tv Bloombergs Studio 1.0 Bloomberg September 10, 2017 2:00am-2:30am EDT
♪ emily: he was tapped to be heir to the softbank empire. nikesh arora was raised the son of an indian officer and he came to the u.s. for grad school. in 2004 he got the job of a lifetime. larry page and sergey brin hired arora to help move google into an online ad powerhouse, making him one of the most sought after tech execs in the world. a decade later he was named president. with a plan to eventually make him ceo. but as son's retirement approached, arora said it became clear he wasn't quite ready to step down.
now arora is one of the most prominent free agents in silicon valley. joining me today on bloomberg's "studio 1.0," former softbank president and google chief business officer, nikesh arora. thanks for joining us, great to have you. >> thank you. emily: i want to start at the beginning. you were born in india. your dad was in the air force. tell me about your up bringing. nikesh: i grew up in a lower middle class family in india. my father worked for the indian air force like you mentioned. we moved every few years from city to city, wherever his job took him. we grew up with some degree of discipline in the house, because that is what you get when you work for someone in the armed forces. emily: tell me about how you came to the u.s. and your initial experience. nikesh: i got accepted to northeastern. we had a foreign exchange controls so you could cash about $200 or $300. i had $200 or $300 in my pocket, i had my father's retirement account of $3000.
he said you can have it as long as you give it back to me before i need it. emily: and you knew you couldn't go back unless -- nikesh: no. emily: unless you were a success. nikesh: unless i was able to pay him back. emily: how did you end up at google? nikesh: i had done a small startup in the u.k., which got merged into t-mobile. i came back to the u.k., and i was trying to figure out what to do next. one thing led to another. i met -- we hit it off. he introduced me to larry and sergey, who happened to be visiting europe the week after. i spent an hour walking around the british museum with sergey. then he and larry invited me to california. i spent time meeting many people, many of them you know, eric schmidt, sheryl sandberg, tim armstrong. and that was it.
emily: google had just gone public, but the business model was yet to be set in stone. nikesh: the business model was pretty robust. google was around doing $2 billion in revenue at that point in time. but i would say the international operations and scaling was still very early. tim armstrong was doing really great job, because the team he ran was doing really well and he already put that into place. we took the model that he built and deployed it across europe. tim and i used to compete on how big can we make it. emily: google has since become alphabet, dominates the online ad market. what do you see as the biggest risk to the business model? nikesh: we fail to realize how much effort and execution it takes to build an advertising juggernaut, which google has built and has in place, which works really well.
i think facebook has built one, too. i don't think there is a third. i don't think there is a third platform out there which has the scale to be able to build what google and facebook have built. i think we are going to see more and more concentration at google interface look in the advertising space. i think that is not going away soon. emily: would you say it is a duopoly, and is that ok? >> it's a duopoly, yes, for now. there are many other players who are relevant in the advertising space, both off-line and online, whether it is snapchat or twitter or pinterest in the future, or some of the traditional players who were -- who are actually doing a phenomenal job of transitioning from off-line to online. for the forseeable future, will google and facebook be the largest players? yes. emily: do you think there will ever be a third player, a third company, that takes a third of that pie?
