It’s still early days in the world of voice search, and yet already this new type of device and search engine use is – according to comScore – expected to account for up to 50 percent of the global search market next year. That’s a major shift in consumer behavior in only a few short years.
Digital assistants are becoming increasingly prominent in our homes and on mobile devices, and their ubiquity will only increase.
But where exactly is the brand play in voice search? How developed is the opportunity, and what specific strategies do brands need to apply to benefit from this trend? Let’s take a look at the current state of affairs and, more importantly, where things will go in the next few years.
The current focus on position zero
When you hear marketers talk about voice search today, you probably hear a lot of talk about Position Zero, also known as the featured snippet. This is the content that Google offers in the top search results position in hopes of directly answering a search query. In the desktop and mobile screen worlds, the top content is followed by a host of other search results. In the world of voice search, position zero is everything – the only information that will be relayed to the user. As such, especially for businesses, getting to position zero has become the new imperative. Exactly how to do that, however, is still an open question.
As with all things in the search space, best practices for optimizing for position zero are going to evolve over time. But businesses looking to be a step ahead when screenless search becomes the new norm are focusing on a few key areas:
- Relevance through data: Being the most relevant for a given voice search is all about giving the search engine what it needs to tailor response for the user – a user whom the voice assistant knows intimately. The more context offered, the higher the likelihood that a digital assistant will pair your business with a potential customer. For example, if you’re a restaurant, this means ensuring the engine can find accurate information on digital profiles regarding not just location and hours, but also customer ratings and reviews as well as details like whether you’re pet-friendly, offer patio dining, feature gluten-free options, and more.
- Feed the featured snippet: If you want to be the featured snippet to a given query, make sure your website and profiles provide complete, succinct answers to the questions most likely to lead people to your business. This could be within the first paragraph of a blog post, in an FAQ on your site, or in various other areas of content.
- Prioritize schema: This is SEO 101, but it’s even more important for voice search. Make sure your site is following an agreed-upon structure for how search engines read content, as organized via Schema.org.
While these basics can help businesses increase their relevance for voice search today, we’ve only seen the beginning of what voice search will mean for digital marketing efforts in the future. How will this transformative shift play out over the next few years?
The beginning of the curve
Despite the rise in voice search behavior, the business models that will evolve around this opportunity are still emerging. Right now, the biggest tech players in the world – Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook—are investing deeply in voice search for three reasons:
- Voice search represents a core technology that can extend across business lines.
- It represents a transformative user experience that reduces friction and moves people away from screens.
- Voice search represents a major new way of tapping into emerging markets like India and Southeast Asia, where mobile devices and behaviors are overwhelmingly dominant.
Big tech is investing in voice search for the above reasons, but they’re not really monetizing it yet. That’s going to change in the next couple of years, and when it does, an industry and vendor community will spring up around their monetization models quickly, just as we saw with SEO and SEM in the past.
When the realm of voice search and voice advertising takes shape, it will be the brands that are experimenting now that are poised to win. Now is the time to test and learn, regardless of whether businesses are able to reliably demonstrate the ROI of their efforts today. Every minute invested in better understanding emerging voice search behaviors and opportunities, particularly as it relates to how a brand’s target audience is using voice search, will pay dividends in the voice-dominated future.
There’s no question that voice will rule the future of device interactions. The only question is whether your business will emerge as an early leader in this space in the coming 24 months – or whether you will be forever playing catch up.
Ashwin Ramesh is the founder and CEO of Synup, the NYC-based Intent Marketing Cloud that helps consumers find the right information about them on the web, mobile, and voice search.
The post Optimizing for position zero: The future of voice search appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
On September 17, HTC announced that cofounder Cher Wang would be stepping down as CEO. In her place, Yves Maitre stepped into the role of Chief Executive, after more than a decade at French telecom giant, Orange.
It’s a tough job at an even tougher time. The move comes on the tail of five consecutive quarterly losses and major layoffs, including a quarter of the company’s staff, which were let go in July of last year.
It’s a far fall for a company that comprised roughly 11 percent of global smartphone sales, some eight years ago. These days, HTC is routinely relegated to the “other” column when these figures are published.
All of this is not to say that the company doesn’t have some interesting irons in the fire. With Vive, HTC has demonstrated its ability to offer a cutting edge VR platform, while Exodus has tapped into an interest in exploring the use of blockchain technologies for mobile devices.
Of course, neither of these examples show any sign of displacing HTC’s once-booming mobile device sales. And this January’s $ 1.1 billion sale of a significant portion of its hardware division to Google has left many wondering whether it has much gas left in the mobile tank.
With Wang initially scheduled to appear on stage at Disrupt this week, the company ultimately opted to have Maitre sit in on the panel instead. In preparation for the conversation, we sat down with the executive to discuss his new role and future of the struggling Taiwanese hardware company.
5G, XR and the future of the HTC brand
CRO is an essential element of your digital marketing and it will continue to be important for years to come. Our State of PPC survey confirms its importance every year. Whether you’re new to CRO or a veteran optimizer, here are four main thoughts for you to bear in mind as you contemplate your future marketing plan.
