Time is money is equity is growth

How the new incumbents turn to financing services for growth

March 29, 2016
Jonathan Libov

Why do companies buy money? Because they need to pay for a lot of things — staff, offices, technology, etc. — that they don't have the money for yet because they're either not making money yet or want to spend on growing the business faster than they are making money.

I work in venture capital, where we invest money in companies in exchange for equity. Venture capitalists are sort of a middle man, in that a company is selling one form of currency (equity) to buy another (money) to buy another (people’s time and labor). The middleman could be minimized by skipping the middle part of that equation — money — whenever possible and just selling the equity for time and labor. In fact this what companies do with equity options and grants to employees; if companies could not include equity in their compensation packages, they’d need to spend a lot more money, which means they’d need to raise a lot more money. Distributing equity is one way that startups manage their (anticipated) high rate of growth.

Look around and you'll see equity as a growth lever happening in lots of other areas. Let’s start with Uber. Traditionally you had to finance your car from a dealership but now Uber is leveraging its role in labor demand to cut out the middleman car dealer. Why put money down so you can work so you can earn money to pay for monthly installments on the car lease when you can finance your car through Uber and pay for it through your labor?


For Uber the advantage is quite obvious. The more people they can get to drive cars, the more Uber can grow. And they can offer something the bank can’t: A means to pay more directly, through labor.

It would not surprise me if AirBnb is looking into home financing. Why sell equity in a home to a bank so you can buy a house that you're going to rent on AirBnb when you can cut the bank out of the equation and just finance the house through AirBnb where you'll be running your business anyway?


The more Airbnb they can get people to buy homes to rent out, the more AirBnb can grow.

Traditionally filmmakers would seek out investors, usually “producers”, to finance a project. They’d then sell that project to a distributor like Universal Pictures, which would get them into theaters. This state of affairs caused friction for Netflix and Amazon, whose inventory was limited by the deals they had to do with those distributors. Hence Netflix and Amazon funding projects from their inception. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Spotify get into this business and cut the incumbent financiers — music labels — out of the equation.


Landed, an early-stage startup, enables communities and organizations to create funds to ease the burden of down payments on homes. Say you're a private school or university looking to recruit teachers, or a corporation looking to recruit talent (i.e., to grow your staff). Those teachers and that talent may want to buy a home. Traditionally that means the school or corporation sells money for someone's employment, and that person might then go to a bank to and put down some of that money on a down payment for the mortgage. So why not cut out the middleman and enable the school or organization put that money directly into that down payment? This model is hardly proven but you can see where the wind is blowing.


Now that a class of internet startups — Uber, AirBnb, Netflix/Amazon — have matured to the degree that they may now be considered incumbents, one path for continued growth may be bundling financial services and lending into their platforms. These are services that may have previously been fulfilled by investors or banks, but inasmuch as you view banks as middlemen for the exchange of money and equity, it’s clear that the new class of services enabled by the internet — taxis, home rentals, entertainment — carry some advantages in tightly coupling the services they offer with financing options. And one can think of Landed as a sort of second order to this trend — enabling equity financings as growth levers for everyone, not just mega-internet startups.

Now of course the banks aren’t actually removed from the equation: they’re serving as the back end of Uber’s financing program, much as they served as the back end for financings via a car dealerships. The difference is that the new internet platforms are now so large and so lucrative that they need to find new avenues for growth, and front-ending the bank system may be the next best way to achieve that.

Thanks to Joel Monegro and Andy Weissman for their feedback on this post