We all love our FANGS.
Not only have Facebook (FB ), Apple (AAPL ), Netflix (NFLX) and Alphabet (GOOGL) been at the core of our investment performance for the past nine years. We also gobble up their products and services like kids eating their candy stash the day after Halloween.
All four of the FANGs are now in a race to become the first $1 trillion company in history. My bet is on Amazon, but then again, all four will eventually do it.
In fact, the FANGs are so popular that we need more of them, a lot more. So how do we find a new FANG?
Here is where it gets complicated. None of the four have perfect business models. All excel in many things but are deficient at others.
So, there are at least four different answers as to what makes a FANG. A more accurate answer would probably be 4 squared or four to the 10th power.
I will list the eight crucial elements that make a FANG.
1) Product Differentiation
In medieval times, location was the most important determinant of business success. If you owned Ye Olde Shoppe at the foot of London Bridge you prospered.
Then great distribution was crucial. This occurred during the 19th century when the railroads ran the economy.
Products followed with the automobile boom of the 20th century when those who dreamed up 18-inch tail fins dominated. This strategy was applied to all consumer products.
The Financial age came next when cheap money was used to assemble massive conglomerates, which was the primary determinant of success.
The 80s and 90s spawned the era of global brands, be it Coca-Cola, MacDonald’s, Lexus or Gucci.
Today, the global economy is ruled by those who can provide the best services. Facebook offers you personal access to a network or 1.5 billion. Apple will sell you a phone that can perform a magical array of tricks.
Netflix will stream any video content imaginable with lightning speed. Alphabet will deliver you any piece of information you want as fast as you can type, but charges advertisers hundreds of billions of dollars to get in your way.
This has created what I call an “Apple” effect. It stampedes buyers to pay the highest premiums for the best products, assuring global dominance.
While Apple accounts for less than 10% of the smartphone market, it captures a stunning 92% of the net profits. Everyone else is just an “also-ran.”
Instead of driving my car into a dingy dealership every few months to get ripped off for a tune-up, Tesla (TSLA ) does it remotely, online, while I sleep, for free.
Unlike battling for a smelly New York taxi cab in a snowstorm, a smiling Uber driver will show up instantly, know where to go, automatically bill me at a discount price, and even give me restaurant recommendations in Kabul.
And you all know what Amazon can do. It beats the hell out of looking for a parking space at a mall these days, only to be told they don’t have your size (48 XLT).
2. Visionary Capital
If you have a great vision you can get unlimited financing for free from investors anywhere. That puts those who must pay for expensive external financing for growth at a huge disadvantage.
Have a great vision, and the world is your oyster.
Elon Musk figured this out early with Tesla. By promising a “carbon-free economy” he has been able to raise hundreds of billions of equity capital even though his firm has never made a real profit.
Alphabet is “organizing the worlds information,” while Facebook is “connecting the world.”
Chinese Internet giant Alibaba (BABA) invented a holiday from scratch, “Singles Day,” November 11, which has quickly become the most feverish shopping day in history. In 2017, they booked an unbelievable $17 billion in sales in a single 24-hour period.
And you know the great thing about visions? Not only do venture capitalists and consumers love them, so do stock investors.
3) Global Reach
You have to go global or be gone. A company with 7 billion customers will beat one with only 330 million all day long.
Go global, and economies of scale kick in enormously. This is only possible if you digitize everything from the point of sale to the senior management. Some two-thirds of Facebook’s users are outside the US, although half its profits are homegrown.
By the way, the Mad Hedge Fund Trader is global, with readers in 135 countries. Our marginal cost of production is zero, and the entire firm is run off my American Express card. It’s a great business model.
Who doesn’t like Mark Zuckerberg, with his ever-present hoodies, skinny jeans, and self-effacing demeanor? And who did Facebook send to Washington to testify about internet regulation? The razor-sharp and witty Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, that’s who. The senators ate out of her hand.
Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer? Not so likable. Their arrogance invited a 10-year antitrust suit against Microsoft (MSFT) from the Justice Department.
And here’s the thing. If people like you, so will consumers, regulators and, yes, even equity investors. It makes a big difference to the bottom line and your investment performance.
5) Vertical Integration
Crucial to the success of the FANGs is their complete control of the customer experience through vertical integration.
When FANGs don’t manufacture their own products, as Apple does, they source them, rebrand them, and sell them as their own, as does Amazon.
The return on investment for advertising is plummeting. Just ask the National Football League. So it has become essential for companies to keep a death grip on the customer the second they enter your site.
Some, like Amazon again, will keep chasing you long after you have left their sites with special offers and alternative products. Even if you change computers, they will hunt you down.
This was the genius of the Apple store network. Buy one Apple product and they own you for life, like an indentured servant. They all integrate and talk to each other -– a huge advantage for a small business owner. And they are cool.
No pimple-faced geeks wearing horn-rimmed glasses here. Get your iPhone fixed and you don’t talk to a technician, but instead, you speak with a genius. It’s all about control.
Expect other strong brands to open their own store chains soon.
6) Artificial Intelligence