In startup land we rightly laud the achievement of creating a Unicorn. Creating a business worth $1 billion in a few years is an amazing achievement that makes the participants rich.
Put that in perspective to what Fortune 500 companies need to do:
GE needs to create about $15 billion in new revenue each year.
P&G needs to create about $7 billion in new revenue each year.
This data comes from a book called Creativity and Innovation in Business (which you can get on Google Books).
Note that is revenue not market cap.
Lending Club, the stunning Fintech success and wake up call for Banks in 2014, is valued about $7.9 billion by public markets for their common stock; this is realized value. However Trailing Twelve Month (TTM) revenue for Lending Club was only $176m. Assume 100% growth rates for a couple of years and you get to $1 billion in revenue pretty quickly. The trajectory of digital ventures says that this is possible, which is why investors will pay such high multiple of revenue. The point is to see the scale of the challenge for big companies. Lending Club has not created $7 billion in new annual revenues. They may do that. Lots of investors are betting that they will do that fairly soon. However today they have “only” created a few hundred million of annual revenue.
Companies such as GE and P&G have long lived in a hyper competitive environment. This is the world that Banks are now getting accustomed to.
The reason why big companies need to create so much new revenue is only partly the law of large numbers. GE has about $148 billion annual revenue. Call it $150 billion to keep the math simple. Getting $15 billion in new revenue would be 10% revenue growth. Nobody expects GE to grow at 10%. Growing at 5% is respectable and 7% is stunning.
The need to create $15 billion comes from the fact that competitors will be grabbing some % of that $150 billion annual revenue from GE.
Lets say competitors grab 5%. That means GE needs to create $7.5 billion in new revenue each year just to stand still. To create 5% revenue growth they need to create $15 billion of new revenue each year.
You cannot create $ billions of new revenue in your existing Red Ocean markets. Big competitors fight over every scrap of new revenue. That is why they are called Red Ocean markets; the sharks are circulating and there is blood in the water. In Red Ocean markets you need to be more efficient (cut costs) and digitization offers plenty of opportunity to do that.
However, investors prize revenue growth even more than improved margins. That is where Fortune 500 companies like GE look for big Blue Ocean Opportunities. These are the big new markets that nobody owns yet, where one can grab major revenue share while nobody is looking.
That is the way that startups think. Look at great venture success stories and you see markets that look ridiculous in their early days. These startups just look to meet real needs however tiny the market is today; they don’t care what label is on the market or whether some analyst can prove that a massive market exists. Peter Thiel in Zero to One, talks about going after a niche within a niche in the early days of PayPal – the power sellers on eBay – that no established firm would have considered worth going after.
The reason that startups can take this approach is because the early costs are so low. All the new tools – social, mobile, analytics, cloud – delivered either as open source or via APIs make it ridiculously low cost to create the first Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
That is why I think that Banks need to import startup culture. This is not about casual dress and bringing your dog to the office. Those are surface signs. The real culture is fiercely meritocratic and competitive. A huge amount is at stake every day and some tiny detail in user experience could make the difference in achieving Product Market Fit (PMF).
All the current labels we put on funding rounds are meaningless these days. Friends and family, angel, seed, Series A, B, C, Growth Equity, Private Equity, Pre IPO Round, Corporate Venture capital, Hedge Funds, Sovereign Wealth Funds – none of these matter compared to one simple gate called Product Market Fit.
Pre-PMF, there are thousands of services which cost almost nothing to create and most of them will not pass through the PMF gate. That is why we see new Micro VC Funds like Y Combinator, Techstars and 500 Startups put tiny sums into a large number of Pre-PMF ventures.
Post-PMF the growth rates can be staggering. In a world where half of the 7 billion people on this planet have a mobile phone, if a service “catches fire” it goes from unheard of to huge in an incredibly short time. That is why all those pools of capital (VC Funds, Angel List Syndicates, Corporate Venture Capital, Hedge Funds, Sovereign Wealth Funds, Family Offices) are willing to allocate large amounts of capital at valuations that are often dismissed as ridiculous.
This new game involves thousands of Pre-PMF ventures that will fail and a few Post-PMF ventures that will either be your Unicorn (creating $ billions of new revenue) or somebody else’s Unicorn (taking $ billions of your revenue).
Acquiring at scale for reasonable EBITDA margins is a game that Banks have grown comfortable with. That game is irrelevant in digital economics.
This is the uncomfortable reality that top management in banks is grappling with.