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It’s time to think of the future of SEO. What should we focus on? It’s time to find out more about entities and how they affect our SEO strategies.
Brighton SEO is an exciting conference for everyone who wants to find out more about the latest trends and tactics in all things SEO. No matter how experienced you are, there’s always a session to inspire you to try out new ideas.
Greg Gifford, Vice President of Search at Wikimotive, talked about entities and the future of SEO.
Defining entities for SEO
Google is considering an entity a thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined, and distinguishable. In fact, according to Greg Gifford, entities are the most important concept in SEO.
It was back in 2012 that Google moved to entity search. Real-world entities and their relationships started being ranking signals. A year later, Google started focusing on the semantics to make its ranking algorithm smarter. Then we found out in 2015 that ranking search results started being based on entity metrics.
Thus, it’s time to start focusing more on entities and how they affect our SEO.
It’s useful to remember then that every site consists of numerous entities. The internal links are simply the relationships between entities. Our content is simply made up of entities and their relationships.
The future of search
When thinking of the future of search, we need to keep in mind that Google is becoming smarter.
Here are Gifford’s tips that will future-proof your SEO strategy:
- The ranking will be more about real-world signals. This means that we need to explore the right balance between our current SEO tactics and the brand we are building with old-school marketing.
- Voice search is all about the intent of conversational queries. Conversational content will become very important.
- Mobile search will continue to make local SEO vital for everyone. Consuming content through mobile phones is pushing us to think of our mobile strategies and how we can improve them. In fact, local SEO will be the key to our future success. As Greg Gifford reminds us, links from local businesses will matter even if they are unrelated to your business.
- Google My Business is your direct interface to Google’s entity information about your business. It is further blending into mobile SERPs that will blur the lines even more between online and offline actions. In fact, real-world offline actions related to business entities will help your ranking.
- Start writing content that answers questions in a unique way. It’s helpful to read your content out loud. Conversational content will help you master the new world of entities and their relationships that affect ranking.
- Another excellent tip that can be very helpful is to think like you’re targeting rich snippets. It’s not the goal but it’s the right mindset to help you create more relevant content.
Four things we need to stop doing in SEO
According to Greg Gifford, we need to stop doing these things that will affect the future success of our SEO strategy:
1. Stop concentrating on keyword matching
SEO will be less about writing content with the right keywords and more about having the best answer based on the intent of the search.
2. Stop concentrating on single pages
Build your entity and pay attention to how it’s connected to other entities instead.
3. Stop thinking about optimizing individual page elements
The optimization should not focus on one page but rather on the overall entities and how their relationships can improve your success.
4. Stop concentrating on link building as the most important SEO tactic
Links will probably always matter but will be less important as Google gets better at understanding entity signals.
Focus on the entities and their relationships
There are many interesting takeaways from this session in Brighton SEO that can be useful when planning your strategy for 2020.
- Make sure you’re paying attention to local SEO.
- If you want to improve your online business, focus on the right balance between offline and online relationship building.
- Mobile search will be more important than ever so make sure you create content for mobile users.
- Your content should be conversational. Don’t be afraid to read it out loud before you publish it.
- There’s no need to spend too much time on individual pages and keywords if you forget to look at the bigger picture.
You can also find the session’s slides here for more details.
What future trends can you spot for SEO in 2020? Share them in the comments.
The post Why we need to think of entities and the future of SEO appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
If you’re planning your 2020 marketing budget, there are a lot of paid media trends you should be considering.
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We’ve done the work to bring you the best, most actionable content in the paid media industry, and we’re excited to debut new sessions we know you’ll love at Hero Conf.
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The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.
It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.
But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.
It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.
It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.
What is Niantic? If they recognize the name, most people would rightly tell you it’s a company that makes mobile games, like Pokémon GO, or Ingress, or Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.
But no one at Niantic really seems to box it up as a mobile gaming company. Making these games is a big part of what the company does, yes, but the games are part of a bigger picture: they are a springboard, a place to figure out the constraints of what they can do with augmented reality today, and to figure out how to build the tech that moves it forward. Niantic wants to wrap their learnings back into a platform upon which others can build their own AR products, be it games or something else. And they want to be ready for whatever comes after smartphones.
Niantic is a bet on augmented reality becoming more and more a part of our lives; when that happens, they want to be the company that powers it.
This is Part 3 of our EC-1 series on Niantic, looking at its past, present, and potential future. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here. The reading time for this article is 24 minutes (6,050 words)
The platform play
After the absurd launch of Pokémon GO, everyone wanted a piece of the AR pie. Niantic got more pitches than they could take on, I’m told, as rights holders big and small reached out to see if the company might build something with their IP or franchise.
But Niantic couldn’t build it all. From art, to audio, to even just thinking up new gameplay mechanics, each game or project they took on would require a mountain of resources. What if they focused on letting these other companies build these sorts of things themselves?
That’s the idea behind Niantic’s Real World Platform. This platform is a key part of Niantic’s game plan moving forward, with the company having as many people working on the platform as it has on its marquee money maker, Pokémon GO.
