Alphabet’s Bad, Bold Moonshot Factory Must Grow a Bit Wiser


That’s the sound of the enormous pile of mobile ad revenue that Alphabet, Google’s parent company, dropped like a hot mic Thursday in its quarterly earnings report. The company’s core business is far from dead, it will have you know, and is growing mightily as the Mountain View, Calif.-based steamship turns toward mobile devices. “Mobile is the engine that drives everything,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said with Zuckerbergian flair.

Except for Ye Olde Moonshotte Factory, that is. Alphabet has long been known for its starry-eyed R&D efforts, from self-driving cars to Internet balloons to augmented reality. In the old days, the company would deny high-flying ideas only if it had to—say, if the project violated the laws of physics.

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No longer. The Alphabet of today has learned that it’s gotta be not just bad and bold but also a bit wiser in terms of how it burns moonshot money. Or as my colleague Erin Griffith put it: “How many companies can get away with spending $859 million to produce just $185 million in revenue?”


Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will a profitable moonshot factory be. But if Alphabet fails, CFO Ruth Porat won’t be to blame. If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that she gives losses a bad name.

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