By Geoff Colvin and Ryan Derousseau
October 19, 2016

We live in an age of entrepreneurial swashbucklers to rival any in history. That fact is easy to overlook as we become inured to the feats of heroic daring required for success in the biggest-ever new field of business opportunity, the digital economy. But just consider the evidence from recent news:

-Netflix founder Reed Hastings, who until a few years ago had never produced a movie or TV show in his life, is spending $5 billion on original programming this year and plans to spend $6 billion next year. Total company revenue last year: $6.8 billion. Hastings is spending far more on programming than HBO, for example, and more than the entire production industries of India, Mexico, and Brazil combined. It’s a giant gamble that truckloads of superior original programming will attract vast numbers of subscribers before Amazon can snag them. Investors obviously think the plan is working; the stock trades at over 500 times projected earnings. And if it doesn’t work? Merely doom.

-Apple CEO Tim Cook is reportedly rethinking plans to produce an Apple car. Of course Apple confirms none of this, but the existence of Project Titan had become well known in Silicon Valley, and it was rumored to include a staff of over 1,000, many of whom have reportedly left or been let go. Think of it – at least hundreds of millions of dollars a year over an uncertain number of years for a project that was never officially announced and that may never see the light of day. Or maybe it will. Or maybe it will morph into a self-driving car system than can be sold to carmakers and make Apple billions. Win some, lose some. So far, Apple mostly wins.

-Alphabet lost $859 million on its so-called moonshots – in one quarter. Laying fiber all over the country, developing a self-driving car, conducting medical research to defeat aging – Alphabet loses billions on these and other projects every year. Neither CEO Larry Page nor anyone else knows if any one of them will ever make a dime of profit. But in the digital domain, relying for long on even a stupendous business model – online ad sales, in Alphabet’s case – is a recipe for failure. So Page has to find the next thing, regardless of what it costs to do so.

America’s larger-than-life captains of industry – Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Henry Ford – had nothing on today’s top entrepreneurs. And now please forgive a moment of flag waving. No place else on earth, as far as I can tell, encourages risk-taking, forgives failure, applauds innovation, and roots for the underdog like the U.S. does. It seems to be in the culture. And even now, with declinism in vogue, it’s still true, and it’s one of America’s greatest strengths. The evidence is right before our eyes.

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