There are tons of pieces that go into making things like GO or Ingress, and Niantic has spent the better part of the last decade figuring out how to make them all fit together. They’ve built the core engine that powers the games and, after a bumpy start with Pokémon GO’s launch, figured out how to scale it to hundreds of millions of users around the world. They’ve put considerable work into figuring out how to detect cheaters and spoofers and give them the boot. They’ve built a social layer, with systems like friendships and trade. They’ve already amassed that real-world location data that proved so challenging back when it was building Field Trip, with all of those real-world points of interest that now serve as portals and Pokéstops.
Niantic could help other companies with real-world events, too. That might seem funny after the mess that was the first Pokémon GO Fest (as detailed in Part II). But Niantic turned around, went back to the same city the next year, and pulled it off. That experience — that battle-testing — is valuable. Meanwhile, the company has pulled off countless huge Ingress events, and a number of Pokémon GO side events called “Safari Zones.” CTO Phil Keslin confirmed to me that event management is planned as part of the platform offering.
As Niantic builds new tech — like, say, more advanced AR or faster ways to sync AR experiences between devices — it’ll all get rolled into the platform. With each problem they solve, the platform offering would grow.
But first they need to prove that there’s a platform to stand on.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite
Niantic’s platform, as it exists today, is the result of years of building their own games. It’s the collection of tools they’ve built and rebuilt along the way, and that already powers Ingress Prime and Pokémon GO. But to prove itself as a platform company, Niantic needs to show that they can do it again. That they can take these engines, these tools, and, working with another team, use them for something new.
Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Kirsten Korosec and Kate Clark led a deep-dive discussion into Lyft’s IPO and the outlook for the business going forward.
After skyrocketing nearly 10% on its first day hitting the public markets, Lyft stock has faded back down towards its IPO price as some investors grow more concerned over the company’s path to profitability (or lack thereof) and the long-term fundamentals of the business. But Lyft’s public listing is bigger than just the latest in increasingly common unicorn IPOs. As the first public “transportation-as-a-service” company, Lyft offers the first inside glimpse into the business model and its economics, and its development may ultimately act as the canary in the coal mine for the future of transportation.
“Lyft, hasn’t just survived, they’ve grown. 18.6 million people took at least one ride in the last quarter of 2018. That’s up from 16.6 million in late-2016. That illustrates the growth that the company has had. They’ve also said that they have 39% share of the ride-sharing market in the US. That’s up from 22% in 2016.
To me, the big question is let’s say they had Uber’s share, which is 66%, would they be able to make a profit? Is that the determination? And I’m not convinced that it is, which is why all these other aspects of the transportation-as-a-service business model [micromobility, AVs, etc.] are going to be really important.”
Kirsten and Kate dive deeper into what the market response to Lyft means for Uber and the timeline for its impending IPO. The two also elaborate on their skepticism of ride-hailing economics and debate which innovative transportation model will ultimately drive the path to profitability for Lyft, Uber and others.
For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free.
Danny Crichton: Good afternoon and good morning everyone this is Danny Crichton, executive editor of Extra Crunch. Thanks so much for joining us today with TechCrunch reporters Kate and Kirsten.
I’ll start with a quick introduction for our two writers today. We have Kate Clark, our venture capital reporter. Kate has been with us for a while now covering everything in the startup and venture world. She’s also one of the hosts of TechCrunch’s podcast Equity and also writes our Startups Weekly newsletter.
Our other writer today is Kirsten, our intrepid automotive writer covering all things Elon Musk, Tesla, and everything else in the autonomous vehicle space. Kirsten has also been with us for quite some time and also writes a newsletter that she just introduced in the last couple of weeks, around transportation. So with that, I’m going to hand off the conversation to the two of them now.
Kirsten Korosec: Thanks so much Danny. This is Kirsten Korosec here. The newsletter is in a bit of a soft launch but it is being published Fridays and we hope to have an email subscription coming sometime in the future, so just keep an eye out for that.
I should also mention I too have a podcast centered around autonomous vehicles and future transportation called The Autonocast that comes out weekly. Thanks so much for joining the call and just a reminder, we want participation. So at about the halfway point, we’ll turn and open up the line and answer questions. Let’s get started.
Before we dig into all the hot takes out there, I think it’s worth providing a primer of sorts — a general timeline of events. We all probably know Lyft of course and most of us think of 2012 as the launch date when it came to San Francisco, but really Lyft was build out of the service of Zimride. Which is the ride-sharing company that John Zimmer and Logan Green founded in 2007.
A lot of attention has been placed on Lyft in 2018 with what happened in the past year, in the run-up to the IPO. But I think it is worth noting the intense activity and growth that happened between 2014 and 2016. These are critically important years for Lyft, just a frenzy of activity in a period where the company gained ground, investors, and partners.
To showcase the amount of activity that was happening; Lyft had two separate funding rounds, one for $ 530 million another for $ 150 million, just two months apart in 2015. You might also recall in early-2016 its partnership with GM and the automakers’ $ 500 million dollar investment as part of the Series F $ 1 billion dollar fundraising effort.
