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13 ways these businesses changed our lives forever

18 Aug 2016
Royal Albert Hall

This year’s Annual Convention brings together guest speakers from some of the biggest and most influential businesses on the planet to the Royal Albert Hall. Microsoft, Facebook, Alibaba and Airbnb have all changed, and will continue to change, the way we do business. 

In what will be a fascinating and illuminating series of talks they will all be asked what advice they can give to SMEs and will reveal why British business must embrace disruption and innovation, to lead rather than follow, and ensure our economy can thrive in a changing world…


1. Changed how we communicate with our friends

Founded in 2004 then rolled out to the public in 2006, Facebook soon became the first port of call for staying in touch with friends not just in the UK, but also around the world. Being then as now a free to use website, either posting on someone’s wall, chatting to them on Facebook Messenger, poking them or ‘throwing sheep’ (remember that?), tracking down old mates or staying in touch with friends around the world or around the corner was a piece of cake. Poor MySpace, Friendster and Friends Reunited. However ‘to friend’ is now a verb and ‘de-friending’ is an actual thing.

2. Changed how you can promote your business

It’s almost taken as a given that a company should have a Facebook page. Not only does it allow you stay in contact with customers but also allows you to reach a wider audience through ‘likes’ and, of course, it is very cost effective.

3. Changed the way we consume news

Mark Zuckerberg has stated his aims to create the world’s best ‘personalised newspaper’ especially created for each and every Facebook user and the site is already the biggest news distributor on the planet.

However, it was revealed earlier this year that the ‘trending topics’ news section saw in-house journalists boosting some stories over others rather than purely using algorithms. The revelations caused concerns over how Facebook decides what news we should consume and there were claims of political bias, which were strongly refuted by Facebook. Facebook decided to ditch editorial involvement in stories and news is now delivered solely on what Facebook users are reading, sharing and discussing.  As Wired have pointed out, while Facebook might be a rookie in news judgement, it is a veteran in data mining. Nevertheless, as they conclude: “Ceding news judgement to the crowd rather than other newsrooms is still an editorial choice” and Facebook has effectively created its own news cycle generated by its users.   

4. Changed the way we live our lives online

There are more than 1.7bn of us active on Facebook, updating our accounts with carefully curated photos and status updates, liking movies, TV shows, shops, businesses, venues, sharing news stories, memes, political views, where we are. 

 As a result, Facebook knows EVERYTHING about you and your preferences. It’s what gives it the edge over even Google when it comes to generating advertising revenue and giving you what you might want to read with its algorithms. Google might know what you’re looking at, but Facebook knows who you are.


1. Changed the way we use computers

Just a few decades ago, computers were the preserve of geeks holed up in their bedrooms.  Now, everyone has one – even the phone in your pocket nowadays is effectively a mini computer. Microsoft was the first producer to make PCs really personal and accessible to so many, with the combination of Microsoft software and IBM hardware. 

More people on the planet use Microsoft products still for home computing than any other make.
It’s hard to imagine how seismic the release of Windows 95 was at the time because it completely revolutionised personal computing and showed how easy using a computer in the internet age could be, with it’s Start menus and taskbars. According to the Office for National Statistics, one quarter of households in Britain had a computer in 1995; by 2001 this had doubled.

2.  Was the first real software company

Part of the reason why more people have PCs than Macs is that historically, there’s always been more software for PCs, and arguably, that’s still the case now. By shifting the value in the computing business to the software rather than the hardware, prices tumbled and owning a PC became a possibility for the masses. It also then paved the way for countless software innovators by showing that creating software alone was a viable business opportunity.

3. Invented the smartphone and tablet

Okay, so they’re not the preeminent producers of this hardware now, but Microsoft was the first to come up with the ideas. The company revealed its first prototype tablet at the start of the 2000s and came up with operating systems such as Windows CE, which made mobiles smart, ages before Apple perfected the iPhone (though Microsoft keep a couple of toes in the water with Lumia) Microsoft often lead where others follow and then grab the glory…


1. Changed the accommodation we choose when we travel

Before Airbnb launched in 2008, travelling meant the choice between booking into a hotel or a bed and breakfast. Now, we can book the most luxurious of apartments or houses at the fraction of the price of a comparable hotel – or even just a room in someone’s house. As the company tagline says, “don’t just go there, live there”.

2. Changed business travel

Price points come down when you’re cooking your own food and not paying for Wi-Fi. The greater variety of places to choose from mean you can book accommodation near to that meeting you have the next day – or next to your favourite restaurant for that evening if you don’t fancy whipping up supper yourself.

3. Enabled home owners to effectively launch their own business

Airbnb has allowed homeowners to monetise their extra space on their peer-to-peer marketplace. They choose the price according to demand. Unsurprisingly, Rio is currently the most expensive city on the site at the moment because of the Olympic Games. And while hosts get extra earnings, it has helped build Airbnb’s current valuation of $30billion. 

Alibaba Group

1. Changed the face of e-commerce

In the same way Amazon connects the shopkeeper with shoppers and Uber connects driver and passenger, Alibaba Group operates a vast series of online marketplaces. It effectively started ecommerce in China when it launched in 1999. Whilst Alibaba’s namesake main site acts as a vast B2B platform, the company as a whole saw greater success when it doubled down on its C2C element of its business, Taobao Marketplace, an Ebay-style site, and Tmall, a online marketplace for named brands. However, it doesn’t ship and sell the products itself, instead, it provides a space for vendors to sell their wares.  Alibaba’s sales volume is bigger than Amazon and eBay combined – not just in China, but also globally.   

2. Opened up the Chinese market to the rest of the world

Last October, Alibaba appointed Amee Chande as its MD for the UK and Nordic countries, with the intention of bringing more European businesses into Alibaba’s marketplace. "We are putting in place a strong team of experts in our Italian and U.K. offices that will help European brands, retailers and government partners understand the opportunities in China and work directly with them in local language, in-country, to get their products into the hands of Chinese consumers,” said Michael Evans, president of the Alibaba Group.

3. Ambitions outside of the marketplace

Alibaba has recently teamed up with French insurance giant AXA. Together with Alibaba payment platform Ant Financial, the trio will be looking at create new financial products that it can offer to customers globally.

Find out what advice Microsoft, Facebook, Alibaba and Airbnb has for British SMEs to thrive in changing world at this year’s Annual Convention.

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