Mention Google and most people think of their eponymous Search, Maps, Chrome or Gmail apps. Keen followers of the company may also be aware of YouTube or Android and of course these businesses are all significant parts of Google’s parent company Alphabet, each one with more than 1 billion users.
However, another side to the company that receives less attention is its highly secretive R&D business originally called Google X but now called X – the Moonshot Factory. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have always believed in investing some of the company’s resources in difficult, long-term problems and they formed a new division in 2010 to work on moonshots: sci-fi sounding technologies that aim to make the world a radically better place.
Alphabet considers X – the Moonshot Factory 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. Our goal: 10x impact on the world’s most intractable problems, not just 10% improvement. We approach projects that have the aspiration and riskiness of research with the speed and ambition of a startup.”
What makes X unique is that most businesses shy away from investing in projects with no immediate or near-term payoff. This is often because they don’t have the capital, the expertise or the leadership to invest in projects whose expected return is years into the future. Alphabet is fortunate enough to have a significant cash generating business in Google, the ability to attract the worlds best and brightest engineering talent and a founder-led management team with a 5-10 year investment horizon.
The term Moonshot comes from the Apollo missions and as Astro Teller, Alphabet’s Captain of Moonshots describes it “… it is about looking beyond where you can actually see and envisioning an answer that doesn’t seem reasonable — and pursuing it anyway. It’s about doing things that sound undoable but if done could redefine humanity.”
As projects reach the point of commercialisation they graduate from X and form their own independent businesses within Alphabet’s Other Bets segment. We believe many will have enormous potential both as investments which could generate significant investor returns and as technologies that may one day dramatically improve our lives.
We have investigated 11 of the Moonshot Factory’s projects and over the coming weeks we’ll be delving in to each one to uncover their technology and aspirations.