The SAGA companies: Starbucks, Apple, Google and Amazon

“Ask yourself this question: Aside from the company where you or members of your family work, how many companies do you actually care about? We think that for a lot of us, there are only four: Starbucks, Apple, Google and Amazon — call them the SAGA companies. Of course, reducing what’s exciting about American business to SAGA is an exaggeration, but stay with us for a bit while we make a case that these four corporations represent a distinctive and distinctively American contribution to 21st-century capitalism,” James Ledbetter and Jacob Weisberg write for The Washington Post.

“The SAGA companies do very different things and are of hugely different sizes: Google’s market capitalization is about $158 billion; Starbucks is down to about $12 billion. Yet they share some remarkable traits. At the most basic level, each has transformed not only a specific commercial marketplace but also some important aspect of contemporary life — computing and music for Apple, information and advertising for Google, coffee for Starbucks, books for Amazon. In doing so, each has had an appreciable impact on our daily routines, taken on a looming presence in popular culture, and often engendered an intensity of feeling more often associated with tastes in entertainment or political views. Together, they have created a new model of business innovation, culture and values,” Ledbetter and Weisberg write.

The SAGA companies’ common traits:
• They have a ubiquitous presence
• They reflect the comparative advantage of today’s America…
• …yet they are genuinely global
• They are restless innovators: For the most part, SAGA companies don’t invent; they perfect… What SAGA companies have taught the world is that there is strong business sense in focusing maniacally on what customers want and then finding the most effective ways to deliver it.
• They follow their founders
• They engage consumers on an almost spiritual level

Much more in the full article – highly recommended – here.

30 Comments

  1. Starbucks has oversaturatred the marketplace, and recently announced that 600 stores will be shutting down. I predicted this to my wife a few years ago.

    Starbucks also think they can teach Europeans what capuccino is all about, when that’s where they learned of capuccino in the first place. I first had capuccino in Europe long before I ever heard of Starbucks. And it didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

    Starbucks isn’t bad coffe, but it’s JUST coffee. I normally stay away from them because I refuse to pay $4.00 for a cup of joe, and it’s for people who have personal shrinks and blog about it.

    I’d remove Starbucks from the list.

  2. @ quad core

    Who cares about Google? If it disappeared tomorrow, I for one would lose my preferred email account, SketchUp, Google Earth, Google Maps, Google News, YouTube, and Google Scholar. All of which I use very, very regularly. Oh yes, and Google search. I bet there are lots of folks out there like me.

    Now, Starbucks? I don’t drink much coffee, so I might not miss them so much.

  3. Forget about Amazon and add eBAY. —Richard A Tell

    eBay? You’re joking, right? eBay was a great idea in the beginning, but has long since become so infested with predatory sellers that today’s eBay is actually a very risky place to shop.

  4. Amazon is Wal-Mart from your home computer. —Orange Juice

    Hardly! Wal-Mart is as well-known for their limited selection as for their low prices. Amazon carries everything. They also pay the return postage when you send something back.

  5. @Quad Core

    If all you use Google is to search the internet, then you’d be correct. But I use Google, not just everyday, but almost every hour… Google Docs, gmail, Google maps, and most importantly, Google calendar.

    Personally, the companies I care about would include, besides Apple, Coca-cola, Nike, and probably Gary Fisher… their products I use everyday (or would like to, in the case of GF).

  6. I like all four. Each one has changed our culture.

    To those who downplay Starbucks, I say that Starbucks is about much more than coffee. Starbucks is a place to be, to meet friends, to relax with a good book, to work on your MacBook, to take a break from the fast paced world.

    Starbucks is the rising sea that’s brought all boats, the other coffee house chains and little independents, up with it. It’s changed how we perceive coffee and given us an alternative to bars.

    Like the other three, Starbucks has been a huge game changer.

  7. I agree with JohnLee. Starbucks might not have the best coffee, but before they existed typical coffee you could buy in America was simply awful. Truck-stop coffee. Starbucks had a lot to do with creating the coffee culture that started in the Pacific Northwest (much like the microbrewing industry did there, too) from which many smaller, independent entrepreneurs were able to carve out their own niche. Rather than hurting independent espresso cafes, Starbucks helped build the market by giving people everywhere an awareness of better coffee, and many of these consumers then went on to support smaller businesses which never would have had a market before Starbucks. Yes, they are the McDonalds of espresso, but it sure beats crappy hamburgers. They definitely changed our culture for the better. In some ways, the small business called Whole Foods Market that started with a single store in Austin Tx that flooded out and barely survived it’s first 5 years also became a culture changer by bringing the idea of organic quality products to the mainstream. Sure, they’re expensive, but you see the influence as the organic producers expanded their markets and are now in most major grocery stores across the country. Starbucks, Whole Foods, Apple, and Google are the 4 in my opinion.

  8. I’ve purchased my last three Macs from Amazon. Free shipping, no tax, rebates, etc., put their price way below everywhere else I checked. Their mp3 download store is pretty nice, too, although I use iTMS more frequently (yes, I still pay for music.) Books, CDs, DVDs, external hard-drives – cheap, fast and easy. What’s not to like?

    Starbucks? Bleah.

    Apple and Google? Can’t live without ’em.

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