That was really interesting because GM’s president at the time Dan Ammann took a seat on the board, which he has since vacated. As Lyft and GM started realizing that they were competitors. Now, Dan is the CEO of GM Cruise which is the self-driving unit of GM.
2017 and 2018 were also big years, as Lyft launched their first international market in Toronto. They made big moves on the autonomous vehicle front, which we’ll talk about today, and in micromobility. Their scooter business launched in Denver in 2018. They bought Motivate, which is the oldest and largest electric bike share company in North America. Then, we finally get to the end of 2018, and this is when Lyft confidentially files a statement with the FDC and we’re off with the races to the IPO.
The last two months or three months is when Lyft unveiled its prospectus, met with investors, priced its IPO and made its public debut. So Kate what are the nuts and bolts of the IPO and what’s happening right now?
Kate Clark: Hi everybody this is Kate. So I’m just going to mention really quickly the timeline these last couple of months in the run-up to Lyft’s highly historical IPO. So going back to December, that’s when Lyft initially filed confidentially to go public. We later find out that they are going public on the NASDAQ when they eventually unveiled their S1 in early March.
This is after Lyft had raised $ 5 billion in debt and equity funding at a $ 15 billion dollar valuation, so there are a lot of people paying attention to what was the first ever rideshare IPO. So then in early-March, we’re able to get a closer look at Lyft’s S1, which tells us that the company has $ 911 million in losses in 2018 and revenues of $ 2.2 billion. So after calculating and pulling together some data, a lot of people were quick to find out that that means Lyft has some of the largest losses ever for any IPO. But also has some of the largest revenues ever for any pre-IPO company, just following Google and Facebook in that category.
So this is a really interesting IPO for a lot of people given these sky-high losses but also these huge, huge revenues. The next we see Lyft price their IPO between $ 62 and $ 68 dollars a share. Some people were quick to say that that was maybe a little underpriced, given that this was a highly anticipated IPO with a ton of demand. So on the second day of Lyft’s roadshow, the process, they say that their IPO is oversubscribed. So demand is apparently huge, their oversubscribed, so they decide we’re going to increase the price of our shares.
So Lyft then says they gonna charge a max of $ 72 per share and then on the day of their IPO they charge $ 72 per share, the next day opening at $ 87 per share. So we see a huge IPO pop that I don’t think was particularly surprising given that they already spoke of this demand, and we had already known that there was a lot of demand on Wall Street. Not just for Lyft but just for unicorn IPO’s of this stature, given that there are so few of these. So Lyft began trading hitting $ 87 per share though, if you’ve been following the news that’s not were Lyft is today.
Kirsten: Yeah so I was just about to ask — Kate give me the latest numbers, you know a lot of focus is on that opening day but things haven’t exactly sustained. So what’s happened in the past few days?
Kate: Yeah it’s really tough to manage expectations after an IPO. I mean, I think there has been a lot of criticism towards Lyft now and I think it’s trading below its initial share price. So as I mentioned Lyft opened at $ 87 per share, it priced at $ 72, but almost immediately they began trading below that $ 72 price per share. So they closed Tuesday trading at $ 68.96 per share. Still boasting a market cap larger than $ 19 billion. So they’re still significantly valued at more than they were as a private company at $ 15 billion but it doesn’t look good to be trading below a price per share so quickly.
However, it actually did hit its IPO price for just a minute today, so maybe let’s give it a few more hours and see where it closes. It’s possible that it will sort of jump towards that $ 72, but it’s still trading quite significantly below that $ 87.
Kirsten: With IPOs like this, and especially such a high profile one, there’s going to be a ton of attention on share price and on volatility. And so I’m wondering, in your view, what did this first week, or first few days of volatility say to you? What does it say about Lyft’s future and, well certainly, its present?
Kate: Yeah. I mean, it’s hard to say. I think a lot of people were questioning if Wall Street was going to be interested in a company like Lyft that’s extremely unprofitable at this time and has years left before it will reach profitability, if indeed it ever reaches profitability.
So at this point you got to wonder, do some of these investors that did buy Lyft right off the bat, were they really long on Lyft? Because it does look like a lot of those investors have already sold their stock and perhaps weren’t as invested in Lyft’s long-term profitability plan, which involves a lot of very iffy things, like the future of autonomous vehicles, which we’ll talk about later in this call. And there’s a lot of uncertainty there.
But with that said, it’s not uncommon for a stock to experience volatility right off the bat, and you can’t assume the future of that stock price just because of some early volatility.
And we gathered some examples of IPOs where there was some early volatility that did not determine the long term future. So Carvana, for example, which is an online used car dealer in the automotive space, and it did experience volatility at first, with the stock sliding in the first few months but ultimately trended upward.
Kate: So Carvana opened at $ 13.50 a share, falling below its IPO price, so it didn’t even have the IPO pop. And then in 2018, it hit an all-time high of $ 65 per share. Today, it’s trading around $ 58 per share, so that’s ultimately a positive story to be told there.
