You shouldn't expect most investments to make you lots of money right away. Most of the time, investing boils down to finding companies and stocks that can deliver wealth-building results in the long run.

The history books are packed with tremendous winners that spent many years in Wall Street's basement before going big.

  • Netflix barely kept up with the S&P 500 index in its first three years on the market, but has posted market-stomping returns of 19,300% after that modest start.
  • Apple nearly went out of business in 1997, saved by the return of Steve Jobs and a $150 million cash infusion from Microsoft. Now, Apple's stock carries the largest market cap on the planet.

Early investors who held on to their Apple and Netflix shares through the years are fabulously wealthy now. Through the magic of compound returns, a $10,000 Apple or Netflix investment at the end of 2004 would be worth more than $1 million today. And that's just an 18-year period, selected only because I wanted to show you a tidy hundredfold gain. Stretching the timeline further back results in even greater returns.

The Apples and Netflixes of the next 20 years are out there right now. They hide in plain sight as small-cap or mid-cap stocks with relatively modest revenue streams and even leaner profits. Let me show you two names that I believe could walk in the footsteps of those proven business giants.

The stocks below are a bit larger than Netflix was in 2004 but smaller than the Apple of that era. They might not make you rich in 2023 or 2024, but I expect them to deliver game-changing investment profits over the next couple of decades.

Silvergate is the thinking investor's crypto pick

I believe that cryptocurrencies are about to change the world in a thousand little ways. The heavily encrypted digital coins offer a whole new way to manage financial transactions, ownership records, and asset ownership. The new tools are inherently more secure than the simple spreadsheet entries and database posts of old, and could pose a real challenge to gold and paper money in the long run.

But I'm not asking you to pick a long-term winner among the thousands of different cryptocurrencies on today's market. Veteran names like Bitcoin and Ethereum have already been around for a decade and could have staying power for the next century -- or newer alternatives might replace them with fundamentally superior designs. I'm comfortable enough with the old guard to own a small serving of each, but I'm also prepared to lose it all if something better comes along.

Instead, I suggest that you look at the nuts and bolts of the cryptocurrency market. Regional bank Silvergate Capital (SI 0.40%) fits that description to a T.

Silvergate was one of the first financial institutions willing to provide loans and liquidity tools to the brand-new, unproven crypto sector. It still serves that vital function for many of the leading crypto-trading exchanges and many smaller projects.

Furthermore, Silvergate created its own digital trading service, the Silvergate Exchange Network (SEN), which helps clients serve and settle crypto trades quickly and cheaply, around the clock, with no weekend or holiday breaks.

The loans could come from any bank that has learned to trust digital traders, but there are no drop-in replacements available for the SEN platform. If you take Silvergate out of the equation, many giants of the crypto-trading world will struggle to do what they do.

That's why I expect Silvergate to continue playing this central role in the crypto industry for years to come. Digital coins will come and go, and so will the trading services that make them available to consumers and corporations. But Silvergate sticks around to make the whole system run, and the business will grow alongside the crypto sector as a whole.

And Silvergate's stock is quite affordable right now, trading at just 9 times earnings and 10 times free cash flows. This small-cap bank has a long and bright future, and savvy investors should snap up a few shares at this bargain-bin price.

Fiverr changes how working works

Freelance services manager Fiverr International (FVRR -2.17%) is shooting for the stars. The ultimate target market is the global total of freelance and contractor services in creative, technical, and professional endeavors. This sector generated $247 billion in revenue last year in the U.S. alone.

The company earns a small percentage of that massive business opportunity as a finder's fee for connecting freelancers to the people and businesses needing them. So far, most of the service pairings are done offline, but the online portion of it is growing year by year.

Fiverr isn't the only name in this business, but it is a firmly established leader and innovator in the so-called gig economy. As the digital freelancer sector grows, the company works to stay in the vanguard of that revolution. As time passes, it continues to expand its potential target market by launching services in new geographic regions, building additional services into its service-hunting platform, and exploring new business ideas in adjacent sectors.

That growth is a long-term project, and Fiverr has barely scratched the surface of the enormous market opportunity. Management's latest guidance points to full-year sales of just $337 million. Don't forget that the freelance market is a moving target, expanding as more of the global workforce moves out of traditional nine-to-five careers and into flexible freelancing.

As a high-octane growth stock, Fiverr pours every available penny of spare cash into sales, research, and company infrastructure costs. Therefore, its valuation ratios are sky-high and I can't call the stock "affordable." But I do believe that the company is in the early days of a game-changing growth spurt, and that the pennies you invest today should be worth dollars in 20 years -- just like in the Netflix and Apple examples above.