nikesh: i think it will be hard. but i think there will be a collection of companies, which, amongst themselves, might come -- might command as much advertising share as google or facebook does but it won't be one third company at least for now. emily: roger mcinerney, who invested early, just wrote an op-ed saying, "i am terrified by the damage being done by these internet monopolies. like gambling, nicotine, alcohol, or heroin, facebook and google, most importantly through youtube, produce short-term happiness with serious negative consequences in the long-term. the fault lies with advertising business models that drive companies to maximize attention at all costs, leading to ever more aggressive brain hacking." how do you respond? nikesh: every marketer's dream is to try to get you to passionately love their brand. i don't think whether it is online or off-line advertising. consumers are smart enough that they get bombarded by advertising and it overwhelms the primary purpose of what they
went somewhere for, whether it is the newspaper, online website, or video. they vote by walking away. emily: you ran google international operation for five years. they just got a $2.7 billion fine, there are more inquiries open. how big a threat are these european regulatory issues? >> i don't think they are a serious threat to the long-term business. google is a phenomenally innovative company, which works in so many different products. i don't think anyone conversation is a long-term. is they are required to modernize things that is between them and authorities but i think broadly speaking google is innovating in so many different areas and has -- it is more of a technology company that is
constantly innovating rather than a company that has one particular track. emily: when it comes to facebook, amazon, apple, microsoft -- what do you think is the biggest threat to google? nikesh: i don't think about threats to google, because i don't work there anymore. i think all these three platforms have tremendous power of distribution. and whenever they introduce new services or new ideas, they can deploy that to a billion or 2 billion people around the world. that huge. there has never been a platform that lets you touch 2 billion people in the frictionless faction. emily: do you think google can ever catch up to amazon in the cloud? nikesh: it's an interesting notion we seem to perpetrate. we all seem to want to talk about winners and losers. we seem to think when there is a winner, there is a loser.
i think it is perfectly fine for multiple companies to exist in a space and do well. i think we are so early in the journey of the cloud that in 10 years from now you will see that all the early leads will normalize to some degree. if you look back and see thousands of companies who have not even initiated their transition to the cloud, eventually they will have to end up there at some point in time. i think we're so early that it won't matter. emily: all these companies are making a big bet on original content. is that a smart bet? will it put too much of a dent in margins? nikesh: i'm not sure that this huge move by large companies going to original content is going to result to a whole lot. a lot of money gets spent in content. so, yes, if you are willing to make a bet, which netflix is doing, billions of dollars per year to make a business, you might get somewhere in disrupting traditional content. whereas, eventually it will converge around one or two large players, and i think you should not underestimate the platforms. and the platforms as we discussed our facebook, amazon,
apple, and google. as long as they can figure out a mechanism to distribute content and allow the content creators and content providers to make a fair share in that process, i don't know how much you need to get into it. emily: travis kalanick leaving google, right call? ♪ emily: how do you see the state
of ai, and who is ahead, and who will win? nikesh: i think the ai conversation is as clear as mud. i think we are in early days of ai. a lot of areas you want to apply ai we don't have good data. is going to be garbage in, garbage out. the technical horsepower exists, but to apply it, we need to start getting smart about collecting data and being able to utilize it. i don't think anybody is ahead. emily: do you think elon musk's doomsday scenario is overblown? or irresponsible? nikesh: i love elon. he is one of the most interesting tech visionaries among us and we need people like him to have these conversations, but i think he might be early on his prediction. emily: what about self driving cars, which tesla is working on? google, apple. what happens there?
nikesh: the campus thinks it will be a while before we see a large proliferation of self-driving cars. i think the economics, the regulation, the retooling required to get this to happen at scale, is far, far away. i think we haven't thought about the ownership models in the societal problems that will cause, or how do you park these cars? where do you put them? we may see people who can do closed loop tests and show you things that work, that could happen in short order. but i think large-scale deployment and having an impact on the rental business or ride hailing business is still further away than we think. emily: should uber and lyft and didi, google, and apple, should all these companies be working on self driving cars? nikesh: i don't think the ride hailing businesses should make their own self driving cars at this point.
