The top 100 exponential companies: Who are they?

Facebook Chairman and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg
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Facebook Chairman and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg

Coming up Wednesday at the Exponential Finance Conference, hosted by CNBC, we will find out the full ranking of the Fortune 100 companies, in order of how exponential—or scalable—they are.

For the most part, we will see some of the obvious names, like Google, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook. These companies all share a common thread: They are platforms. Most of the core functionality of the companies is actually performed not by employees, but by outsiders.

Think of the example of Facebook—over a billion users make the effort to upload all their personal information, while advertisers spend effort and money to search and reach these users. Facebook employees themselves don't do this work, which is the key. That allows the company to grow by exponential factors without the employees putting in all that labor. Twitter is a similar example. Uber and Airbnb are two more obvious exponential examples, where buyers and sellers come together without the firm's core employees actually doing this.

All the companies just mentioned are on the list of 100 most exponential firms, according to Salim Ismail, who is the author of the book "Exponential Organizations."

Those names are mostly obvious, but how did a firm like General Electric make the list?

It's not only about tech start-ups and platforms

"We created a framework of 10 factors that matter, but a company only needs four of them to be exponential," says Ismail, one of the speakers at the conference.

The 10 factors include operating like a lean start-up, which is why GE gets on. "GE has put together one of the largest efforts in corporate history," says Ismail, as the conglomerate has trained over 60,000 employees to think like a smaller, nimbler business. The lean start-up philosophy helps companies foster innovation and speed up product development by building an imperfect version early, to get customer feedback. That allows the company to "pivot," or adapt the products as necessary.

This leads to one of the other 10 factors on the list: building a "minimum viable product" and working on changing it after the fact. "For many successful Web products like Twitter and Facebook, their initial product was quite flaky," says Ismail, "but they iterated rapidly with initial customer data."

Another important factor is to validate marketing and sales channels. "Groupon spent 18 months in one city getting the sales and marketing footprint just right, and then replicated that approach in dozens of other cities."

Companies we know will be at the top of the list

Ismail's original ranking of 100 companies included all public and private firms. The vast majority of them were tech start-ups (think Kaggle, Quirky, Reddit, Etsy). Wednesday's new list will feature only the 100 biggest public companies—so only a small number of them will carry over to the new list. We know which ones those are, and they should be at the top. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and GE will be those names—and probably in that order. The other 95 we will find out Wednesday.