You wouldn’t be blamed if you had forgotten about Quora, the question-and-answer machine that comes up immediately when Googling for, say, why rich people are so frugal or whether it’s okay to let your cat live outside if you don’t value it.
But Silicon Valley now considers Quora — something of a relic of a quainter era on the internet — a $2 billion company, Recode has learned.
The company is in the process of finalizing a $60 million investment round led by Valor Equity Partners, according to people familiar with the matter. Valor is a private equity firm linked to Elon Musk thanks to its stakes and board seats at Tesla and SpaceX.
It’s a financing round that, in the eyes of some Silicon Valley investors, speaks to the high valuation for virtually everything these days in the tech sector. Just this week, a high-end direct-to-consumer luggage company, a Facebook-for-your-neighborhood social media site, and a meatless hamburger alternative all announced fundraising rounds that valued them at over $1 billion, making them so-called “unicorns.”
The company has been very slow to monetize its user base, which Quora says is 300 million unique people a month, and several investors tell Recode that they passed on the deal because of that poor track record of actually making money.
The company told some prospective investors that it did about $20 million in 2018 revenue, which makes a $2 billion valuation a pretty enormous 100x multiple of its prior year’s revenue.
This round, though, is not a wild step up from its last pricing — which came in at about $1.7 billion in 2017, according to Pitchbook — which might either reflect prudence by Quora toward overvaluing their company or maybe some trouble notching a sky-high valuation. But despite its paltry revenue, it runs a pretty lean ship of 200 or so employees, so each dollar goes further.
Quora declined to comment and Valor didn’t return requests for comment.
Quora offers a cornucopia of information that you didn’t know you wanted, but so frequently find thanks to on-point search engine optimization. Founded in 2009 by former executives from Facebook, Quora was seen as one of the hottest companies in the post-Facebook wave of social media. It’s not really a destination platform, but thanks to its popularity on search engines, it became the sort of place where you ended up accidentally to try and satisfy a curiosity without diving deep into the dark depths of the internet.
The information on the site is crowdsourced and can be superficial — you wouldn’t cite it in your term paper — and the posters are sometimes anonymous. Quora employs moderators to try to keep forums clean and root out bad behavior.
Over time, it evolved into a more organized Yahoo Answers, a classier Reddit, an opinionated Wikipedia. It became especially popular in elite tech circles — as a precursor to their “thought leadership” on self-publishing platforms like Medium — which definitely didn’t hurt its valuation, judged by Silicon Valley investors to be $900 million five years later.
But when investors were putting that type of price tag on it, Quora was making no money. In fact, the decade-old company is still new to the whole making-money thing. The company for a long time had an internal desire to not clutter the site with advertisements, before finally relenting in 2016 and accepting its first ad placement from Uber. Ads are still relatively sparse.
“Nobody likes banner ads, ads from shady companies, or ads that are irrelevant to their needs,” the company said at the time. “However, we are optimistic that we will be able to introduce ads on Quora in a way that will fit in well and ideally make the product better.”
But the reason why investors are betting on what, at first blush, could appear to be a meaningless pile of content, is that Quora, if successful, is a powerful avenue to reach 300 million information-seeking people a month. It is especially popular in India, where over 20 percent of its visitors come from, according to Alexa data.
Quora’s advertising engine holds a lot of promise: “What’s the best car seat for my toddler?” would tell you that, well, the person on the other side of the keyboard might want to buy a car seat for a toddler. “Should I invest in bitcoin?” is a pretty targeted page, you’d think, for an advertiser like Coinbase. Particularly large advertisers on Quora are software companies, online education providers, and financial services firms.
So to some extent, Quora is more similar to a Google or an Amazon than it is to a Facebook.
Another key draw is that Quora pages, unlike an Instagram story or a Facebook event, have a longer shelf life and can offer relevant information that doesn’t grow stale with time. (That being said, sometimes your Google search can return a lot of answers from Quora’s early days.)
But unlike Facebook, Quora knows no demographic information about its nonregistered users, which makes its copious content less monetizable. And while 300 million monthly users sounds like a lot — about the same number of monthly users as Twitter, a $30 billion public company — Quora’s are not nearly as engaged, often brought to a particular individual page because of a random search or two.
The company is hoping to improve on its revenue struggles, and it recently hired its first chief revenue officer, Arnie Gullov-Singh, to turbocharge its sales program.
But despite some challenges with some investors, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo shouldn’t be wanting for money. He himself is quite rich from his years as Facebook’s first chief technology officer, so wealthy that he in fact put $20 million of his own money into the company’s Series B round of financing.
D’Angelo today maintains pretty tight control over the company. In an unusual set-up, the only other voting member on Quora’s two-person board of directors alongside the CEO is Benchmark Capital investor Matt Cohler, who has been helping to pitch this round in Silicon Valley, according to a person familiar with the matter. Valor is not expected to hold a voting board seat.
What is Quora’s future? Its leadership in the past has said it wants to stay perpetually independent. An IPO seems not in the cards any time soon, given its revenue situation. For now, it appears to be just like so many other Silicon Valley startups: with a rich valuation but not much money. Except this one is a decade old.
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