Google is currently in the market looking for the next Google. Google is sinking large amounts of its ample profits into the venture capital market trying to find the next big thing. In today’s market it seems more and more companies are playing venture capitalist, and why not when a large company can benefit from its successes and buffer its losses easier. Google has said that it is using data to determine its investment choices but investors doubt this will be a successful formula given that most, if not all, of these companies are start ups and do not have much hard data associated with them yet. Given Google’s success it is a hard sell to bet against them, after all, all success comes with at least a little bit of luck–and success in venture capital is no exception.
By CLAIRE CAIN MILLER
Google thinks it can be young and crazy again. And it is betting $200 million that it is right.
In the hottest market for technology start-up companies in over a decade, the Silicon Valley behemoth is playing venture capitalist in a rush to discover the next Facebook or Zynga.
Other pedigreed tech companies are doing the same, as venture capital dollars coming from corporations approach levels last seen in the dot-com bubble era of 2000.
To some, it is a telltale sign of an overheated industry, symptomatic of a late and ill-advised rush to invest during good times. But Google says it has a weapon to guide it in picking investments — a Google-y secret sauce, which means using data-driven algorithms to analyze the would-be next big thing.
Never mind that there often is very little data because the companies are so young, and that most venture capitalists say investing is more of an art than a science. At Google, even art is quantifiable.
“Investing is being in a dark room and trying to find the way out,” said Bill Maris, the managing partner of Google Ventures, the corporate investment arm. “If you have a match, you should light it.”
Corporate venture funds invested $583 million in start-ups in the first three months of the year, according to the National Venture Capital Association, up from $443 million in the same period last year and $245 million in 2009, before tech investing began its rapid turnaround.
Today, 10 percent of venture capital dollars comes from corporations, nearing the previous bubble-era high of 15 percent in 2000. Facebook, Zynga and Amazon.com are investing in social media start-ups. AOL Ventures restarted last year after three previous efforts, and Intel Capital expects to invest more this year than the $327 million it invested last year.
Google Ventures says it has invested as much money in the first half of this year as in all of last, and Larry Page, the company’s co-founder, who became chief executive this spring, has promised to keep the coffers wide open.
Corporate venture arms have sprung into action before during boom times, like the early 1980s and the late 1990s, but they have had mixed records.
“When the corporate guys get involved, it usually means that we’re at the top of the market,” said Andrew S. Rachleff, who teaches venture capital at Stanford and was a founder of Benchmark Capital, the venture firm.
Mr. Rachleff also questioned Google’s reliance on its algorithms. “There’s no analysis to be done when you’re evaluating a company that’s creating a new market, because there’s no market to analyze,” he said. “You have to apply judgment.”
Although even Mr. Maris compares venture investing to “buying lottery tickets,” Google says it has faith in its algorithms. At the same time, it is taking the unusual step of providing the chosen start-ups with access to its 28,770 employees for engineering, recruiting and business advice, and offering office space at the Googleplex and classes on building a business.
Mr. Page, who declined a request for an interview, has already promised Google Ventures $200 million this year and says a virtually unlimited amount is available, Mr. Maris said, as Google reconnects with its start-up roots. “I’ve had conversations with Larry when he says, ‘Do as much as you can, as fast as you can in as big and disruptive a way as possible,’ ” he said.
Google says its approach is paying off. One of its investments, Ngmoco, was acquired by a Japanese gaming company, DeNA, for up to $400 million, and another, HomeAway, for renting vacation homes, received a warm welcome from investors when it went public last month. A third, Silver Spring Networks, a smart-grid company, filed to go public last week.
Google Ventures invests in various areas — the Web, biotechnology and clean technology. It puts large amounts of money into mature companies, but it is also investing small amounts in 100 new companies this year.
To make its picks, the company has built computer algorithms using data from past venture investments and academic literature. For example, for individual companies, Google enters data about how long the founders worked on start-ups before raising money and whether the founders successfully started companies in the past.
It runs similar information about potential investments through the algorithms to get a red, yellow or green light.