Here’s a shocker from the annals of Silicon Valley’s relationship with Wall Street: Optics matter.
The latest proof point for this truism is Alphabet, the holding company for Google and its non-advertising-related siblings, which for the first time on Monday broke out results for its core business from the other stuff. Alphabet decided to show investors the strength of its advertising business (2015 operating earnings of $28 billion) compared with its so-called moonshots (operating loss of $3.1 billion.)
Because investors were so encouraged by the strength of the core, they are likely to reward Alphabet Tuesday by making it the world’s most valuable public company, surpassing Apple.
What makes this particularly noteworthy is that in its relatively short existence Alphabet’s precursor, Google, mostly thumbed its nose at Wall Street. When it went public in 2004, it loudly proclaimed that its founders and then CEO Eric Schmidt controlled the company through super-voting shares. As a result, management intended to invest for the long term—short-term results be damned—and investors who didn’t like this were welcome to sell the stock.
I always applauded Google for this position. (Take note: My praise predated my becoming a Google spouse, which I am today.) Google knew it had something so good on its hands that it could tell Wall Street what to do rather than the other way around.
What changed? Like most of us, Google has grown up. It still does what it wants, when it wants, where it wants. But it isn’t above coveting a higher stock price, the better to make acquisitions and reward its employees. Segmented reporting changes nothing but the messaging, of course. As Conor Dougherty intelligently wrote in the New York Times: “Google began 2015 as a giant advertising company connected to a collection of intriguing science projects. Alphabet ended the year as a collection of intriguing science projects connected to a highly profitable advertising business.”
Performance matters most. Transparency helps too.
I erred yesterday in writing that Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken was a diplomat in his youth. In fact, he worked as a journalist and lawyer before entering government.
BITS AND BYTES
Stay tuned for more on Yahoo’s cost-cutting plan. CEO Marissa Mayer has planned a briefing Tuesday after the Internet company reports its fourth-quarter results. The blueprint includes a 15% workforce reduction and the closure of several businesses, reports the Wall Street Journal. Activist investors are pushing Yahoo’s management to take drastic measures to improve shareholder value, including firing Mayer, but she’s not ready to leave. (Wall Street Journal, New York Post)
Meanwhile, former employee challenges Yahoo performance reviews. How will Mayer’s managers pick who to lay off? They’ll need to be extra careful. A federal lawsuit filed Monday in San Francisco by former Yahoo editor Gregory Anderson challenges the company’s system of ranking employees as discriminatory. He believes the system was manipulated routinely to justify mass layoffs made for financial, not performance, reasons. (New York Times, Fortune)
MagicLeap confirms $794 million in new funding. The round, which values the augmented-reality technology company at $4.5 billion, was led by China’s Alibaba Group. Previous backers including Alphabet and Qualcomm also have increased their investments. Magic Leap remains mysterious about applications for its product, which projects 3-D images into real-world scenes using glasses or a head-mounted gadget. (Wall Street Journal)
WhatsApp tops 1 billion users, more than any other messaging service. Facebook’s “other” messaging app (aside from Messenger) has more than doubled its user count since the social network bought it in 2014. For perspective, Messenger has 800 million monthly active users. WhatsApp’s next closest rival is China’s Tencent, which claims approximately 650 million people for its WeChat service. (Fortune)
Here’s where Amazon is testing its drones. Amazon is leaning heavily on pilots in the U.K., Canada and the Netherlands to test its delivery-by-drone service. The FAA does allow the e-commerce company to experiment in the United States, but the red tape for approvals slows things down. (Fortune)
Facebook surpasses Exxon’s market cap. The social network’s stock is now worth approximately $328 billion. That makes it the fourth most valuable company in the world, after Alphabet (Google), Apple and Microsoft. (Fortune)
IBM revamps employee appraisals. Employees will now receive short-term goals throughout each year, offering more frequent checkpoints for managers to provide feedback at least once per quarter. They’ll be assessed throughout the year on these five criteria: business results, impact on client success, innovation, personal responsibility to others, and skills. (Fortune)
How McDonald’s and Medtronic teach (and reach) employees. Matt MacInnis, founder and CEO of six-year-old software company Inkling, was intrigued when coffee company Starbucks started requesting new features for its digital publishing platform. After all, Inkling’s main customer prospects—at least originally—were traditional textbook publishers like Pearson and McGraw Hill. But while Inkling’s sales team was busy building those relationships, businesses like Starbucks began experimenting with Inkling’s technology as a replacement for paper training manuals, training curriculum, process guides and other corporate communications. Two years later, more than a dozen other companies have followed Starbucks’ lead, inspiring a pivot for Inkling’s business model. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
These are Alphabet’s most successful moonshots by Leena Rao
Google means business when it comes to the cloud by Barb Darrow
The EU data deadline has passed. Here’s what comes next by David Meyer
The monthification of Apple by Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Twitter may have a new suitor by Don Reisinger
Docusign founder steps back by Dan Primack
Time Warner loves Hulu, but also wants to ruin it by Mathew Ingram
NYC adtech startup Tapad sells for $360 million by Erin Griffith
Apple is beating Microsoft in big tablets by Kia Kokalitcheva
ONE MORE THING
Dutch police teach eagles to snatch drones. Turns out the other options for removing unauthorized drones from public air space—shooting them down or disabling them electronically—aren’t that much better logistically. (Wired)