Why I Think Google Chrome Pixel Pricing Is Wrong

chrome-pixelWhen Google unveiled its new touchscreen laptop, Chrome Pixel, Chrome executive Mr. Pichai said

the high price tag was justified and argued that the Pixel stands up very well against a MacBook Air

It is usually a bad sign when a brand uses words like, “the pricing is justified”, let alone  comparing against market leader with established track record in the category. Last time we heard the price tag justification it was from then Motorola executive on Xoom pricing. We know how it ended (agreed, one data point does make evidence).

If you are going to justify your price tag the best path is to use cost arguments, signaling to customers that you were doing it only because of your hardship and appealing to their “good will”. Classic example is Starbucks. While you set the prices based on customer value (and definitely not on costs) you do not communicate so explicitly to your customers.

This is how head to head comparison of MacBook Air and Chrome look like (after upgrading MacBook Air to 8GB RAM).

Macbook Air - Chrome Pixel Comparison

Let us assume, for now, that indeed Chrome Pixel is packed with features, compares favorably against MacBook Air. But does that mean Google can set the price point to match value delivered (or perceived)? No. The reason is the Value Waterfall.

Value Waterfall

Several factors are at work here that cause value leaks, bringing down the price customers are willing to pay. In case of Chrome Pixel, the value leaks are

Credibility Discount: It is from a brand that isn’t known for making premium hardware. Nor is the Chrome operating system as mature, full-featured or have supporting App ecosystem as Apple’s OS X.

Selection Cost: Customers are told the additional value comes from touch screen feature (which may not be relevant to them) and from the extra 1 TB of Google Drive storage for 3 years. This isn’t as obvious to customers who have to do the math to see value of 1TB of Google Drive.

Cost of Doing Business: Operating System, Apps, buying experience, support, user experience – everything comes into play here knocking down value delivered.

Risk Aversion Discount: This isn’t the first attempt by Google in making hardware but there isn’t much track record for customers to see. For all practical purposes this is version 1.0 from an upstart laptop maker who does not have integrated hardware-software design.

Reference Price Difference: While Google wants the reference price to be that of MacBook Air, customers will most likely use previous Google Chrome models sold at $299 and tablets with same storage ($499 for Nexus 10).  Despite the additional features and the value Google would want customers to focus on, customers will see the price jump from $299 Chrome to $1,299 Chrome Pixel an unpalatable (and even unjustified) price increase.

So it is not a surprise we see several media reports knocking down Google’s pricing. In his review of Chrome Pixel, Om Malik wrote,

Pichai and I argued a bit about the pricing strategy: my belief is that they need to sell a lot more devices so the price has to be much much lower. Pichai argues that one needs to be able to open our mind to the possibilities of a cloud-based machine. He said that one shouldn’t look at the 32 GB of storage, but instead focus on the terabyte of storage space that comes as part of Google Drive.

Google is not only trying to justify its pricing but also its measly 32GB storage by signaling value from its 1TB cloud storage. But the Google Drive cloud storage comes for only three years and costs $50 a month. On the surface it would appear the 1TB space is good value – if you were to get it separately it costs you would pay $50 a month and hence a value of $1,800.

But that depends on a customer segment that values cloud storage over additional flash storage on their laptop. Besides after that three years it is going to cost customers $50 a month because with all their data on Google Drive there will be significant switching costs. This goes back to the value leaks I discussed above.

Finally, is it possible that they uncovered a segment that values this product at the current price point and we are not the target segment? Mr. Pichai replied to Om,

“The device is for a segment committed to living to the cloud, and who really want a good, high-end laptop, and we believe we have built the best laptop for that experience,”

If true then they should have controlled the messaging channel and the messaging to communicate the pricing and value proposition to just that segment with proper product positioning.

They are not clear in their product positioning to that segment – they are positioning Chrome Pixel against MacBook Air, asking customers to hire Pixel for the same job customers hire MacBook Air for and for the same price. That contradicts their segment definition of “committed to living in the cloud”, because that segment may be hiring different cheaper alternatives and not $1,299 MacBook Air.

