Akamai Technologies: Zeroing in on Zero Trust

Through internal development and acquisitions, cloud security has grown rapidly to become an $800 million annual run rate business for Cambridge, MA-based Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ: AKAM). The business is on track to generate nearly 30 percent of sales this year, up from 16 percent of sales for all of 2016. Through its early work with Kona Site Defender, which protects websites, web applications, and APIs against cyberattacks, Akamai developed a core competence in protecting against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against data center software assets. Such attacks involve the high-jacking of a large number of computer servers to overwhelm a target website or data center with malicious traffic.

With users, applications and devices moving outside the traditional perimeter of corporate firewalls, new approaches are required to ensure against the infection or theft of corporate data assets. To address this growing problem, Akamai has been developing a new cloud security architecture which it calls Zero Trust. The underlying principle behind zero trust is akin to that promulgated by former US president Ronald Reagan, who described the necessity to “trust, yet verify” any agreement that might be reached with the Soviet Union. In the same way that treaties must be verified, so must the identities of those who present a higher risk to data access, including contractors and employees in remote geographies. In such instances, corporations will wish to only grant precise access to what is needed, rather than broad access to a corporate network.

A key element of Akamai’s approach is centered around technology acquired last year from Janrain, which helps Akamai to decipher login history and access patterns, such as the city and time of day when such logins occur. With technology provided by Janrain, Akamai now helps customers in the area of identity proofing, authentication without using passwords, access control, web fraud prevention, and advertising fraud.

Last week, Akamai announced the tuck-in acquisition of KryptCo, a Cambridge, MA startup, whose engineers have developed mobile-based technology for multi-factor user authentication, which will fit into Akamai’s Enterprise Access Control Framework. Authenticating and assigning users the correct level of access to a data network remains a key technical challenge, as many approaches to access control are vulnerable to phishing attacks, in which user data, including alphanumeric login credentials, are targeted.  Kryptco has developed a new approach, which does not require a pin number for authorization.

By next year, cloud security could contribute in excess of $1 billion in revenue and comprise about 34 percent of sales, which would be twice the percentage of revenue contributed just three years ago.  The challenges posed by corporate data theft and espionage are likely to keep the category of zero trust in focus for many corporations and government entities for many years to come.

iRobot: Rethinking Lawn Care

irobot logoiRobot has thus far had its greatest success inside the home, as the Roomba and Braava for vacuum cleaning and floor mopping, respectively, account for virtually all of its revenue, and the lion’s share of the more than 20 million consumer robots it has sold since inception. For many years, however, iRobot has explored the opportunity to automate the mundane tasks of outdoor home maintenance. iRobot’s Looj, a $299 robot that cleaned gutters, was an early experiment that had a core following, but has since been discontinued as its market opportunity was ultimately limited in size.

It may come as a surprise to some that the largest outdoor consumer robot category is lawn mowing. Robotic Lawn Mowers (RLMs) have been established for many years in Europe, where the category has seen its largest number of early adopters, and represents an annual revenue opportunity of $400 million.

iRobot has been eyeing the market for RLMs for at least five years, as evidenced by its trademark application in 2014 for Terra, the Latin word for earth or ground, in which the company noted that Terra would be used for robotic lawnmowers, as well as structural and replacement parts and fittings. Terra, iRobot’s long awaited RLM will launch later this quarter is Germany, with plans for a US beta program later this year.  Terra utilizes a new wireless approach to guiding an outdoor robot, which gives it a technological edge over other products in the category that require the placement of embedded boundary wires to outline the path of the robot so that it does not go astray.

Unlike in the US, the market for robotic lawnmowers is well-established in Europe, particularly in Sweden, Germany, France and Switzerland, where an aging, relatively homogenous population, often attuned to environmental concerns, and burdened by expensive landscaping services have become the earliest adopters of robotic lawnmowers. European lawns, moreover, are typically smaller, flatter, and have fewer obstacles embedded, and therefore lawn mowing can be more easily automated.

Several of the industry’s largest players are based in Europe, including Husqvarna, the Swedish provider of outdoor power products, which introduced its first robotic lawnmower in 1995. It also markets products under the Gardena and McCulloch consumer brands. According to market research estimates we have seen, Husqvarna may control as much as 50 percent of the European market. Other participants include Robert Bosch, Honda, and John Deere, which sells a robotic lawnmower in Europe, but not in the US.

