Sparta Report

Many of Google’s Non-Core Ventures Are Failing

Google has been hailed as an innovative tech company, but the majority of its initiatives don’t seem to be doing very well, leaving the group heavily reliant on web advertising:

The hodge-podge of side projects and skunkworks that didn’t fit neatly into Google search and advertising business were spun out into their own separate companies, called “Other Bets.”

Those projects, which included everything from self-driving cars to delivery drones, were reborn as independent entities with clever new names and big dreams: Verily (life sciences), Waymo (self-driving cars) and GV (a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage startups), to name a few.

The hope was that one of these Other Bets would become the next multibillion-dollar tech company and help diversify parent company Alphabet’s revenue sources beyond Google’s digital ads business.

But this grand vision was always laden with some unanswered and uncomfortable questions: What does a successful Other Bet look like? When will one of those companies graduate from a mere “bet” to a winner that can stand on its own? Are they supposed to reach a point where they’re big enough to spin out into a separate company outside Alphabet with a separate board of directors?

It’s no coincidence that many of these departing executives went on to start their own companies. Urmson now has his own self-driving car startup called Aurora, and Tony Fadell is running a new VC firm called Future Shape that plans to back early-stage tech startups.

The vision of Alphabet was to create nimble startups, but many of the entrepreneurs tasked with leading these startups concluded that they had better prospects of accomplishing their goals outside Alphabet than within.

For Nest employees, it’s a happy ending, even if it’s one that doesn’t answer the question of whether their project’s life as an Other Bet was a success or a failure. For the other Other Bets, and for Alphabet’s overall vision, the lesson of Nest is less reassuring: There is no cohesive strategy. Many of you will fail. And the definition of success is constantly shifting.

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