What is the most successful, *non-Tech* company founded in America since 1980?

Automotive magazines should probably stay away from financials. Tesla makes a ton of money on cars; about $2.4B in gross profits in Q1-2021, of which only $0.5B was from regulatory credits. But they spent most of that on growth-related activities (such as their new factories in Berlin, Austin, and Shanghai), so their overall profit is relatively low. Pointing at some small pure-income factor and calling that the only reason why they are profitable is… dumb. And at any rate, money is money. Other automakers have to buy the credits specifically because they have failed to make the investments in EVs that Tesla does make.

Tesla is a good company but it isn’t nearly as big or successful a car company as the other major automakers. What Tesla has is a high market cap, but the market cap is just the product of shares outstanding and current market price. There is a reason (and a good one, imo) that the Fortune 500 list for example is in descending order of gross revenue. Going by 2019 numbers (just to exclude 2020 which was an out of band shitty year), Ford moves about 6.5x the annual value of automobiles as Tesla, GM a little less in 2019.

That isn’t to say Tesla isn’t doing very well in the notoriously difficult to break into auto industry (and the biggest issue is the many years it takes for any automaker to achieve the necessary economies of scale, which Tesla has just about weathered that timeline now), just saying like by the normal metrics of success in business, Tesla is not the most successful post-1980 founded company that isn’t in tech. I’d put Charter or Energy Transfer Partners ahead of it due to their higher revenue and standing on the Fortune lists. Tesla hit 100 on the F500 this year, which is a major achievement for any company and particularly in Tesla’s case due to its relatively new founding date and the fact it is in an industry in which it’s usually difficult to compete with established players.

Right–Tesla is certainly not yet a GM or Toyota in terms of revenue, but if you “grade on a curve”, considering the established competition and the success rate (essentially zero) of previous auto startups, they are doing very well indeed. The OP may or may not consider this a relevant factor, though.

Tesla does only sell cars over the internet. They don’t have, and have never had, local dealers. I think this disqualifies them, if I understand the rules of this thread correctly.

Cars are not the only product they make, though. They also make solar panels/roofs and batteries. I’ve seen predictions that batteries may end up being the largest part of their business.

ETA: I’ve also seen people characterize Tesla as a tech company that happens to make cars instead of laptops or smartphones or whatever. But that’s based more on the company’s social environment than anything else.

Selling transportation to orbit is old-fashioned? My, times have changed.

We bought ours at a “showroom.” It wasn’t a dealership, but they had cars there and we ordered one from the factory from a salesperson.

And the salesperson went to the same webpage you could have gone to to enter your order.

RockAuto was founded in 1999. With the all the ads you see on TV is must be somewhat successful.

The “My Pillow” company? Founded in 2009.

Some restaurants:

Quiznos was founded in 1981 as well as LongHorn Steakhouse.

Buffalo Wild Wings and Olive Garden in 1982.

Hooters in 1983.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries in 1986.

That is valuation, not revenue, and since it is not a publicly traded company anyone can estimate the ‘value’ to be any arbitrary figure. Tesla is at least traded and so its value is actually based on stock price instead of errant speculation but to actually realize that value, e.g. be able to buy itself back from the stockholders would require decades of production even at future projected production. In general, market valuation of most modern companies has little to do with potential future revenues and is more about how much they think some greater fool might be prepared to pay for it.

Essentially all companies today are ‘tech’ companies the sense that they are fundamentally reliant upon technology like the Internet, modern telecommunications, the Global Positioning System, et cetera but the largest areas of absolute growth since the 1980s outside of companies like Apple or Samsung have been in logistics (shipping, warehousing, inventory management, et cetera). As noted, most major logistics companies like FedEx or Walmart (which is really a logistics company with retail outlets) have been around prior to 1980 but their business fundamentally changed in the ‘Eighties and ‘Ninties with increased globalization.


Depends on your standard of “old-fashioned”. It’s a business model that does go back quite a while: The first commercial satellite operator, Comsat, was established in 1962, so it’s arguable that there has been demand for the kind of services SpaceX provides for about six decades now. Depending on your benchmarks, that may be long enough to be considered an “old economy” sort of business.

As an answer, I’m throwing in BlackRock, the asset manager. Founded in 1988 (from scratch, not as a merger of previously existing companies), $22bn in revenue, 8bn in operating income. That’s the financial sector, which I suppose counts as non-tech, even though a major part of the assets BlackRock manages are, of course, in tech stock.

But by that standard, UNIVAC was released in 1951, so computers are even more “old economy”.

The numbers quoted for SpaceX aren’t entirely arbitrary though. It’s not a publicly listed company, this is true, but it does conduct occasional equity funding rounds whereby outside investors provide capital injections in return for shares. These equity rounds are conducted in an auction-type bidding process, so I think the valuations arrived at aren’t so very distinct (in terms of the information that fed into them) from the share price a public stock market would produce.

This is the same process by which Theranos raised a total of US$880M based upon a US$9B valuation of what turned out to be almost complete vaporware technology. Tell me again how much faith we should have on venture capitalists to suss out a realistic valuation?


Tesla’s stock price benefits from the FOMO factor. FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out. People can see that EVs are the future of automobiles, but (unlike dot.com’s in the 90s) there’s only one publicly traded company that’s a pure play in that market and is actually producing them. So that company’s stock is what they buy.

Well, Tesla is not the only pure EV stock out there. Nikola doesn’t produce any vehicles (years away from doing so if they ever do) and was founded on a fraud, but it’s still traded. Even at its current price ($10 and something), it’s probably still overpriced. Rivian hasn’t quite gone public yet, but when it does, it’s going to benefit from the same FOMO factor that Tesla does.

a.k.a. the lost Tears for Fears track, “Everybody Wants To Be A Fool”.

Investing in ‘green energy’ is a generally smart strategy. Investing in the same company everybody else is investing in despite the fact that it is a boutique auto manufacturer currently valued at more than the next six car manufacturers combined (all but one of which produce almost as many vehicles per month as Tesla managed in all of 2020) is blithe herd following. Smart investors would ignore the OEMs and invest in the actual technologies and/or commodities that support all of the vehicle manufacturers transitioning to electric vehicles.


ETA: Deleted.

About as much faith as on market participants.

(And I’m not saying that to play down market efficiency; I’m just saying that we can assume that venture capitalists are about as sophisticated and as correct in finding a reasonable valuation as the more sophisticated participants in public markets: Both are about right most of the time, but sometimes they do get things seriously wrong. Both of them.)

Yeah, I don’t place a lot of stock in what “the market” thinks a company is work just because it is super easy to jerk around with costs and perceptions in the short term to pump up valuation and then dump the stock at everyone else’s loss. But having gone through a couple rounds of the venture capital grinder, I feel pretty confident in saying that most of these people have no idea what they are really looking at and they are basically playing the lottery looking for the next billion dollar baby instead of steady investment in viable technology.

People seem to think that Theranos was some special kind of scam but frankly it is one turd floating in a sewage lagoon of shit. There is an entire cottage industry of entrepreneurs selling investors on life extension, mind-machine interfaces, gene therapy ‘cures’, space tourism, et cetera, most of which is almost complete and obviously pseudoscience unless they have actual experts working in the field and a plan for technology development to a suitable level of maturity, and yet, investors see the next dot.com wave and forget how the last one was a big bubble inflated by the same vacuous promises.