These Are Alphabet’s Most Successful Moonshots

February 2, 2016, 1:31 AM UTC
A Nest thermostat is installed in a home in Provo
Photograph by George Frey — Reuters

Ruth Porat, CFO for Google’s parent, Alphabet, seemed cautiously optimistic on Monday about a few of her company’s riskier and greener businesses. According to Porat, the $448 million in quarterly revenue from Alphabet’s other units—ie. not Google—came mostly from home appliance maker Nest, high-speed broadband Internet provider Fiber, and life sciences division Verily.

“We are working diligently to build additional businesses that create long term revenue, profits, and value,” she told investors on the company’s earnings call. “It’s still early days.”

Monday marked the first time that Alphabet reported quarterly revenue from Google’s core advertising businesses as separate from its more experimental moonshots, which includes a high-profile push into self-driving cars. The decision is intended to give investors more insight into the performance of the various businesses under Alphabet’s umbrella.

In August, CEO Larry Page created the holding company that lumped Google’s core advertising business with YouTube. Everything else, including Google Ventures (now called GV), Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences), Nest, Access/Google Fiber, Calico, and X (formerly Google X), is reported under the catch-all “other bets.”

Alphabet said on Monday that annual sales from those “other bets” grew 37% in 2015 from a year earlier. But the losses for those up-and-coming businesses grew to $3.6 billion in 2015 versus $1.9 billion a year earlier.

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Even Nest and Fiber’s revenue for 2015 appeared to be below analyst expectations. According to Re/Code, analysts expected Nest’s annual sales to be roughly $450 million and nearly $200 million for Fiber.

Alphabet’s reporting wasn’t that detailed. But considering the $448 million in revenue for all “other bets,” one or both units significantly under-performed.

Porat spoke at length about the “early stage nature” of many of these businesses and warned investors that it was prudent to evaluate full year results instead of quarterly revenue and loss numbers as these businesses because of their volatility.

“Many of these businesses are likely to require additional investment,” she said on the call. In particular, Porat called out Fiber as needing additional investment as it continues to roll out in new cities.

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Porat also mentioned that even within Alphabet’s money making business, Google, there are a number of early experiments or “moonshots” including virtual reality and machine learning technologies. But some of Alphabet’s moonshots may not be getting as much attention or financial backing as others.

Porat hinted that the company has “made some tough choices on how to allocate resources across businesses,” and that Alphabet is becoming “more disciplined with how it is using resources.” She didn’t mention which moonshots aren’t getting as much financial backing, but she explained that the budgeting process was “very rigorous” and that the company had to make “some tough calls.”

Investors will likely respond positively to what Porat, who was Morgan Stanley’s CFO until Google hired her in 2015, had to say under the theory that she will inject some financial discipline into what is widely perceived to be a freewheeling tech company.

“It’s an exciting new chapter,” Porat concluded.

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