emily: why not? nikesh: i think it is early. i think the ride hailing industry hasn't settled down. we haven't quite figured out where that industry will stabilize. i think they have lots of work to do in logistics and the way they move cars from one place to the other, managing supply and demand. they are very early in their evolution. i think if they focused on creating operational excellence in their current business, they might be better off. and there's lots of tech companies working on self-driving cars. i think a partnership approach might be better than trying to do it themselves. emily: i know you have spent a lot of time thinking about the ride hailing business. when you are at softbank you put a massive bet on didi. nikesh: yeah, we had long conversations about ride hailing. we were very impressed by the uber model. but at that point in time, we felt softbank would be better served investing in some of the
other players. so, we invested in ola in india early, in grab taxi in southeast asia, and alibaba and tencent. and invested in didi. i think some book -- i think subsequently masa has doubled down on many of those bets. when you can find an industry where you feel that somebody has developed a product or service from which there is no going back, is here to stay, it's a great place to be. it's like when things go from a nice to have to a must have in your life, you realize this is a winning scenario. and you understand that this is going to get more and more popular over time. i think it is clear in china that didi is the only player. you can see where, if they keep
executing well, this is the huge opportunity for them. this also plays into the needs of the country, where you don't want to have car ownership. you want more rain cars. it's much easier to take large players like didi and get them to work with the government. and getting the green stuff, electric cars. emily: so uber has pulled out of china, out of russia. do you see them making the same decisions in india, in southeast asia, in brazil? nikesh: i actually believe it is possible for two players to coexist in the market and coexist happily. but i think it requires the markets to rationalize and stabilize. there are many industries who have multiple players that coexist like telecom services. they are competing every day with someone to make a large amounts of money like the cable industry. i think it is a large market. can they go it alone? i think they probably could. emily: do you see that with uber and lyft in the u.s.? that this is a two-company market? nikesh: as of now it is. [laughter] emily: does that continue?
nikesh: well, it is hard to tell, but i think it will continue for some time. but as you know, there are so many different conversations and moves in the market that it is hard to call where it will stabilize. emily: travis kalanick leaving uber, right call? nikesh: i think for now, yes. i think somebody needed to take responsibility for all the things we read about in the past year. i think leaders are expected to step up and take responsibility for all the good and all the bad. as we all have heard and read, they had some serious cultural issues and issues in their operations, and somebody had to take responsibility. i think the board encouraged him to take it and that was the right decision. emily: can it be fixed? can the culture be changed?
can uber accomplish what it needs to without a founder at the helm? nikesh: we'll talk about uber and the great service and product it has created for people. i think the credit goes to the early team. the doggedness, the ability to take on a whole bunch of things against all odds and build a great product for the consumer. should they have done certain things differently? yes. and some of those things need to be fixed. should they have a different culture based on everything we have read? yes. clearly, a leadership change is needed and that is being talked about. i think it will be a challenge, because every situation we see, the risk changes when you take a founder out of the equation. the good news is uber has multiple founders and some of the others are still involved. one could hope they can provide the backbone for risk appetite while a new leader works with them on cultural issues and tries to make uber as good as the product.
emily: your name has been floated for the ceo job. are you up for it? nikesh: i think the board has made clear they are looking for a ceo, an existing ceo. emily: are you interested? nikesh: i cannot answer that question, since i have not had any conversations. emily: you have not? nikesh: no. emily: so, what is your advice to whoever ends up in it? nikesh: whoever ends up in that role has both a cultural set of issues to fix and also a full series of operational things to do. because at the end of the day, if you don't have operational excellence in a company, you actually have cultural problems as well. i think coupled with that, wherever is in the role has to work on the leadership issues within the company and the board. they have a fractious board and a management team which needs a cohesive leadership approach. emily: you were the heir apparent.
thing -- one thing he has that i haven't seen anywhere else in the world is as we get older, as we get more successful, our risk appetite changes. as hard as you try not to change it, it does change. but masa has zero change in his risk appetite, he wants bigger and bolder things. he's an amazing optimist. he looks at a 300-year vision or a 50-year vision. he doesn't do things in three months, six months, nine months, thought processes. he's found some partners who he is working with to give him access to a huge amount of capital, and he is sowing the seeds for creating this cohesive information revolution. that's what i can see from where i stand. emily: you were the heir apparent.
