Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) was one of the greatest growth stories of the new millennium. The company went public at $15 per share in 2002, but dropped to $4.85 later that year. A $1,000 investment at the bottom would be worth nearly $850,000 today.
Therefore, investors are always looking for the "next Netflix". Today, three of our Foolish investors will highlight three stocks that resemble the video streaming giant back in 2002 -- Square (NYSE:SQ), Appian (NASDAQ:APPN), and Shopify (NYSE:SHOP).
Simplifying point-of-sale systems
Leo Sun (Square): Netflix's success comes from its ability to disrupt old habits. It displaced video stores with rent-by-mail DVDs and replaced optical discs with streaming media. In a similarly disruptive manner, Square is changing how vendors accept payments.
Square was founded nine years ago, and its first product was the Square Reader, a credit card dongle for processing credit card transactions on smartphones. In 2013, it launched the Square Stand, which converted iPads into complete point-of-sale systems. Last year, it launched a stand-alone point-of-sale system called the Square Register for small to medium-sized businesses.
Those moves disrupted the market for traditional point-of-sale systems, which cost significantly more than Square's solutions. Square's system also sent information about orders and customers to the cloud -- which helped vendors analyze their business trends.
Square's expanding ecosystem includes Square Cash, a peer-to-peer payments platform similar to PayPal, the restaurant delivery service Caviar, and Square Capital, which offers financing to Square merchants. It's also expanding into the payroll, customer relationship, and inventory management markets with add-on services.
Square's adjusted revenue rose 43% to $984 million last year, as its GPV (gross payment volume) jumped 32% to $65.3 billion. Its adjusted EBITDA surged 209% to $139 million. For 2018, Square expects its adjusted revenue to grow 32%-35%, and for its adjusted EBITDA to surge 73%-80%. Those stunning numbers indicate that the stock -- which more than tripled over the past 12 months -- could still have room to run.
Disrupting the software development space
Dan Caplinger (Appian): Netflix became one of the best-performing stocks of the past 16 years by giving its customers everything they needed even as its service changed dramatically. Appian doesn't work in the consumer entertainment business, but it has a similar goal: to disrupt the way in which its clients have previously had to come up with tech solutions to their problems. Appian provides tools that make it easier for its enterprise clients to develop customized software solutions that will fit well with their specific needs.
Currently, most enterprises have to either maintain expensive in-house programming teams to come up with custom software solutions or put up with generic software packages that don't really meet their specific needs. Appian offers a middle ground, with its application building environment allowing even those with limited development experience to create customized applications by using simple menus and an interface that's user-friendly. Appian's platform is a lot faster to use than trying to customize software from scratch, and it's also a lot more cost-effective than keeping programming capacity in-house. With explosive growth and a strong CEO, Appian has a lot of potential to keep unearthing opportunities and offering greater value to its clients in the years ahead.
An e-commerce company with a niche
Neha Chamaria (Shopify): At a time when we didn't really know much about the convenience of buying entertainment in the comforts of our homes, Netflix spotted an opportunity in internet-based video rentals. Everyone knows the rest of the story. Shopify, a relatively new kid on the e-commerce block, is a cloud-based selling platform for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs -- and it looks like it could well be on the way to replicating Netflix's success.
You'd question Shopify's growth potential in a world dominated by Amazon.com. Guess what: Shopify even made Amazon sit up and take note, so much so that in 2015, Amazon shut down its small-and-medium retailer platform, Webstore, and chose to go with Shopify. Yes, Shopify has a niche. Today, Shopify merchants can sell their products through Amazon, eBay, and Facebook, to name a few.
Shopify is currently spending a good deal of money building a foundation for the future. In fiscal 2017, Shopify's merchant base crossed 500,000, and revenue soared 73%. The company expects to grow revenue by 44% to 47% this year.
What could give Shopify an edge is CEO Tobi Lutke's innovative leadership and keen interest in technology. To give you an example, Lutke recently revealed how he wants to make Shopify an augmented-reality (AR) e-commerce platform when Apple's Tim Cook visited Shopify to check out its AR technologies. In short, Shopify is striving to be a tech-driven e-commerce platform, which could mean big things for the company and the stock in coming years.