The Hustle

💰 Is NerdWallet worth $5B?

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October 13, 2021

Items once belonging to Chicago mobster Al “Scarface” Capone sold for $3m+ at an auction this week, including his Colt .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol for $860k. Capone, who died in 1947, played banjo in the Alcatraz prison band, The Rock Islanders.

Today’s rundown:

  • NerdWallet: How Tim Chen went from unemployed to a $5B IPO.
  • Relax your shoulders: Waze and Headspace are partnering on a peaceful commute.
  • Robo-loco: Driverless trains may be the future of freight.

Let’s do it.

The big idea

NerdWallet: From Excel spreadsheet to $5B IPO

In 2008, Tim Chen was working for a New York hedge fund when the financial crisis hit. Like thousands of Wall Streeters, he was laid off.

This career turmoil planted the seed for NerdWallet (co-founded with Jake Gibson), the personal finance website that recently filed for a potential $5B IPO, per PitchBook.

As the founding story goes…

… Chen was newly unemployed when his sister — living in Australia — asked him for advice on what credit card had the lowest foreign exchange fees.

According to CNBC, Chen was unable to find a good answer on Google and ended up creating an Excel spreadsheet of credit card options.

The document he sent his sister went viral and Chen realized there was a “real shopability problem in financial services.” To build a solution, he plopped down $800 for web hosting and domain fees.

NerdWallet started with credit card comparisons

But it expanded into other financial services and has hired hundreds of writers over the years (our editor Brad Wolverton previously worked there).

Success was a long road: sales over the 1st 2 years totaled ~$60k. Today, NerdWallet is on a $360m+ annual run rate, with the bulk of its revenue coming from affiliate fees via finance firms featured on the site.

The secret sauce: SEO

NerdWallet’s website receives 20m+ visitors a month, with 80%+ of that traffic via organic search (not paid), per Similarweb. Among its keys to ranking high in search:

  • Free finance tools (e.g., mortgage calculators)
  • Industry awards (featured on other sites)
  • Content syndication (e.g., AP and Forbes)

To get to this point, Chen bootstrapped operations in the early days. Now, with a ~60% stake in NerdWallet, those lean years will pay off very well.

SNIPPETS

D2C addicts: Millennials fueled D2C growth over the last 6 months, with 50%+ of shoppers ages 25-34 saying they have bought items online from international brands. #ecommerce-retail

Clean bikes: Kawasaki announced plans for its motorcycles to go fully electric by 2035. #clean-energy

‘Soft block’: Twitter launched a feature that lets users remove followers without blocking them. #emerging-tech

Claim crisis: Cyber insurance companies raised premiums as much as 40% as ransomware attacks have increased. #privacy

To the moon: MoonPay, a startup that allows users to purchase cryptocurrencies and other digital assets with credit cards, raised $400m at a $3.4B valuation. #fintech-cryptocurrency

AI records: Microsoft and Nvidia announced they have built the largest AI-powered language model in the world, featuring 530B parameters. #big-tech

App Collab

Waze and Headspace partner on a peaceful commute

The next time you’re in traffic, you can chill out thanks to a partnership between 2 popular apps.

Navigation app Waze (140m+ users) and meditation app Headspace (70m users) released a new mindful driving experience yesterday in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. You’ll find it as a Headspace theme within the Waze app.

Users can:

  • Get their audio navigation from the soothing voice of Eve Lewis Prieto, Headspace’s director of meditation
  • Turn their car icon into a hot air balloon
  • Listen to a custom playlist of Headspace music and podcasts
  • Choose from 1 of 5 “moods” — aware, bright, hopeful, joyful, and open. Moods are avatars drivers can use to share their feelings.

How stressful is driving?

Very! And its impacts last even beyond the road:

  • Studies show driving for long hours elicits an extended stress response.
  • The UK Office of National Statistics found that commuters experience decreased happiness and increased anxiety after just 15 minutes of driving.
  • The Journal of Public Economics published an analysis of LA traffic, finding that congestion increased nighttime domestic violence by ~9%.
  • Road rage is a factor in 66% of fatal accidents.

It’s not meditation but being present behind the wheel

Prieto says that driving is actually a great time for mindfulness as it requires focus, awareness, and using one’s senses.

For more, check out some tips from psychologist Seth Gillihan, who suggests noticing what we see, hear, and feel.

Future of Freight

Source: Sergey Kucherov / Getty Images

Driverless trains may be the future of freight

Trains are already an underrated player in the US freight game. Some fun facts:

  • They account for ⅓ of the freight cargo in the US (almost as much as trucks)
  • They are 4-5x more efficient in energy used per mile than trucks

Researchers believe autonomous trains could help combat those pesky supply chain issues we’re having and the climate crisis, per The Wall Street Journal.

One reason they’re bullish? The technology already exists

Autonomous trains power many city metro systems, and the 1st autonomous freight train was launched in Australia in 2019.

Researchers cite a range of benefits compared to human-driven trains:

  • Improved safety
  • Increased freight capacity
  • More efficient use of the rail system

But going fully autonomous isn’t just the flip of a switch. The biggest challenge is whether they can coexist on rail networks with human-driven trains.

And like any new digital technology, cybersecurity is a risk

With trains weighing 4k-20k tons and sometimes carrying hazardous materials, a hack could have dire consequences.

But if engineers can figure it out, model train enthusiasts may be able to take their chops from the basement to the real world.

AROUND THE WEB

🐬 On this day: In 1987, 5 trained dolphins went to the Persian Gulf to help the US Navy look for underwater mines.

🏡 That’s interesting: With remote work on the rise, Make My Move lists cities across the US that are paying people to relocate there.

🤣 That’s cool: This breakdown of Ali Wong’s comedy special, “Baby Cobra,” dissects why the audience laughed the most when they did. (Note: the audio content may be a little NSFW.)

​​💰 How to: For freelancers, negotiation is a key skill, but many don’t know how to do it. Here are a few tips.

🤯  Wait, what: A renowned bird expert disappeared in 1913. By 1919, the police and his family assumed he’d died, but the truth was much stranger.

🦌 Aww: And now, this video of an extremely cute baby klipspringer antelope.

Train-related meme of the day

Thomas the Tank Engine x Star Wars is a crossover we’d definitely pay for (Source: Starecat)

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