What Exactly Do Google and Alphabet Own?
Internet balloons, surgical robots, drone delivery systems, and more
Are you familiar with Alphabet? No, not the building blocks of language—the company.
Alphabet Inc. is the parent company of tech behemoth Google. It has a large stable of over 160 subsidiary businesses that have played a role in turning the corporation into one of the largest on Earth in terms of market capitalization. While it’s known as Alphabet, the company trades on the stock market as GOOG and GOOGL.
As you may recall, Google in 2015 was reconceptualized as Alphabet. Google remained as a company focused on search, advertising, and smartphone platforms, with the bulk of its revenue coming from advertising. Meanwhile, a number of “big-bet” companies would also be operated by Alphabet.
You may already be familiar with most Google products, such as Android, Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, Chrome, and Google Maps. You may not be aware, however, of the various nascent companies that operate under Alphabet.
Alphabet once owned Boston Dynamics, a maker of advanced robotics that was spun off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The company operated under Alphabet’s “X” subsidiary for moonshot projects. Alphabet then sold Boston Dynamics to Japan’s Softbank Group in 2017.
Alphabet in its 2018 annual report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) laid out its vision for its many moonshot subsidiaries:
“Many companies get comfortable doing what they have always done, making only incremental changes. This incrementalism leads to irrelevance over time, especially in technology, where change tends to be revolutionary, not evolutionary. People thought we were crazy when we acquired YouTube and Android and when we launched Chrome, but those efforts have matured into major platforms for digital video and mobile devices and a safer, popular browser. We continue to look toward the future and continue to invest for the long term.
As we said in the original founders' letter, we will not shy away from high-risk, high-reward projects that we believe in because they are the key to our long-term success.”
You might be surprised at what lines of business Alphabet is in. Here’s a look at some of its most notable “Other Bets” subsidiaries and divisions. Collectively, the units were reported to have earned total revenue of $595 million in 2018, up from $477 million in 2017, according to Alphabet’s 2018 annual report to the SEC. But the parent company—which brought in $136.8 billion in revenue in 2018—doesn’t disclose profits or expenses for its futuristic Other Bets.
In 2006, Google acquired YouTube, the video-sharing and publishing platform, for $1.65 billion in stock. It’s become an investment that worked out quite well for the company as YouTube now boasts more than 2 billion users. While some analysts have tried to estimate the revenue generated by YouTube, Alphabet keeps that number tied in with many other subsidiaries, all categorized on its financial statements as one “Google.” As of September 2019, Google’s annual revenue for the company was over $115 billion, which Youtube contributed to.
Calico is a life science company charged with trying to harness advanced technologies to increase understanding of the biology that controls aging and lifespan. According to Alphabet’s Q3 2019 financial statement, Calico, in collaboration with biotech company AbbVie Inc., has a mission to “discover, develop, and bring to market new therapies for patients with age-related diseases, including neurodegeneration and cancer.” Although Alphabet doesn’t break out the earnings results of its units, it said that as of September 2019, it has “contributed $480 million to Calico in exchange for Calico convertible preferred units and are committed to fund up to an additional $750 million on an as-needed basis and subject to certain conditions.”
Calico’s financials are tied in with other Alphabet subsidiaries and categorized as “Other Bets” on its financial statements. As of September 2019, Other Bets brought in more than $487 million in annual revenue.
This is another life science company in the group, focused on organizing health data. It is working to develop a variety of devices and technologies, including “smart” contact lenses, surgical robots, and miniature glucose monitors. Revenue from Verily isn’t public, but Alphabet states that the company has raised a total of $1.8 billion in venture capital as of September 2019. There’s reason to be optimistic for this unit, given that health care is one of the most dominant sectors of the economy. According to Alphabet’s 2018 annual report, Temasek, a Singapore-based investment company, purchased a noncontrolling interest in Verily for an aggregate of $800 million in cash in 2017. These transactions were accounted for as equity transactions and no gain or loss was recognized.
This company was formerly known only as Google’s self-driving car project, started in 2009, but it grew to become a full-fledged Alphabet subsidiary in 2016. Waymo is one of several companies looking to perfect automobiles that drive themselves without human intervention, though it’s developing the technology, not the cars themselves. Waymo markets itself as one day solving the problem of vehicle-related deaths and giving mobility to millions of people who can’t drive. It is also experimenting with developing self-driving big-rig cross-country trucks.
Although, again, the expense of running Waymo isn’t disclosed by Alphabet, The Information reported in March 2019 that Waymo allegedly may seek outside capital from automakers at some point.
Wing operates under the auspices of “X,” or Alphabet’s “Moonshot Factory” in its Other Bets category, self-described on its website as “a diverse group of inventors and entrepreneurs who build and launch technologies that aim to improve the lives of millions, even billions, of people.” Project Wing wants to change the way goods are delivered. The company is developing autonomous drones to deliver items in a more efficient and environmentally friendly way. It’s also working on an unmanned-traffic management platform to safely route drones through the sky. The company made headlines when it delivered medicine, dog food, and candy bars to farmers in Australia in 2014, and then again when it delivered burritos to Virginia Tech students in 2016.
Another Moonshot project, Loon, is focused on finding ways to deliver internet access to underserved areas through high-altitude balloons. If successful, Loon says it will fill coverage gaps and improve network resilience in the event of a disaster by delivering expedient coverage.
This is Alphabet’s foray into the cybersecurity realm. Its core product, Backstory, is built on the robust Google infrastructure and is aimed at making it cheaper for companies to store and analyze their security data. On its website, Chronicle says it sees a “future where enterprise security teams can find and stop cyberattacks before they cause harm.”
In the summer of 2019, Alphabet announced that Chronicle would be folded into the company’s Google Cloud service.
Can making the world safer also be a lucrative business? Jigsaw (formerly known as Google Ideas) is an incubator looking for solutions to a variety of global security concerns, from censorship and violent extremists to online harassment, organized crime, and corruption. The company’s name, Jigsaw, comes from an understanding that big problems often present themselves as challenging puzzles.
Do you remember Nest? Google bought the company in 2014 for more than $3 billion, officially entering the “smart home” device business. For several years, Nest operated separately from Google, but in early 2018, Alphabet announced that it was rolling Nest into Google Home and marketing all Google home devices such as smart speakers and displays, streaming devices, and thermostats under the Google Nest brand. As of September 2019, Nest’s revenue is included in Google’s hardware division, which is not broken out and included in the Google category on financial statements.
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