The common threads and limitations of the current generation of robotic lawn mowers—in addition to the use of boundary wire—are high retail prices, often in excess of $1,500. Challenges that remain include the ability to consistently cut grass in lots greater than 1/3 of an acre in size, cutting grass in excess of 2” high, as well as certain types of rough grass. Other challenges include navigating garden beds, trees, rocks, and other lawn debris, where additional boundary wire and sensors must demarcate the areas to be avoided by the robot.

iRobot’s heritage for producing easy to use category leading indoor robots, combined with a new wireless approach, along with its core competence in visual navigation technology suggest considerable for potential for Terra.

Care.com: Addressing Safety in the Gig Economy

Care.com: Addressing Safety in the Gig EconomyAs the internet has transformed commerce, social, and work life over the last 10 years, consumers have become increasingly willing to entrust personal safety to operators of websites that provide matching services. Dating over the internet, once taboo for fear of linking up with a sociopath, has given way to comfort with finding in some cases, partners for life. Finding and accepting transportation over the internet comes along with the risk of placing one’s personal safety in the hands of a driver whose qualifications and personal habits are something of a mystery.

On Friday, March 8th, the day after Care.com released Q4 results, The Wall Street Journal published a highly critical article about Care.com’s screening practices for caregivers in its online edition, entitled, “Care.com Puts Onus on Families to Check Caregivers’ Backgrounds—With Sometimes Tragic Outcomes; The largest online marketplace for such services says its members are responsible for ensuring background checks are performed.” The article was also published on the first page of the Journal’s week-end print edition. Without reviewing here the entire contents of the article, the most salient points were that the Journal had found hundreds of instances in which daycare centers were listed on Care.com’s website as state-licensed, but were not. In at least one instance children died while under the care of a non-licensed facility.

The article was also critical of Care.com’s screening procedures. Care.com’s preliminary screening checks multijurisdictional databases, as well as the National Sex Offender public website, as part of a manual process, which can take up to 48 hours, and which rejects an estimated 10 percent of those seeking a listing within 24 hours. Existing and prospective customers can also purchase additional packages that range in price from $59 to $300 to conduct a more detailed level of screening.

The article, while specific to Care.com, raises the question of responsibility and liability for companies operating in the gig economy. Like LinkedIn, Indeed, and other jobsites, Care.com does not conduct employment level background checks. Uber, for example, like Care.com, conducts a background check on its service providers, ie. drivers. This includes a Motor Vehicle Record review, as well as a criminal background check. Background checks for Uber drivers, according to the Uber website, are conducted by Checkr, a third party background check provider that is accredited by the National Association of Professional Background screeners.

On March 11th, Care.com filed an 8-K with the SEC in which it noted that it would no longer allow caregivers that are new to the platform to engage with the platform until the preliminary screen has been completed. The company also disclosed that it was exploring solutions to help verify the identity of both caregivers and care seekers on its platform. Care.com will also be looking at potential changes regarding notification of members on its websites when, for example, a caregiver is no longer allowed to provide services on the platform. Care.com also eliminated all listings of daycare centers that were not updated and reviewed by the daycare center itself. Finally, Care.com announced a new board level committee that will oversee the company’s safety and cybersecurity programs.

To be sure, the concept of guarding personal safety over the internet continues to evolve. It is likely that industry best practices will emerge over time. However, there is still likely to be an element of trust every time someone steps into an Uber or Lyft-driven vehicle, accepts an invitation for lunch through an online dating site, hires a person based in part on job experience posted on a website, or employs a care-giver in their home.

Gaia: Gaining Ground in Internet Streaming

Gaia logoIf we want to set out on the arduous search for the truth, we must all summon up the courage to leave the lines along which we have thought until now, and as the first step begin to doubt everything that we previously accepted as correct and true. “

—Erich von Daniken

With trailing 12-month sales of $40 million and a market cap of roughly $220 million, Gaia, based in Boulder, Colorado, is a leading provider of new age streaming video services. With over 500,000 subscribers to its monthly service, the company focuses on several genres, including yoga, seeking truth, transformation, and alternative healing, and thus occupies a unique niche within the streaming content landscape. The company boasts over 8,000 titles, 90 percent of which are unique to Gaia. Subscribers reside in 185 countries, with about 30 percent of revenue coming from international markets.