Furthermore even if such a segment exists, their willingness to pay will probably go down when they see the media reports on Google getting its pricing wrong.

At this point it is safe to drop likelihoods and probabilities and go on record to say, “Google got its segmentation, targeting, positioning, product and pricing wrong”, with its Chrome Pixel.

 

Nexus 7 sales almost doubled, but from what levels?

Last quarter it appeared Google sold about million Nexus 7 (HT to Om Malik for doing the math first). Unlike Apple, Google does not break down the device sales. But Google is required to disclose all revenues and their sources (however cryptic) in its financial statements. So Om looked at the non-Ad revenue category (what Google classifies as “Other Revenues”) and attributed it to Nexus 7. Later I merely refined it taking into account growth trend in Other Revenues before Nexus 7.

Last quarter it appeared they sold one million Nexus 7 and at cost, bringing almost no operating profit from the Nexus  7 line. Using the same math here is what this quarter looks like, (source Google)

  1. Other Revenues went from $666M last quarter to $829M (the quarter before, Q2, it was $429M)
  2. That is a growth of $163M for this quarter and a total of $410M  from Q2
  3. If you account for the fact that Other Revenue was growing 5% even before Nexus 7 line, not all this growth came from Nexus 7. That knocks out $43 M (two quarters of 5% growth of $429M)
  4. So Other Revenues attributable to Nexus 7 comes to $206M last quarter (Q3) and $356M this quarter (Q4)
  5. At Average Selling Price of $210 (assumption) it translates to 1.7 million units

One million in first quarter to 1.7 million Nexus 7 in second quarter. It appears Nexus 7 sales almost doubled in the second quarter but that is from very low levels to begin with.

Compare that to Apple selling 12.5 million iPad mini in just its first quarter, not to mention the profits.

What would $100 Billion Valuation for @Evernote Look Like?

In a recent article in Inc magazine, Evernote CEO, Mr. Phil Libin, wrote

” there is a good chance that it will be worth $100 billion in a few years”

You likely want to ask what “good chance mean”.

Mr. Libin wrote this in the context of  Evernote’s current one billion valuation and comparing it valuation of The New York Times. Mr. Libin’s makes a very valid point that such comparisons are point less and valuations are based on future expected value from a business’ growth.

I agree.

Most public companies have relatively predictable levels of growth, so their valuations are heavily based on the current values of their businesses. In other words, few investors expect The New York Times‘s profits to grow tenfold in the next few years.

Such valuations on future growth are valid as long as they are computed by taking into account all possible future scenarios and not just the most optimistic outcomes. In many cases, and I don’t mean it is the case with Evernote, we not only overestimate the size of positive outcomes but also overestimate the chances of such outcomes. In such cases the valuations become segregated from reality.

Back to the $100 billion valuation for Evernote. What would it look like?

Let us say it gets the same revenue multiple of 5.51 (say 5 for ease of math) as Google. That would mean $20 billion in yearly revenue. Where would that come from?

From its current sources I estimate that Evernote makes $63 to $84 million a year from 34 million users (1.4 million paying subscribers). If the current business model is the only option that would mean one of following (or combination)

  1. Every customer generates $45 a year, meaning 444 million paying customers (13 times current user numbers and 31 times current paying subscribers)
  2. 50% paying customers, meaning  888 million users
  3. 100 million customers (not users), meaning $200 a year revenue per customer – that means either their subscription price goes up or they found other ways to monetize customer. $200 a year just from subscription does not make sense (NYTimes yearly subscription costs $195 and it did not find 100 million subscribers). Regarding other revenue sources even Google and Facebook have not found a way to get $200.

Even if Evernote does deals like Moleskine tie-up that generate $4-$6 million a year, that is a larger number of deals to get to $20 billion a year sales.

That leaves other sources of revenue that are not yet known from its current strategy. Which means one must consider higher uncertainty in such large outcomes given insufficient information.

Mr. Libin said, “there is a good chance”. Given what is known today and the uncertainties I am not sure what “good chance” means.  But given the current valuation of $1 billion, investors seem to think the expected value of the valuation (considering all good and bad chances) is $1 billion. Or in other words, the numeric value of good chance is much less than 1%.