And then another example on the other side of things is Snap, which actually took four months to dip beneath its 2017 IPO price, and we all know Snap has definitely not been a success story and it’s trading well below its offer price. But then finally, Facebook, for example, dropped below its IPO price on its second day of trading and then actually had a rough first year on the stock market before the stock ultimately took off and became a very obvious success.
Kirsten: So, Kate, I’m wondering why you think that there was that initial run up on that first day. Was it excitement? Was there something material that was pushing the price up? What was the cause?
Kate: I think there was a lot of excitement and demand around this IPO because it was very much one-of-a-kind, and there were a lot of investors that it seemed were really long on the possibility of Lyft becoming this hugely profitable company. And I think a lot of that was because in the S1, although you did see these really, really big losses — quite major, just ridiculously huge losses — you did see that they were shrinking over time and that there was definitely a path in which Lyft could take where it would reach profitability, say, in the next five years.
And I think Wall Street was really paying attention to that, and they were not paying attention to some of the other metrics. Now, they’ve taken off their rose-colored glasses and they’re looking at Lyft as a public company, and it’s just a little bit different now that it’s actually completed its debut.
Kirsten: Well, so, I mean, I like to view IPOs often times, and especially in Lyft’s case, as a measure of an investors’ faith in the company’s growth prospects, because this is a company that while it does have quite a bit of revenue, it has significant losses and it’s really planning not just for the present day but for the future. It’s been called a disruptive business for a reason, and it is certainly very forward-looking. So I’m wondering if you think it was a good strategy for Lyft. They wanted to open it up to “the everyman” when they actually went to market. They did a different approach, and do you think this might have had an effect? I mean, it’s very on-brand for them to do this, but I’m wondering if you thought that means that some of the investors aren’t as disciplined.
Kate: Do you mean with the fact they were providing bonuses to their employees and drivers to actually participate in the IPO as well?
Kirsten: Absolutely. That’s actually a really good point that maybe you can elaborate on. Lyft did a little bit of a more open approach for its IPO. Typically IPOs can be closed off to only large, institutional investors. So did this set them up perhaps to have more volatility?
Kate: Yeah, Lyft provided some of their drivers up to, I think, $ 10,000 to, in theory, actually buy stock in the IPO. Do I think that had a high impact? I don’t know. I think there’s not enough comparison, not enough data to really make a decision or to make a hot take on whether that really was part of the volatility. I think just given the uncertain nature of Lyft’s future and their big losses, I think their volatility was pretty inevitable, and I think people paying attention to this are probably not particularly surprised by how the stock has fared in these first couple days.
And I do want to add there’s this six-month lock-up period for the venture capital funds that own Lyft and as well as their employees, so I think we’re not sure what’s going to happen when that lock-up period ends and those holders can just sell their stock right then or how that will impact the stock price, as well.
Kirsten: So something to keep an eye on. It reminds me a lot of a company I write a lot about, which is Tesla, and I’ve been covering them for years. And it’s one of the most volatile stocks, and their investors, they certainly have large, institutional investors, but the number of fanboys that they have with smaller investors, either prop up the share price sometimes or add to that volatility, and I’m kind of really curious to see if that happens with Lyft. If you go to a shareholder meeting at Tesla, for example, it’s filled with people who are passionate about the brand and its CEO, Elon Musk.
And Lyft and possibly Uber, if they end up finally going through with their IPO, you can see that potentially happening because people feel very strongly about the brand and also the service it provides. So I’m curious to see how this all sort of shakes out. And I tend to take the view that I invest personally in mutual funds and things like that. I don’t invest in any of these companies, but the long, patient view tends to be the better one, and trying to catch a falling knife, as investors have told me, is never really a good idea.
So I’m curious to see if investors sort of grow up and learn with Lyft, if they’ll become disciplined and just sort of wait it out and see them play out the growth prospects for the company in the long term. So, we’ve been talking about Lyft and I can’t not talk about Uber as a result. I’m wondering what you think this might mean for Uber. The big story initially was let’s beat Uber to IPO and I’m wondering what this means then. Is this indicative of what Uber is going to experience?
Kate: I think that question is really at the top of everyone’s mind right now, including my own. I will say that I still do think it was highly beneficial for Lyft to get out first. Because imagine if and when Uber does too experience volatility, which it probably will, if it were to have gone first, I think that would have frightened Lyft a lot more than Lyft’s volatility may or may not be frightening Uber. So, with that said, I think I’m of two minds right now with my thoughts on how this impacts Uber’s IPO. I think that if Lyft stock continues to be volatile and perhaps even falls lower than it already has. I do think that there is a chance Uber may ultimately decide to push its IPO back.
I think that for a few reasons, namely being that Uber is not in a huge rush to go public. They do have the ability to wait. They have filed to go public. So it’s likely to happen quite soon, but it may not happen in April as they are reportedly planning to do.
On the other hand, Lyft went public at like a $ 24 or $ 25 billion dollar market cap. Whereas Uber is going to debut at maybe a $ 120 billion dollar initial market cap. So these IPOs, although they are both ride hail IPOs and they are very similar companies in a lot of ways, they’re also very different and Uber is operating on an entirely different scale though it still is unprofitable. And has some of the same issues that, investors are probably noting about Lyft.