Though the majority of viewership is focused on several thousand titles in its library, no single title accounts for more than one percent of viewership. The company continues to create new video content in its Colorado studios.

Gaia was founded as Gaiam in 1988 in Boulder, Colorado by entrepreneur Jirka Rysavy, who was also a founder of Corporate Express, and Crystal Market, a natural foods market later acquired by Wild Oats Market.  Gaiam began with a mission to provide products to those in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle and a respect for the environment, based on ecological sustainability, consistent with the corporate ethos of other Boulder-based companies, such as Wild Oats Market, and Celestial Seasonings. Gaiam, the company’s original name, came about as the fusion of Gaia, the ancient Greek deity, who represented the idea of the earth as a living system, and “I am,” meant to evoke a sense of connectedness with the planet.

2016 was a transformational year for Gaiam. In May, the company sold its equity interest in Natural Habitat, its eco-travel subsidiary, for $13 million in cash. Later that month it announced the sale of its Gaiam Brand business to Sequential Brands Group (NASDAQ: SQBG) for $167 million. The sale included the company’s branded yoga, fitness and wellness consumer products, and content, with the exclusion of the streaming rights to that content. The sale of its branded products business allowed Gaiam to focus exclusively on streaming video services and DVD distribution, and the company changed its name to Gaia. The new company utilized $77 million to repurchase 9.6 million Class A common stock shares, and 840,000 vested stock options at  a fixed price of $7.75 per share in a tender offer completed in July of 2016. This transaction reduced its shares outstanding from 24.6 million to 15 million. By the end of 2016, Gaia had over 200,000 subscribers to its internet video service.

In March of 2018, Gaia executed a secondary stock offering, and sold 2.3 million Class A common shares at $15 per share. In connection with the offering, certain directors and officers of the company agreed to purchase roughly 135,000 shares. Gaia’s advisor for the transaction was Roth Capital Partners. The offering was led by B. Riley FBR, Lake Street Capital Markets, and Dougherty & Company. Gaia used a portion of the $32 million in net proceeds to pay down $12.5 million in debt. In early September of 2018, Gaia announced that it was about to cross the 500,000 subscriber mark, which compared to 311,000 subscribers in the prior year, and marked a major milestone in its quest to achieve one million subscribers by the end of 2019.

Gaia has taken an aggressive approach to marketing by investing 90 to 120 percent of streaming revenue in the last few quarters in customer acquisition as part of its goal to sign up one million subscribers by the end of next year.  Year to date revenue has grown an impressive 58 percent, though its operating losses have widened to $25 million, from $19 million over the same period last year. The company currently intends to utilize most of the $31 million in cash on its balance sheet, along with a secured line of credit of $12 million to aggressively target new customers over the course of the coming year, with the intent of letting its cash balance fall to between $2 and $5 million, before it begins to generate profit on a consistent basis.

Gaia recently launched a new channel, focused on alternative healing, drawing upon roughly 1,000 titles from its existing library, in an effort to more effectively merchandise the content, and attract new subscribers with interest in this segment. The company also intends to launch a new premium service that will be priced in the vicinity of $299 per year, which will include access to live events.

The New York Times: Failing or Thriving?

New York Times“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

—Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787

With over four million paid subscribers to its news, website content, and daily newspaper, The New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT) has been a trusted source of news coverage since its inception more than 165 years ago. Launched in 1851 as the New-York Daily Times by Henry Jarvis Raymond and George Jones, The Times gained momentum as a trusted news source a decade later, when it expanded its six day per week publication to seven days, in order to cover breaking news relating to The Civil War. The Times further burnished its credentials as a source of incisive coverage of the events of the day when it exposed the corrupt practices of William M. “Boss” Tweed, a New York City leader of the Democratic Party political machine.

