America is known for being a land of creativity and innovation, whether from technology giants or oddball businesses that manage to tap into the national psyche. There's plenty to criticize America for right now, but you can't say it's not a land of people willing to think outside the box.
The following is a list of companies who broke outside the norm; doing business a little differently and watching it pay off. These range from world-recognized brands that blazed trails in their industries and the business world, to smaller companies that found an untapped niche and made their mark in it.
Google is arguably one of the most widely used and recognized brands on the planet. From innovative marketing strategies to being an insanely popular search engine, Google has essentially embedded itself into pop and business cultures. The behemoth company has also been noteworthy for its working environment, pioneering a model that allows employees to have flexible workdays, and create an environment that fosters responsibility and creativity. This forward-thinking work environment attracts some of the world's brightest and most creative minds, which helps explain Google's incredible success.
Love it or hate it, Apple will go down in history as one of the most dazzling and innovative companies in history (Forbes notes that Boston Consulting Group has named it the most innovative company in the world every year since 2005). Steve Jobs' volatile temperament is now the stuff of legend but so is his pursuit of perfection that pushed the company to bring beautiful, elegantly-designed and intuitive products to the market. Jobs and his team created what they believed to be the ultimate in user experience when it comes to using desktops, laptops, mp3 players and smartphones. His legend lives on at a company that, though sometimes derided by some for making it so difficult to alter the products, their obsessive privacy regulations and sometimes astronomical prices, built its foundation on putting out quality products while pushing the envelope, and giving people tools they didn't even realize they wanted.
The company that revolutionized the publishing industry with its Kindle e-reader line and low-cost, easy-to-purchase options for books – not to mention the Kindle ebook publishing platform – continues to push its own limits and look for new ways to innovate. Forbes named Amazon the fifth most innovative company in America, and seventh in the world, for 2013. That accolade was largely due to founder Jeff Bezos' insistence that those who come on board at Amazon be forward-thinking types willing to try, and invent, new things.
Valve is the company behind Steam, a system that provided an elegant, smart solution to the problem of updating video games and maintaining information across gaming platforms. It is a digital rights management, digital distribution and online gaming platform that allows consumers to purchase a variety of games and media and use it across devices. Valve revolutionized the gaming industry through Steam, and simplified the process of purchasing and playing games for consumers. Valve is also the company behind popular video games such as Half-Life and Left 4 Dead.
Lauded by Forbes, it's clear why this company has been commended for its innovative science. It produces robots that can be used for surgical assistance, allowing doctors to see a live feed from inside the patient's body when performing a procedure with small incisions. Intuitive Surgical makes the cut thanks to its creative approach to a practical problem, improving health care procedures at hospitals around the globe.
Uber provides American and international cities with a much-needed alternative to regular taxi transportation. Users download the Uber app, put in their credit or debit card information (which is stored for all future Uber rides), and can begin requesting taxis immediately by searching for drivers near their locations. Users can instantly see a driver's rating and track his progress as he travels to pick them up. Tip is factored into the overall cost of the trip, so you don't need to worry about having cash or parsing how much to give the driver before getting out of the taxi. The company also offers different car styles, Uber X being the cheapest (but still comfortable) option, with a range that includes SUVs and luxury vehicles. The simplicity and ease of the Uber process is brilliant, and takes the hassle and discomfort out of the taxi process.
A pick on Business News Daily's 9 Strange Businesses You Didn't Know Existed, this one seems like it'd be geared toward desperate housewives or 30-somethings afraid of becoming crazy cat ladies but hey, everyone needs a guilty pleasure. The company allows people to create personalized romance novels, delivered as hardcover, paperbacks or ebooks. There are pre-set categories, including vampire novels and beach settings, and all you have to do is insert a special couple's name and fill out a questionnaire about your main characters and presto! – they have their own steamy romance novel. It's a fun, quirky item that would make a great gag gift, and the company has garnered attention from major media outlets such as People Magazine, The View, and USA Today. Besides, who hasn't secretly fantasized about being the lead in their own novel?
Virtual Dating Assistants
Impersonal? Sounds like it. Efficient? Probably so. Virtual Dating Assistants, another pick on Business News Daily's list, caters to the person who can't be bothered to wade through the online dating world in search of a soulmate. Geared toward men, the company alleviates the anxiety of narrowing down date candidates or crafting clever messages to desired women by handling the search and scheduling process for its clients. You sign up for the service, they set dates for you. Those who still believe in finding love the old-fashioned way will likely balk at the idea, but efficiency-driven – or, let's be honest, socially awkward – dudes may find this an answer to their prayers.
Wisely tapping into the burgeoning beard scene that seems to have taken root in America (thanks, hipsters, for that), Bearded Bastard sells quality products for taming and styling men's facial hair. The company, which was named one of the 50 Coolest New Businesses in America by Business Insider, currently sells mustache wax and beard oil for high-class grooming. Future products are said to include masculine oils and tonics. Not only is the bearded market a great one to tap into, the company is able to market grooming and beauty supplies to men in a way that doesn't come across as flowery or feminine.
From a marketing perspective, you couldn't really ask for a better topic to sell than pizza. Just the word sets Americans to salivating, seeking out where they can get a fix of cheesy, saucy goodness. Pizza Brain does serve up some good pies, but it's also the country's first-ever pizza museum and has a Guinness World Records-certified exhibit of the largest collection of pizza memorabilia in the world. It's a simple concept that is guaranteed to draw interest and taste buds, educating people about this nationally beloved dish and selling plenty of pizzas at the same time. A trip here would make for a fun date or day out with the kids. The Philadelphia-based business was also named on Business Insider's Coolest Businesses list.