In January, when I interviewed Sundar Pichai, he revealed that “most” of Alphabet’s far-out R&D efforts would seek outside investors. These are the vaunted “other bets” that were the brainchildren of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The presumption was that Pichai, the professional manager the dreamer-billionaires installed to run their empire, would cast a less sentimental eye on the duo’s money-pit projects.
Monday’s news that Waymo has attracted serious money from serious outside investors shows how far along Pichai’s efforts are. Waymo is the self-driving car unit Page and Brin established years before it was obvious that self-driving cars would be a thing or why Google would want to develop them. Today Waymo is widely acknowledged to lead on robotic-car technology in the industry, a source of envy in the automotive world as well as jealousy within Google, which makes oodles of money (Waymo doesn’t).
The company announced it had raised $2.25 billion at an unspecified valuation from investment firms Silver Lake and Andreessen Horowitz; sovereign wealth fund and pension funds, respectively, Mubadala Investment and Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board; auto-related entities Magna International and AutoNation; and Alphabet itself.
Three thoughts on this:
- Waymo has validated its staying power by raising this money from these investors. It refers to the fundraising round as “an initial close,” meaning more money may be in the offing. It isn’t clear when the business may be able to stand on its own, and it has shared next to no public financial data. But now we know it has provided detailed information to these risk-taking investors, all of whom are playing with other people’s money for a living. This is promising.
- Waymo did not announce investments from any of its car-maker partners, each of whom needs to be thinking about how its own self-driving strategies co-exist with Waymo’s. Or don’t.
- This is the third “other bet” to win an outside investor. SoftBank invested in balloon Internet company Loon, and Silver Lake and Temasek, another sovereign wealth fund, invested in life-sciences startup Verily. Alphabet also recently said it will ditch its wind-turbine effort, Makani, suggesting that oil company Shell might continue working with it. An incomplete list of other “other bets’ that could be ripe for investment includes Wing, Calico, GV (the artist formerly known as Google Ventures), Google Fiber, Sidewalk Labs, and DeepMind.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.