Rescued from financial ruin by the Ochs-Sulzberger family in 1896, the paper enhanced its reputation for quality journalism. Under the slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print” which first appeared alongside the paper’s moniker in 1897, The Times began to distance itself from many of its more sensationalistic competitors, who emphasized the more lurid stories of the day in their reportage. The Times’ focus on quality investigative journalism has enabled it to win over 122 Pulitzer Prizes—more than any other news organization—including 61 Pulitzer Prizes in the last 25 years.

The New York Times has also developed a reputation for leadership in maintaining the rights of a free press to publish articles of interest to the public at large, despite objection from the subjects of its coverage. In some cases, the company has argued its position before the US Supreme court, as it did in New York Times Co. v Sullivan in 1964, when the court established the “actual malice” standard that requires public officials or public figures acting as plaintiffs against a news organization to establish that statements about them were published in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity in order to meet the threshold of defamatory or libelous intent.

As an independent newspaper, The New York Times has had to balance its role as a responsible purveyor of news, with its responsibility to protect sensitive national security information, sometimes at the behest of the US government. Over the years the newspaper has either delayed or withheld the publication of articles, often in consultation with government officials over fears of placing lives at risk. However, the paper has at times made the decision to publish articles that it believed to be in the public interest, despite objections from the government.

In 1971, The New York Times, along with the Washington Post played a key role in publishing portions of the Pentagon Papers, a classified US Department of Defense history of the government’s conduct in the Vietnam War. When The New York Times began to print excerpts from the report, the Nixon administration sought to restrain publication on the grounds that material leaked interfered with government’s ability to conduct the war, and enter into negotiations for peace. When the newspapers refused to comply with the government’s request, the Nixon White House obtained a federal court injunction to cease publication, and called for the source of the leaks, Daniel Ellsberg, to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917. Simultaneous appeals of the government’s actions by the newspapers wound their way up the judicial chain to the US Supreme Court, which decided in a 6-3 decision in 1971 that the injunctions on the newspapers were unconstitutional prior restraints, and crucially, that the executive branch had not met the burden of proof required to enforce its order.

In addition to its award-winning news coverage over many years, the newspaper has been cited in numerous studies for the quality of its work. As a result of its reputation for quality, independent investigative journalism, The Times has become the newspaper of record for national and global events, as archived copies of the newspaper housed in libraries throughout the world are drawn upon by researchers, students, and general readers.

For more on Battle Road’s current perspective on The New York Times, please contact [email protected]

Akamai Technologies: A Growing Force in Cyber-Security

Akamai TechnologiesFounded twenty years ago by MIT graduate student Daniel Lewin, and Dr. Tom Leighton, his applied mathematics professor, Akamai Technologies, based in Cambridge, MA specializes in internet content delivery, web performance, and cybersecurity software. With trailing twelve month revenue of $2.6 billion, and a market cap of roughly $13 billion, the company serves more than 60 percent of the Fortune 500, each of the top 15 US and Canadian retailers, all of the top 20 global ecommerce companies, the 50 largest global carriers, 47 of the top 50 American television networks, 21 of the top 25 global gaming companies, 17 of the top 20 global social media platforms, the largest 25 banks in the US, the 10 largest global auto manufacturers, and all branches of the US military. More than 500 customers spend more than $1 million annually with Akamai, and no customer accounts for more than four percent of sales.

Akamai’s software and services are delivered over a proprietary global network that has grown to exceed 240,000 servers embedded in 1,700 networks in 3,900 locations in 133 countries. The distributed nature of this global network with servers located locally at the “edge” of the internet ensures that content is delivered quickly and efficiently.

Versus four years ago, when cloud security comprised just $50 million in annual revenue, the Cambridge-based company has developed a growing cloud security business, which contributed $486 million in revenue last year, or 20 percent of total sales. At present growth rates, even in the absence of acquisitions, cyber security could become the company’s largest business within four years.

Increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks funded by governments, organized crime, and political activists place banks, global media, and governments and their constituents at increased risk of fraud, identity theft, loss of reputation, and loss of revenue. In response, Akamai has developed a differentiated series of cloud software services designed to protect against such attacks. The basic premise behind its approach, and the key demand driver for its services is that it is much easier to attack a corporate network, than to protect it, as even a single hole can become the stalking horse for massive bot armies that can bring a network to its knees.

