Business & Money
Here’s some interesting math:
Per the reporting, Lyft booked about $1 billion in revenue in the second quarter of 2017. So annualized revenue would be roughly $4 billion.
Lyft recently raised $1 billion in funding led by Capital G, Alphabet’s (Google’s) venture arm. The round valued Lyft at $10 billion pre-money.
That would give the valuation a 2.5X multiple to annualized revenue.
Uber reportedly had gross revenues of $8.7 billion in Q2. So annualized that would be $34.8 billion.
If we apply the same 2.5X multiple that Lyft received, that would mean Uber is worth $87 billion (perhaps less if you factor in litigation risk, management turnover, and PR chaos).
Do you think Uber is worth $87 billion?
Peter Theil has this famous line, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” It basically reflects that, while technological progress could yield an incredible future, many of today’s smartest people are working on the wrong things, a la creating a microblogging service like Twitter.
But there are a group of people that are definitely working on the right things. They’re working on big problems that have a real chance of changing the world. If you look at the Founders Fund (Thiel’s VC firm) portfolio, you’ll find companies working on space exploration (SpaceX), international freight logistics (Flexport), the future of education (AltSchool), and a long list of others.
Another example I recently stumbled upon is a company called Propel. The team is working on a $70 billion dollar problem that impacts 45 million Americans. Food stamps. If you know anyone that has ever applied for food stamps, or most other government support services for that matter, you know that the process sucks. You have to stand in long lines for hours to sign up, go through a lengthy process to prove eligibility, and call 1-800 numbers for simple things like checking your account balance.
Propel digitizes the entire process. You can check your balance in seconds via their mobile app, find stores that accept food stamps, and even check your spending and transaction history.
And what I find really exciting about Propel is that the market is massive. While 45 million Americans use food stamps, Propel will be in an incredible position to collect data on these users and eventually provide other financial services to these unbanked/under-banked citizens. If they can reach scale, I can’t see a reason why they then couldn’t move up market to start providing services to higher-income Americans as well.
While most fintech startups focused on this customer segment have decided to focus on developing markets, Propel has realized that the problem is just as relevant right here at home.
There was a time when you had to go to a library if you wanted to research a specific topic. You would first find the library card catalog which listed information about the books (author, title, subject) on little cards, all filed in alphabetical order within a small cabinet. Once you found what you were looking for, the card would direct you the appropriate shelf to locate the book.
While seemingly inefficient compared to today’s process of finding information, I think there were advantages as well. Specifically, you were forced to scan the shelves and adjacent titles in order to locate your specific book. This process sometimes resulted in finding other equally, if not more interesting titles and authors that you hadn’t initially set out for. It was an amazingly serendipitous process that could sometimes lead to unintentionally spending hours lost in Socratic dialogues or stories of conquest.
In contrast, the process of finding information today is very precise and specific. You type a query into Google, and it returns exactly what you want, usually with the first result (after they monetize your eyeballs with ads, of course). No more exploration or serendipity.
I would almost liken it to a process of destroying evolution. If you think about evolution in a biological sense, you have organisms competing for the opportunity to reproduce and thus pass on their genes to the next generation. At each step along the journey, you get these small genetic mutations that make the offspring slightly different from the parent. Maybe their coloration is slightly different or their eyes are a tiny bit bigger. And sometimes these small changes actually benefit the offspring by adding to their evolutionary fitness. It’s this process of mutation and adding “noise” to the system that allows for creatures to better respond to changes in the environment. If it weren’t for mutations, all members of a species would likely die in the event of a drought, ice age, or another catastrophe.
The precision of today’s algorithms essentially removes the opportunity for these chance mutations. You have a very limited opportunity to stumble upon that other thing that might actually be better or more interesting than what you were originally searching for. And like my evolutionary example, I think a little noise or chance variation might actually be a good thing for our intellectual fitness.
My Latest Discovery
The Vice News special on the Paradise Papers is incredible and scary at the same. While there doesn’t seem to be an obvious “smoking gun,” the links between Russia and top US political officials seem far too apparent to mere coincidence. I’d encourage everyone to check it out, though it might leave you a bit disillusioned about the state of our democracy.