I think it’s either going to be that it’s maybe that they do decide to push it back or maybe that Uber is like, well we’re five times larger, six times larger. We have much larger statistics to show to investors. There’s just a chance it could go either way. I wish I had a better, more concrete answer, but I just don’t think we know yet.
Kirsten: Well I’m okay with not taking hot takes just a few days into this IPO. I think this is a good time to open it up to questions. While we wait for a question, I will do one quick follow up with you Kate. What do you think this means for Uber? Will it delay its IPO?
Kate: Right now, no, I don’t think they’re going to. But it’s like I said, it’s tough to say given that it’s only been a few days of Lyfts IPO. But no, I think you’ve got to imagine that they are ready to discuss the possibilities of Lyfts IPO and already planned ahead if there was volatility. They maybe already assumed that would happen, given that that’s not uncommon. So right now I’m going to say no, I don’t think they’re going to delay, but it’s certainly still a possibility.
Kirsten: Okay, great. I think another really interesting piece for Uber was their acquisition of Careem. This is a deal that was made right before their IPO, so it was shifting attention away from Lyft, just for a moment.
Why did Uber do this? Is this not a signal that they’re delaying their IPO? Is this just prepping for it? What are you hearing on it? I’m wondering if this might have just been a strategy to show the world investors, specifically potential shareholders, what the road ahead is going to look like. Or is it some other reason — Is it to justify their really big losses?
Kate: I think it’s the latter two things you said. Just to give some background Uber is paying about $ 3.1 billion to acquire Careem, which is a Middle Eastern ride-hailing company. So basically just the Uber of the Middle East. Uber does have a history of acquiring, smaller competitors like this in different markets where it’s not active, just as a way for Uber to quickly grow essentially.
So I do think it’s a big deal to make just before going public. So I guess we don’t know if they necessarily will go public in April, but I think it was a move to present to public market investors as a prep for an IPO, to show “we just acquired this company, here’s more evidence of future growth”. Like you mentioned, it’s definitely a justification of those huge losses that we know Uber has.
Kirsten: Thanks for that. Questions?
Caller Question: Hi there, so when we talk about looking ahead and moving towards profitability — what role, if any, do you think the acquisition of a scooter or other mobility companies will have for companies like Lyft and Uber?
Kirsten: That’s a great question. I think it’s going to be a huge piece of both of their businesses. A lot of people describe this as the first ride-hailing IPO. We need to stop calling this a ride-hailing company. These are transportation-as-a-service companies and they’re making money. But generating revenue as opposed to making profit is a totally different thing. When you start talking about ridesharing, it’s a tough business. With those it’s an asset-light business, right? They don’t own the cars and then they technically don’t employ these drivers.
But at the same time, as of 2016 only something like 1% of people in the US were using rideshare. So you see this opportunity, but they’re not pushing forward. There is a ton of car ownership still that’s happening. Yes, sharing has absolutely increased, but 17 million new cars were sold in the US last year. So scooters, bike share and other businesses are going to be key to their paths to profitability because ride-sharing alone is just difficult to make a profit. It’s not difficult to generate revenue. It’s difficult to make a profit on.
And I’m wondering, talking about that road to profitability, I do think it’s worth noting how much they have grown. Lyft, hasn’t just survived, they’ve grown. 18.6 million people took at least one ride in the last quarter of 2018. That’s up from 16.6 million in late 2016, that illustrates the growth that the company has had.
They’ve also said that they have 39% share of the ride-sharing market in the US. That’s up from 22% in 2016. To me, the big question is let’s say they had Uber’s share, which is 66%, would they be able to make a profit? Is that the determination? And I’m not convinced that it is, which is why all these other aspects of the transportation-as-a-service business model are going to be really important.
Kate: I think what you pointed out is important, about Lyft and Uber both becoming transportation businesses, not ride-hailing companies and I think their long-term visions involve scooters, bikes, autonomous vehicles, all sorts of different models of transportation beyond just car sharing.
Kirsten: I hate to be wishy-washy here and say, I don’t know, but I do really think that it’s going to come down to a variety of items all coming together. It’s just not going to be enough for Lyft to scale up its ride-hailing business. And I should point out that Uber should be treated in some ways the same way, but there are some distinct differences. But it’s important for us to think of Lyft as a transportation-as-a-service business. I mean they say in their prospectus that transportation is a massive market opportunity. The hard part of course is turning that into a profit. There might be opportunity there.
So there’s this asset-light business that they have right now, which is the ride-hailing, but then they are making acquisitions in the micromobility space and that is going to become more capital intensive. And that’s going to force them to change their business. And then there’s the autonomous vehicle piece. And then finally, I actually think that one of the pieces of their S1 that has really not received much attention at all is what they’re pursuing in terms of public transportation. And they have said that they, and Uber, intend on being a piece of the public transit ecosystem.
Now that doesn’t mean that they’re going to necessarily be operating buses, but there are people that I’ve talked to in the industry who actually feel like, in Uber’s case, they want to control every mode of transportation. For Lyft, I see them seeing more of the opportunity financially with the data piece and becoming more of a platform and becoming that one-stop shop where you use an app to figure out if you want to use the scooter or a bike, or ride-hailing or buy that ticket for the L in Chicago or the Bart System.