Through its early work with Kona Site Defender, which protects websites and APIs against cyber attacks, Akamai developed a core competence in protecting against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against data center software assets. Such attacks involve the high-jacking of a large number of computer servers to overwhelm a target website or data center with malicious traffic. DDoS attacks, launched by political activists, cyber criminals, and hackers seeking notoriety have become the bane of large bank and ecommerce companies in particular. Akamai has since developed and acquired new capabilities to protect against DDoS attacks, and added products to protect against web application layer attacks, as well as solutions to block and mitigate malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks.

Akamai has also had success with Bot Manager, a product launched in 2016, which provides insight into the amount of bot traffic accessing a website, as well as prevention of price and content scraping, which is particularly worrisome to ecommerce companies. Utilizing Bot Manager, the company reports that a single bank achieved a reduction in account takeovers from 8,000 per month to just one or two per month. Bot Manager has thus helped save the bank tens of millions of dollars in direct fraud each year.

From its roots in content delivery and web performance, Akamai has been able to leverage its massive, distributed global network to delivery increasingly sophisticated lines of defense against cyber security attacks. No longer a noise level item in its income statement, cloud security now exceeds 20 percent of sales, and is growing rapidly. As IT security professionals increasingly embrace cloud solutions for perimeter defense, Akamai is well-positioned for growth.

Fitbit: Struggling to Stay in Shape

Fitbit logoWith trailing 12-month sales of $1.6 billion, a market cap of $1.8 billion, $658 million in cash and zero bank debt, Fitbit, founded in 2007, and based in San Francisco, CA, is the largest provider of internet-connected health and fitness tracking devices. The company addresses a multi-billion dollar annual revenue opportunity comprised of health-conscious consumers who wish to track daily progress toward achieving weight loss and fitness goals. The company offers a broad product line, consisting of six activity trackers that range in price from $60 to $150 at retail, and two smartwatches, priced at $200 and $300, respectively. Fitness trackers account for roughly 70 percent of revenue currently, with smartwatches accounting for most of the remainder.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, Fitbit hit a brick wall amid execution challenges related to manufacturing and channel management. Missteps included being slow to address excess channel inventory, as well as operational challenges, including a poorly-timed headcount increase of 80 percent during 2016. In response to changing market conditions, management took corrective action at the start of 2017, including a six percent workforce reduction, and streamlining the number of devices offered. In addition, the company was reorganized around fitness devices and enterprise health.

While Fitbit continues to maintain a strong presence in the activity tracking market, the success of the Apple Watch, a higher end, more full-featured family of devices has redefined the market, and, to some degree, siphoned off demand for activity trackers. Fitbit has responded to this changing market dynamic through the introduction of two smartwatches, the Ionic, launched in late 2017, and more recently, the Versa. However, the company continues to face price competition in its core fitness tracker market, and has experienced soft demand for these products in the US in particular, its largest market. As a result, greater emphasis will be placed on smartwatches for future growth.

While smartwatches carry higher ASPs, they also feature lower gross margins than fitness trackers. Near term, the company is unlikely to improve by much its current gross margin, which hovers in the low 40 percent range. In the meantime, the company’s current cost structure prevents it from achieving break-even. While Fitbit maintains a strong cash position of more than $658 million and no debt, it has steadfastly refused to implement a share buy-back, preferring instead to utilize cash for leasehold improvements, along with tuck-in acquisitions, most recently geared to expanding its limited position in health-related services.

The firm’s reliance on the retail channel, including mass merchants and specialty retailers remains a source of concern, given the mixed signals coming from the retail industry, as well as a policy of recognizing revenue based on sell-in, rather than sell-through. As a final investor caveat, we note its dual class share structure guarantees the founders perpetual control of the voting rights of the company, which keeps it insulated from shareholder input. Overall, we see Fitbit as a company with longer term appeal, if it can manage to slim down for future success.

Facebook: Grappling with User Privacy

FacebookBalancing user privacy with the desire of advertisers to collect insightful user data is a challenge Facebook has faced since its inception. As evidenced by the company’s recent affirmation of its ad-driven business model, Facebook has no plans to alter its basic value proposition. However, recent industry events have once again brought the conflict between user privacy and advertiser demands to the attention of regulators in the US and in Europe.

