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it showcases the 100 most valuable brands in the world, according to Forbes.
Here are the powerful brands that sit at the very top of the list:
|Rank||Brand||Brand Value ($B)||1-Yr Value Change||Industry|
It should be noted that the list is ordered by brand value, a measure that tries to calculate each brand’s ultimate contribution in financial terms to the parent company. You can see that full methodology here.
Finally, it’s also worth mentioning that brands with only a token representation in the United States have been excluded from the rankings. This means companies like Alibaba or Vodafone are not represented in this particular visualization.
Tech Rules Again in 2019
For another straight year, technology dominates the list of the 100 most valuable brands in 2019 – this time, with six of the top seven entries.
Most of these brands saw double-digit growth in value from the previous year, including Apple (12%), Google (27%), Amazon (37%), Microsoft (20%), and Samsung (11%). The one notable exception here is Facebook, which experienced a 6% drop in value attributed to various struggles around the company’s reputation.
Here’s a look at how industries break down more generally on the list:
|Industry||# of Brands||Brand Value ($B)|
As you can see, technology brands make up 20% of the list in terms of the number of entries – and a whopping 43% of the list’s cumulative valuation.
In total, technologies brands combined for $957.6 billion in value. Even when including Facebook’s recent drop, this is an impressive 9.7% increase on last year’s numbers.
Will the double-digit increases for the world’s largest tech giants continue into 2020, or are brands such as Amazon and Google going to start seeing the same type of pushback that Facebook has grappled with among consumers and regulators?
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