5 Companies You Thought Were Doomed But Are Actually Fine (For Now)
After seeing a company’s troubles highlighted often enough in the press, it’s easy to start seeing doom just around the next quarterly bend. But many companies with troubles of all sorts have the patience and capital to persist for a long time. Here are five companies that are in better shape than you may think—at least for now:
Dropbox: Dropbox had a speedy public ascent when it launched in 2007, fueled by mass user adoption and plenty of press hype. Five years later, the company is in a rough position. It is reportedly valued at $10 billion. But that’s a paper valuation. The service it was launched to provide—cloud storage—has been commoditized, driving down the prices users will pay. Dropbox has doubled down on its enterprise business. But competitor Box has been developing enterprise software from the start. When Box went public earlier this year, the markets valued it at just $1.7 billion. To launch a successful initial public offering anywhere near its reported worth, Dropbox will need to convince investors its product is better. Meanwhile Google and Microsoft both offer cloud storage and aren’t afraid to lose money on it, so they can continue to cut prices.
Yes, all that’s troublesome, but Dropbox isn’t going away anytime soon. The company raised $1.1 billion in venture funding. That gives it some time to attempt to refocus its business. In December, the company announced it was shuttering two popular apps, Mailbox and Carousel, so it could focus more on collaboration and productivity—the kinds of things that matter to business users.
Pandora: Pandora is a decade old, and in that time, plenty of music services were launched to be Pandora killers—Spotify, iTunes Radio, Google Play Music, and Apple Music. But Pandora isn’t dead. Sure its stock is down nearly 30 percent this year. User growth has slowed this year. And the Copyright Royalty Board decided on December 16 to increase the rate licensers have to pay, which will impact Pandora’s bottom line. Royalties are the company’s biggest expense; they came out to 44 percent of Pandora’s revenues last year.
But the company has close to 10 percent of the music-streaming market, and it is investing in new businesses. It’s building relationships directly with the music companies, and recently announced deals with Warner Music Group and Sony/ATV Publishing Group. (Earlier this year, it settled a $90 million lawsuit with labels over playing music made before 1972.) And it picked up the music analytics service Next Big Sound, the concert ticket service Ticketfly, and the assets of the bankrupt Spotify-competitor Rdio. CEO Brian McAndrews has said the company will offer an on-demand paid subscription service. In other words, Pandora has a revenue-generating business and a plan for the future.
Yahoo: Three years ago, Marissa Mayer took the helm of Yahoo with the explicit goal of fixing the core business—the Yahoo we visit when we play fantasy sports or check out stocks. There’s evidence it hasn’t worked. Shares have lost more than a third of their value this year, a number of senior executives have left the company, and Yahoo’s Internet business has not started growing at the rate Mayer had planned. The company’s market cap hovers around $31 billion, which is the size of Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba. That means investors, at least, think the core Internet business is worthless. On December 9, Yahoo announced it would spin off all of Yahoo’s assets—including its media business and its $9 billion stake in Yahoo Japan—keeping only its stake in Alibaba. It’s a complex transaction the company says could take more than a year. Now some investors are calling for Mayer to leave, saying she hasn’t done enough to turn the company around and criticizing her management style.
But Mayer has strong support from her board, who collectively determine whether she has a job, so it’s unlikely she’ll be forced to resign. What’s more, the reverse spin may finally help the outside world decide just how valuable Yahoo is. A year from now, Yahoo will look very different, but that could be a great thing for the company.
Microsoft: When Satya Nadella was named CEO in February 2014, many tech watchers had given up on Microsoft. They considered it to be an aging giant weighted down by a culture of infighting and muddled priorities. Nadella has introduced a new sense of purpose and clarity, both inside the company and out. He has shifted the company’s focus to software and cloud services and spent the past two years striking up partnerships with all the companies—from Salesforce to Box—it once considered competitors. He introduced the HoloLens, an augmented reality headset. And he unveiled a free version of Windows 10 that plays nice with startups, among other things. His strategy appears to be working: The company’s stock has jumped dramatically.
Second Life: A dozen years ago, a virtual reality startup called Second Life, which was set up by the development company Linden Lab, was going to change everything. Within a few years, media outlets sent reporters into this virtual world in an effort to discover whether it could one day replace the web. But the promise was never realized. Businesses found there wasn’t much money to be made there, and many users turned their attention to other sites.
But a lot of people don’t know that Second Life is still around. Not only that: It’s still profitable and has a million users who play games, attend events, and visit fantasy regions. Second Life makes its money by taking a cut when its users create and sell virtual content using a virtual currency called “Linden dollars.” (One woman reportedly made $1.2 million selling computer-generated dresses.) Linden Lab went on to develop an iPad game for kids, Blocksworld, and is currently working on “Project Sansar,” which it describes as a new platform that will “democratize VR as a creative medium and make it easy for people to create, share and profit from their own social virtual experiences.” Think of it as the WordPress of virtual reality. If it takes off, the company that built Second Life could have a second life.