So I really think that the public transit piece often gets ignored and cities are having so much more control now and weighing in. We see this in New York City with congestion pricing. It’s going to force Lyft and Uber to take advantage of these opportunities and use their platform in a way that perhaps accelerates faster than they had intended.
Kate: I’m very interested in the public transportation element, but I’m also very skeptical of the scooters and bikes in the future for Lyft, I think, given the unit economics, I certainly wouldn’t rely on them to be Lyft’s path to profitability. I think autonomous vehicles are a much more interesting path towards profitability. So a lot of companies, Uber, Lyft, Waymo and more are focusing on autonomous vehicles and their development, whether that be with hardware or software. How does Lyft’s strategy with autonomous vehicles differentiate from some of their competitors or does it does differentiate?
Kirsten: It does differentiate, and the funny thing is, is that so you don’t see micromobility necessarily as the oath to profitability and are interested in AVs and I write about AVs, but I see that AVs as a harder path to profitability in a way because of the nuts and bolts that it takes to develop them.
So just to weigh in really quickly on the micromobility piece and then I’ll move on to AVs; To show the opportunity but also the volatility in a real-world example for micromobility, I was in Austin for South by Southwest, I think you were there too, and you probably saw scooters everywhere, right? 18 months ago there were no scooters or bike share in the city. Then bike share came first.
And I was talking to that mayor of Austin and one of the folks from Spin, which is a Ford owned business, and they told me something that was really remarkable that I hadn’t thought about, which was that scooters were disrupting the bike share business. So bikes share came in and then scooters came in and all of a sudden they’re pulling bikes off the streets because no one was using them or were not using them at the same level as scooters.
Lyft is going to go through these same exact growing pains and people are figuring out what works. And as you mentioned, the unit economics are an issue, the wear and tear on the scooters alone is driving up costs and driving down revenues certainly, but pretty much making it very difficult to make a profit on it.
But that’s a near term business, right? So it’s at least generating revenue right now. On the other hand, you have this other piece, which is the AV piece. Lyft is doing some really interesting things on the AV piece — they kind of have a two-prong approach.
So they basically created a ton of partnerships to use their platform. So this started a couple of years ago and companies like Aptiv, drive.ai, even Waymo and nuTtonomy, which Aptiv just recently bought about a year ago and GM, and Lyft basically allows developers to use their platform and connect to their autonomous vehicle and offer these rides.
And the best example of this, if you’ve been to CES or if you have been to Las Vegas I should say more specifically, is this partnership that Lyft has with Aptiv — and Aptiv as a tier one supplier, they used to be called Delphi, they spun out, they bought nuTonomy, and they’re Aptiv now. And this is taking Aptiv automated BMW, which are on the Lyft network. If you hail a ride, you might be asked if you want a self-driving car, or “are you okay with a self-driving car?” And they have a safety driver, no humans have been pulled away from it yet. But they provided about 35,000 rides since I want to say January 2018.
Then they’re also doing Level 5, a dedicated self-driving vehicle division that launched in 2017. And here they’re basically creating an open self-driving system or open SDS. On top of that, they have partnered with Magna, an auto parts producer, to develop these self-driving systems that can be manufactured at scale.
And so you just see a rush of partnerships and sort of dual approaches and all of that costs a lot of money. And I can’t emphasize the amount of money that it costs or will cost to develop these systems and deploy them commercially. And I hear from other companies figures like $ 5 billion to get self-driving vehicles. So developing the full stack, doing fleet management, maintenance, all of that — that’s a lot of money. And, I’m not sure where Lyft, will get that capital, will they get it from the open market or will they have to go and ask for more capital.
Kate: So when do you think then that Lyft will be able to commercialize autonomous vehicles?
Kirsten: The timeline? So depending on who you talk to, you can hear from any of these developers between five years and 30 years. I think it’s important to talk about language and how we talk about autonomous vehicles. So to be clear, there is currently not a single commercial autonomous vehicle deployment where a human being or safety driver has been pulled away from the wheel. It just doesn’t exist.
There are plenty of pilots and Waymo is probably considered the leader in that list, though it is a bit of a confusing one for me because they have so many partnerships and they’ve become competitors to some of those partnerships. The analogy I use is “Survivor,” the reality show. Everyone wants to make these alliances so they don’t get voted off the island.
And now we’re at that point where autonomous vehicle development has entered what we call the trough of disillusionment, which is heads down, “let’s get away from the hype, let’s do the hard work.” And I think we’re going to see a lot of those partnerships and headwinds really come up in the next year, 18 months. So to put a target date on Lyft, it’s really going to depend on which one of those partnerships really play out and are real. I think the one with Aptiv seems the most real to me based on what I know the company is doing and I can see them doing a lot more pilots in the next 18 months.
