For centuries, huge multinational corporations have dominated the world of business. From the British East India Company to Sony, these industry giants span the globe, with manufacturing centers, production lines, and executive headquarters spread across continents. In most cases, it's taken years for these megacorporations to globalize. But now, due to technologies that have leveled the playing field, there's a new trend on the horizon: small businesses that are international from the get-go. With little more than a good Internet connection and a solid business model, these "micromultinationals" -- as Google's Chief Economist, Hal Varian, writes in Foreign Policy's Future Issue -- are proving that size doesn't always matter. These five start-ups aren't merely market flukes, but rather, the future of business.
In 2003, Swedish entrepreneur Niklas Zennstrom and his Danish counterpart, Janus Friis, who had recently sold the file-sharing website Kazaa, founded Skype. Within the first six weeks of its initial release, 1.5 million users had downloaded the software, which allows video and voice calls, instant messages and file transfers to be made over the Internet. Zennestrom claimed that charging for calls was so "last century" -- Skype allowed people to place calls from one edge of the globe to the other for almost nothing.
Skype grew quickly, and now employs around 500 people in Estonia, Sweden, the United States, Japan, and China, among other places. Skype's founders sold the company to eBay in 2005 for $2.6 billion, and in 2009, the technology investment group Silver Lake bought 40 percent of Skype's stake. Just 18 months later, in May 2011, Microsoft took the company under its wing for $8.5 billion. Skype today boasts around 700 million users, but the company is hoping its new partnership with Facebook will bring in enough new users to hit the one billion mark.
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