you were supposed to succeed him. what happened? nikesh: i think when he and i got together, we had an amazing two years. we saw eye-to-eye on many things. in his life when he turned 60 he was going to take a backseat and be more chairman-like and find a ceo to perpetrate his legacy. when he and i met when he was 57 he said you know what, after a year of being together, he said, i think you would be a great successor. i said great. as it came closer to him turning 60, sometime this month, he realized he wasn't done. as is evident from the last year, he seems to have renewed energy. and he definitely wants to see this information revolution through with all the investing he is doing. emily: there were some shareholders that complained about you, said you had a conflict of interest, that you are overpaid. did that play any role in you leaving? did you ever get to the bottom of who is behind it? nikesh: no, we never got to the bottom of who was behind it, but
the board established an independent committee who has looked at everything. they found no issues because there were none. so, there was nothing to look at. masa was very supportive through the entire process. he tried to explain to people in the company that when you hire people from silicon valley, you have to pay them what they were paid in silicon valley. so, here we are. emily: are you still involved at softbank at all? nikesh: no, i was done with that last month. emily: so, from the outside -- i know you are supportive of the risk-taking, but can he really take these risks? nikesh: i think he has the capital. he knows some of them will work really well and some will fail spectacularly. i think he believes he will do well and his track record speaks for itself. emily: softbank and massa are potentially behind a t-mobile merger with sprint, which softbank owns. is that a good idea and what does it mean for consumers? nikesh: do we need four operators in this
capital-intensive industry, where people are sucking down more and more bandwidth and want access anywhere and everywhere for everything? maybe not. and that is a question for the regulators. i think three players in that space will be perfectly fine. weather deutsche telekom and massa can get to a deal is speculative. -- is open for you to speculate as much as i can. emily: you lead the way for softbank to invest in india, including the investments in snap deal. some of the deals there are in trouble. worthy bets wrong, or would they be doing better if you were there? nikesh: i think it is fair to say that the euphoria in the indian tech space was driven by the huge success we saw of the various companies going public in china. we said wait, if china can be so successful with over one billion people, maybe we should be concentrating on india, because it could be the next market to
explode in a good way. and we should be investing there. valuations got run out in that market in the spaces where you had seen success in china. not so much in the right here hailing -- ride-hailing space, but in e-commerce. i think the part that people did not factor in is jeff bezos decided he did not want the same fate in india that he had had in china. when jeff decides to come in and invest billions of dollars into a market, now you have one well-funded player who has the technology and expertise around the world to execute the space. i think as you can see, flip card has generated the resources to do so. and snap deal was unable to in the process. snap deal ended up with a similar backer who wanted to give them billions of dollars.
i don't think it is clear right now who was going to win in the long-term in the e-commerce space in india. but i think as we all have learned, one has to be cautious betting against jeff bezos. emily: there is global and political uncertainty right now. new scandals out of washington every day. should at impact investment, global tech investment? nikesh: we have always had different kinds of uncertainty in the market, which changed people's outlook in the short term. that causes times of overinvestment and underinvestment. many people have not made money in overinvestment when valuations are high and it is hard to invest in things. because everybody wants to invest. but it has been established again and again, when money is scarce and there are a lot of things to invest in, people make a lot of money. right now if you find great opportunities, i would not worry about the uncertainty. although, i think the
uncertainty is impacting. emily: so what are you up to right now? nikesh: one of my up to? i just joined the board recently at richemont. it is different from tech, a luxury segment. they have a little bit of tech investing they are doing to try to see how the industry transforms. i spent some time with some of the unicorns or deck occurrence -- decacorns. in the valley, helping their founders and management teams. emily: like who? nikesh: i and not at liberty to discuss -- i am not at liberty to discuss. but i spent time with my two young kids. emily: are you still investing, personally? nikesh: sparingly, yes. emily: where will we see you next? what is next for you? nikesh: i don't know what is next for me. i think i will continue to support various entrepreneurs in
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