By way of background, less than a year before its IPO, Facebook signed a consent decree with the US FTC, under which it agreed to settle charges without admitting or denying guilt that it had deceived consumers by telling them they could keep information private, but then sharing it repeatedly. In signing the consent decree, Facebook agreed that it must obtain consumers’ express consent before their information is shared beyond the privacy settings they create. As part of the settlement, Facebook agreed to audits conducted by independent third parties once every two years for the next 20 years to verify that its security procedures exceed the standards set by the FTC. The FTC is currently investigating whether Facebook has violated the consent decree, which could result in penalties of up to $40,000 per user per day.

Facebook maintains that the data harvested by a third party app utilized by the consultancy Cambridge Analytica was obtained and applied in violation of its policies, specifically procedures put in place in 2014 to prevent so-called “abusive apps” from gaining unauthorized data from Facebook users. The Cambridge Analytica imbroglio is particularly significant, in light of new privacy regulations that are being imposed by the European Union under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect later this week. Under the new regulation, advertisers must be transparent about their use of customer data, and users must give their expressed consent to allow advertisers or other third parties to utilize their data. In response, Facebook and other internet advertisers are working to comply with European regulators, who could impose penalties of up to 20 million Euros, or up to four percent of annual revenue, whichever is greater. In the case of Facebook, a violation could result in a penalty of up to $1.6 billion.

The initial GDPR impact on Facebook is likely to be a decline in the rate of growth in its European user base, which currently stands at 282 million daily active users, or 19 percent of its user base. Beyond that, the impact is unclear. One school of thought suggests that Facebook could face declines in advertising revenue, based on a lower base of users reachable by advertisers. The counter argument is that users who give their consent will be more susceptible and receptive to ads that they are implicitly agreeing to view, thus making the remaining base of users even more valuable to advertisers.

In the mean-time Facebook is redoubling efforts to root out third party apps that violate its data privacy rules. Facebook has stated that it has more than 10,000 people working on security and safety issues now, with plans to double this number by the end of this year. Last week Facebook announced that it has already examined thousands of third party apps, and has suspended about 200, pending a thorough investigation into whether the apps misused user data. Any of the apps in question that are found to be in violation of Facebook’s policies will be banned from Facebook, and users of the app will be notified.

The recent Cambridge Analytica imbroglio, combined with the rollout of GDPR is likely to keep the spotlight on Facebook and other internet advertisers. By taking more proactive measures to ensure user privacy Facebook is likely to navigate the conflicting demands placed upon it by users, advertisers, and regulators.

Amazon.com: Eyeing the Home Robot Market?

amazon logoAccording to what appears to be a credible article in last week’s Bloomberg Technology, Amazon.com is proceeding with plans to create a home robot, through a product development effort that has been code-named Vesta, as part of its Lab126 consumer device division, based in Sunnyvale, California. Lab126, led by Greg Zehr, a former head of R&D for Palm, a pioneer in mobile computing, is credited with the introduction of Kindle e-book reader, and is responsible for the Amazon Echo, FireTV set top boxes, and Fire tablets. It is unclear what purpose an Amazon.com home robot would serve, but in general terms the speculation is that Amazon.com is looking to build on the success of the Amazon Alexa assistant and Echo home speaker product line by creating a roaming version of Alexa, perhaps with the ability to conduct basic house chores.

The authors of the article indicate that prototypes have been built with advanced cameras, and that Max Paley, a former Apple executive, is working on computer vision technologies for a home robot. The Bloomberg article suggests that Amazon.com plans to “seed” robots in homes by the end of this year, and could potentially launch a commercial robot sometime in calendar 2019. The article also indicated that based on Amazon’s prototypes and tests, it may choose not to enter the market.

Is Amazon.com’s Entry Plausible?

