Evan Spiegel—This 23-year-old co-founder of Snapchat made big news this year by reportedly turning down a $3 billion purchase by Facebook. Over the course of 2013, the company received funding from a variety of sources, ending the year with a $50 million investment at an almost $2 billion valuation. The company’s popularity with younger users makes it appealing to advertisers and marketers, as well as entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, who is struggling to capture the younger demographic. Perhaps Spiegel’s business savvy comes from his background. The entrepreneur, who is the son of two wealthy lawyers, left Stanford University with only three classes remaining until he had his degree. Spiegel is proof that real success comes from taking big risks.
Jeff Bezos—While Amazon still struggles to make a profit on its retail end, the company made big waves in 2013 because of the success of Amazon Web Services (AWS). As computing switches from devices and local servers to the cloud, AWS is emerging as a true leader in the space, impressing investors and accelerating cloud adaptation across the globe. Bezos is credited with the growth of e-commerce by taking the site from being primarily a bookseller to its status today as the top retailer on the web.
Larry Page—When he co-founded Google in 1998, Page could have no idea how the company would change the face of computing. Prior to Page’s co-creation of an algorithm that analyzed the way webpages connect to each other, users primarily accessed the internet through portals like Yahoo!. Page has taken Google far beyond being a search engine service, with the company now serving as one of the top Software as a Service (SaaS) vendors with its Gmail and Google Drive products.
Howard Schultz—Starbucks successfully weathered the economic crisis due to some tough decisions made by CEO Howard Schultz, including closing stores and delaying growth. Now that the economy is improving, Schultz has shifted his focus to packaged goods, covering grocery stores and other retail locations with bottled and boxed Starbucks products. The companytold Fortune that it hopes to become as much a staple of grocery stores as Coca-Cola.
Mark Zuckerberg—At 29 years of age, the Facebook co-founder has amply proven that his social media site is no MySpace. While Facebook still struggles with the younger demographic, their parents and grandparents are using the site even when they aren’t online for any other purpose. He regularly ranks as one of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world and his foresight in acquiring Instagram may help it reach those younger users. The company aggressively stepped up its advertising in 2013, leading it to beat earnings expectations in its last earnings report of the year. News that it is testing video ads may have many consumers groaning, but chances are, they’ll continue to use the site even if unexpected video launches make it a more annoying experience.
Bre Pettis—3-D printing is poised to change the way items are made and purchased, but until recently, the equipment was beyond the reach of the average consumer. Brooklyn-based MakerBot Industries specializes in making 3-D printing available to everyone through do-it-yourself kits that allow consumers to make their own printers. Recently, Pettis announced the company will be offering 3-D printing services at its retail stores located in New York, Boston, and Greenwich, Connecticut.
Jack Dorsey—One sign a company has a great idea is that major companies step up to come out with competing solutions. When Dorsey released Square, he not only allowed the average small business owner to accept credit card payments on a mobile device, he set off a shift in the industry. Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter, not only owns 32 percent of Square, but he also serves as the company’s CEO. Heading into 2014, the company may face fierce competition from Amazon, which reportedly recently bought its competitor, GoPago.
Travis Kalanick—Kalanick is known as a “serial entrepreneur” due to his many endeavors since the late 90s. The experience has served him well as CEO of Uber, a company that connects consumers with taxi services via a tap on a mobile device screen. Kalanick has been forced to weather some major challenges in 2013 as competitors covered the company in “cease and desist” letters and regulators passed regulations that would make it difficult for the company to continue to operate. If Uber can survive these challenges, it will still be required to make up for recent charges of price gouging during snowstorms.
Godfrey Sullivan—As corporate America continues to receive mandates to make Big Data a part of its business strategy, Splunk is making it accessible to everyone. At the helm of it all is Sullivan, who has helped the company see massive growth in his five years as CEO. The company successfully filed an IPO in 2012 and acquired analytics solution Bugsense in September 2013.
Tim Ferriss—An entrepreneur, angel investor, and public speaker, Ferriss seems to be everywhere these days. His book The 4-Hour Workweek has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for six years and has since been joined by The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Chef. The author-turned self-help guru has now landed his own TV show, The Tim Ferriss Experiment, which began airing on HLN in November.
Whether they’re weathering controversy or acquiring new businesses, these entrepreneurs are changing the way we live, work, and play. They take big risks, successfully predict future trends, and drive their companies to the top of their industries.