DENVER, CO (Sept. 13, 1999) -- Let me start this column by talking about something I hate. I hate driving. It's not the rides in the country that bother me, it's the mind-numbing waits in traffic to get to downtown Atlanta in rush-hour. It's the risk of accidents as I drive the Interstate. It's watching the smog build up over the city, the endless road construction, and seeing a good part of my life swallowed up sitting in a car. I hate what the car is doing to our lives with the added stress, the highway runoff killing streams, and the ever expanding "burbs."
How can this be solved? I suppose there are a lot of solutions people smarter than me are throwing around (higher density development, mass transit, carpooling, and so on). However, how does this apply to me? None of it does -- except, surprisingly, there are some things I can do for myself. Hmmm. Sometimes the market provides solutions to demand. Okay, first off, I no longer commute, I work over the Internet for the Fool. While this isn't an option for many people -- yet -- I suspect that will change. Think about how many jobs can be done without the person physically in the office.
Okay, you can't telecommute, you have a job that just isn't applicable to staying at home and talking over the Internet. Or, maybe the technology isn't mature enough to help you. Are you looking forward to Christmas shopping? Or, does having your skin pierced with burning embers sound like a better alternative? Fortunately, you have a better choice. Companies like Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), eToys (Nasdaq: ETOY), and yes, Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) allow you to do your shopping online for almost anything.
So, instead of all the fancy ideas being proposed by our elected leaders, could we be coming up with our own solution to the mess caused by the automobile? Could e-commerce be beating commuter bus systems and HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes as a way to get us to park our cars? I personally think so. Going along this line, I think that companies that are freeing us from our physical environment, including the need to waste hours in our cars, and computers will continue to see phenomenal growth in the future.
It is the companies building the Internet, adding to our telecommunications ability, and the ones selling over the 'Net that are bringing this about. Because of the technology created by these companies, I don't have to be in my house waiting for phone calls, it makes little difference if I work in Atlanta or Denver, and I can do my Christmas shopping in my pajamas. Oh, and while doing that, I can talk to my buddy Will in Australia and see how warm it is down there.
The difficulty is that many of the companies that are changing our lives are relatively new, and don't have Drips (like Amazon). However, some do, and maybe we should look at them. I came up with a list to start from, and from there we can work our way to form a portfolio of life-changing companies. Some of these companies may not be good investments, some obviously are. We'll go through this list over time and look at all the companies. Here's my first crack at it:
Company Business Intel Processors, Motherboards, Hubs, Networking Products Compaq Personal Computers, Servers IBM Personal Computers, Servers, Mainframes Hewlett Packard Personal Computers, Printers, Fax Machines Lucent Telecommunications Equipment Nokia Cellular Phones Wal-Mart Internet SalesOver the next few weeks, I want to look at these companies, and others too -- please feel free to send me an e-mail or post on the Drip board. Originally, I planned on using Rule Maker criteria to screen adequate investments, but that may not work with the companies we are looking at. These aren't really Rule Makers like Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), and they aren't Rule Breakers like Amazon. What can we call them?
A couple years ago I read about John C. Fremont, who helped open up the way out West. He was not an explorer because he went over land already discovered. Instead, he laid out the routes for others to follow -- he was a "Pathfinder." Let's group these companies by that name, since they are developing a route for us to follow into a new age.
It will take some work to develop the portfolio, and I'm open to all of your ideas. Like Jeff, I'm going to invest my own money in the final list. Let's see where we go from here as we follow this path into the new age.