Despite its failure in the smart phone market, Amazon.com has emerged as a prolific consumer electronics product company, having made a number of successful bets, most notably having created the e-book market with the Kindle, and more recently creating the market for smart home assistants, via Alex and Echo. Importantly, Amazon has had its greatest success in categories that it creates. In the Kindle e-reader category, Amazon used to have some competition from the Nook, but not much anymore. Google, which is looking to parlay its success with Google Assistant into the Google Home product line, is playing a severe game of catch up to Amazon.com, as the Echo device family holds a more than two-to-one market share advantage against the Google Home product. Alphabet recently merged its Nest division, which provides, smart thermostats, smoke detectors, webcams, and home alarm systems, into its Google hardware division, suggesting that the Google assistant will be more tightly integrated into Google’s smart home offerings.

At this point it remains unclear what Amazon.com’s product and delivery plans are for the smart home, beyond continued updates to the Echo device family. Amazon.com has a growing base of talented engineers, and proven expertise in addressing the smart home, through the success of Alexa and Echo. Amazon also owns its own robotics company as a result of the $750 million acquisition of Kiva Systems back in 2012. Kiva has been focused on robots for warehouse fulfillment operations, and it is unclear whether the robotic R&D efforts of Kiva, based on the East Coast, and Lab123, are linked.

Our sense is that Amazon.com has many of the pieces in pace to create some type of consumer robot. The question we have is how long it would take Amazon to commercialize a product, and what tasks it would perform. Another key question is whether Amazon.com will choose to enter the market at all, given the large number of other product opportunities that it has under consideration.

Care.com: A Linked In For Family Care

Care.comWith trailing twelve month sales of $165 million, a market cap of roughly $555 million, $96 million in cash and no debt, Care.com has become the leading online destination for finding and managing family care in the US. Like LinkedIn, which matches job seekers with prospective employers, Care.com is focused on matching the needs of families and caregivers creating in essence a one-stop shop for family services throughout the lifecycle of a family or individual household.

Led by founder and CEO Sheila Lirio Marcelo, and Michael Echenberg, EVP of finance and CFO, Care.com targets a large addressable market, as evidenced by the fact that US consumers spent $300 billion on family care services last year, including child day care, housekeepers, nursing care facilities, tutoring, and pet care services. The market remains highly fragmented, served by traditional family care agencies, as well as brick and mortar chains that provide a variety of services.

Last year in the US, consumers spent over $300 billion on family care services, including child day care, housekeepers, nursing care facilities, tutoring, and pet care services. Services providers include nanny agencies, child day care centers, elderly care services, including in- home services and nursing care facilities. Specialized service providers for tutoring and pet care, as well as other online destinations provide a wide variety of competitors in this highly fragmented market.

Family care decisions often reside with a female head of a household, the primary audience targeted by Care.com. Decisions for services providers are often based on word of mouth stemming from personal networks. Decisions must be made with regard to the preference for in-home services, or brick and mortar facilities outside of the home.

Care.com identifies its primary target market as the roughly 46 million US households with income greater than $50,000 per year with either a child under the age of 18 and/or a senior aged 65 and over. The company also includes an estimated 15 percent of households with incomes under $50,000, with similar dynamics. Care.com’s in-home consumer services remain in the early phase of market growth, yet benefit from some compelling demographic facts and trends, which include the rise in single parent households, the prevalence of dual income households, an aging population, and increasing trust in the internet as a destination to help make decisions relating to family, home and health.

In just 10 years, Care.com has carved out an enviable internet presence, which features more than 26 million registered users, comprised of nearly 15 million families, and more than 11 million caregivers. At the end of the most recent quarter, 320,000 paying families purchased a subscription to the company’s caregiver listings, and/or the company’s service for household payroll and tax preparation services.

Key swing factors that will determine Care.com’s ability to rise or fall over the next 12-18 months include it ability to:

  • Grow its core US consumer business through continuous improvement to its core matching platform, as well as targeted initiatives to grow senior care, housekeeping, and pet care, leveraging its registered community of more than 26 million members.
  • Develop awareness as a trusted source for families and caregivers, through both its own accreditation, as well as the halo effect provided by corporations, non-profits, and potentially insurance plan providers that adopt and promote its services.
  • Drive additional revenue growth from three key growth initiatives: employer-sponsored family services for employees, overseas expansion, and marketing programs for daycare, nanny, and elderly care agencies.

For more information on Battle Road’s 24 month assessment of Care.com, please contact [email protected].


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