Does that mean commercial deployment without a human safety driver behind the wheel? I’m not sure I can see a lot more these pilots with a human safety driver expanding beyond Las Vegas. I see pilots happening absolutely in the next year to 18 months. The issue is going to be when is that human safety driver going to be pulled out and with which partner.
Kate: So should we open it up to questions again?
Caller Question: Hi, I was just wondering how we should think about the regulatory risks that might exist as these companies expand to new cities, new markets, or even the public transport use case you mentioned. Thanks.
Kirsten: The regulatory piece is an interesting one. Let’s talk about ride-hailing first. We’ve already seen the regulatory environment, in cities, push back against companies like Uber and Lyft. I think the congestion pricing model that just launched in New York City is going to be one to watch and could be something that will put pressure on, on businesses like Lyft.
Kate: I agree and just to speak, quickly on the scooters; I think the narrative around scooters has been pretty dominated by how cities have forced them out or cities push these strict regulatory barriers on them. And I think that’s still playing out very much. There are even some scooter providers that have had to pull out of cities that they worked very hard to get into in the first place. So I think that has slowed down some of the growth there. And given that Lyft has micromobility as such a key part of their road to profitability, I think that’s partially why I am a little bit skeptical of how that’s gonna play out.
Kirsten: One thing we’ve found, and something to consider for Uber as well, in the future, if any of these AV developers end up, filing for IPOs on their own — there’s been chit chat about Waymo someday doing that or GM cruise someday— the implications for all of these companies and their relationship with cities should not be ignored or undervalued.
And I think you see a bit of that playing out with the present day track we have, which is the ride-hailing scooters and bike share cities and transit agencies or the DOT of different counties finding that they are in a more powerful position than they’ve ever been before. And they are exerting that power.
And so you will see instances like Los Angeles where they have put forth a mandatory data sharing component if you want to operate in their city. This raises some privacy concerns by the way, but it also adds another cost to a company or certainly forces them to look at their business a little bit differently.
Then you start talking about AVs and where are they will operate, how they will operate, where are they will park, what type of vehicle will be allowed in the urban center. In places like Europe, there are strict emissions rules, so that’s going to go to an AV or hybrid profile. And it’s important to think about what that regulatory framework might be and acknowledge the fact that it’s really a mishmash.
There are voluntary guidelines on the federal level right now, but there were no mandates. And so it’s really left up to the cities, counties and states to decide how an AV might be deployed. It’s going to mean probably more lobbyists in DC working with federal folks to ensure that their business doesn’t get hamstrung as a result as well as more of a presence in those cities and states and counties.
But Kate, I’m wondering what is your view from a startup perspective? Do you think of Lyft as a startup anymore are they acting like a startup or are they acting like a company that could handle all of these different complicated, various challenges? I mean, we’ve got pricing pressure, regulatory pressure or you’ve got AV development, opportunities with scooters and all this other stuff. So are they acting like a company that is able to handle this?
Kate: That’s an interesting question. I mean, they’re definitely not a startup anymore by, by anybody’s definition. You maybe could have still used that word, if they were still private, but even then, I know many people would yell at you for using that term for a company worth $ 15 billion. But now it’s a public company. It’s not a startup. I don’t think they’re acting like a startup, no. I think that they are mature in the way that they’re handling all of these different, so-called paths to profitability.
But we need to wait and see. Let’s see how this year goes, let’s see how they handle all the criticism that they’re going to undoubtedly take from Wall Street or from everyone who’s either interested in buying or just taking a seat and watching how the stock favors and then we’ll know what kind of lessons they took from all those years as a private company. Then we can decide if their behavior is really that of a mature public company.
Kirsten: I do want to make one point that I think is an interesting one on Lyft’s strategy versus Uber is in terms of AVs. Let’s all put a big asterisk that says no, AVs are still a ways out. It is important to note the Lyft and Uber’s strategies for AVs are wildly different and Uber does not take this dual approach. Uber is throwing a ton of capital towards developing their own, self-driving stack and also they’ve done, some acquisitions as well.
They’ve also had quite a bit of trouble. Last year Uber had the first self-driving vehicle fatality that happened in Tempe, Arizona, which looked like it was going to derail their self-driving unit, but it did not. They’re back, testing in a very limited way, but Lyft’s is all about what they call the democratization of autonomous vehicles.
And we can look at that as marketing speech, but I do think that it’s important to look at those words because it shows what their business model is. Their business model is partnerships, alliances, opening up the platform and casting the widest net possible. What I’m very interested to find out is which approach will end up being the winner. It’s going to be a very long game. It’s not going to be anything that’s going to be determined in the next year. I think what Lyft’s proven is that when they look like they’re down and out, they come back.
We’ll see what the better approach is. Do you do everything in-house and launch your own robo-taxi service? Or take capital partners on or do the Lyft approach, with multiple partners? Are partnerships actually too complicated? As someone who covers the startup world, do you have a thought on which one might work or not?
Kate: I have no idea which will work better and I’m sort of excited to see where this all goes, especially as Uber and Lyft are now going to be public.
That’s a good spot to end the call on.
Kirsten: Thanks so much for joining. Thanks again for being Extra Crunch subscribers, we really appreciate it. Bye everyone.
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