A question you must ask is,

Is there also ‘good chance’ of $200 million valuation? (See: Zynga)

Finally  I am not going to run a complete scenario analysis here as I have done for other valuations before. That is left as a homework for you.

Price Setters and Price Takers Revisited

Let us recap.

If you can set the price and defend it against competition you are a price setter. Premium price or bargain price does not matter. As long as you can defend it because of your product’s (perceived) differentiation (among your target segment) or because of your cost advantage you are a price setter.

If your pricing is a reaction to an existing competitor then you are a price taker.

In the tablet space, big or mini, Apple and Amazon are price setters but Google is a price taker.

In my September article in GigaOm I analyzed the profit implications of iPad mini for Apple. Making a case against $199 lower-end iPad mini I wrote this about price setting:

If Apple is the price setter in the premium tablet category, Amazon is the price setter in the low end. Entering this segment would mean becoming the price taker or making an effort to become a price setter with a different price point.

By design, Apple has never been a price taker. In any market, the price setter gets to control its  own profit while a price taker is at the mercy of market forces. Trying to become a price setter when there already is one requires Apple to either go low or just a bit higher. Either way, Amazon has set the price anchoring. The most likely scenario is a $299 price point for the iPad Mini.

The real pricing came in at $329. In other words Apple chose not to be player in the low end market because it realized Amazon as the unshakeable price setter in that category and chose a segment where it can be the price setter.

Price Setters will thrive and go on to create significant value over long term.

Price Takers will be relegated to the footnotes of history.

Google’s Pricing for 32GB Nexus Models

For Nexus 7, the jump from 16GB to 32GB costs only $50 more.

Foe Nexus 10 (announced today) the jump from 16GB to 32GB costs $100 more.

After all it is the same flash, so why the price difference? Because costs have nothing to do with pricing. And Google knows, (perceived) value of additional 16GB flash is more to customers choosing nexus 10 than those choosing nexus 7 and is pricing accordingly. They also have higher reference price to work with compared to lower price point of Nexus 7.

Have we seen this before, of course yes with Apple’s pricing.

 

 

Testing 40 shades of blue – AB Testing

The title refers to the famous anecdote about Marissa Mayer testing 40 shades of blue to determine the right color for the links. (Unfortunately I am colorblind, I know just one blue.)

Mayer is famous for many things at Google, but the one that always sticks out – and defines her in some ways – is the “Forty Shades of Blue” episode.

she ordered that 40 different shades of blue would be randomly shown to each 2.5% of visitors; Google would note which colour earned more clicks. And that was how the blue colour you see in Google Mail and on the Google page was chosen.

Thousands of such tests happen in the web world, every website running multiple experiments in a day. Contrary to what most in webapp development may believe AB testing does not have its origins in webapp world. It is simply an application of statistical testing, Randomized Control Trial, to determine if a ‘treatment’ made a difference on the performance of treatment group compared to performance of control group.

The simplest test is testing if the observed difference between the two sample means are statistically significant. What that means is measuring the probability, p-value, the difference is just random. If p-value is less than a preset level we declare the treatment made a difference.

Does it matter if the results are statistically significant? See here why it does not:

“I have published about 800 papers in peer-reviewed journals and every single one of them stands and falls with the p-value. And now here I find a p-value of 0.0001, and this is, to my way of thinking, a completely nonsensical relation.”

Should you test 40 shades of blue to find the one that produces most click-thrus or conversions? xkcd has the answer:

Can Ms. Mayer test the way out of Yahoo’s current condition? Remember all these split testing are about finding lower hanging fruits not quantum leaps. And as Jim Manzi wrote in his book Uncontrolled,

Perhaps the single most important lesson I learned in commercial experimentation, and that I have since seen reinforced in one social science discipline after another, is that there is no magic. I mean this in a couple of senses. First, we are unlikely to discover some social intervention that is the moral equivalent of polio vaccine. There are probably very few such silver bullets out there to be found. And second, experimental science in these fields creates only marginal improvements. A failing company with a poor strategy cannot blindly experiment its way to success …

You can’t make up for poor strategy with incessant experimentation.