Software -- specifically of the variety delivered via the cloud -- has been one of the best investing motifs of the last decade. The age of mobility has spawned all types of new use cases, and the now tried-and-true business model has organizations around the globe using software to update their business models for the 21st century.
The scramble isn't over yet, though, and communications services are undergoing rapid change due to new software and technological capabilities. With a new decade nearly here, supercharged returns driven by disruptive businesses is still in the cards. Anaplan (PLAN), Twilio (TWLO -2.42%), and NVIDIA (NVDA -2.72%) are our disruptive companies worth consideration.
1. Anaplan: Pioneering change for corporate decision makers
Anaplan has created a new software category it hopes will be an entire industry someday: connected planning. Driven by its proprietary technology it calls Hyperblock, its platform connects an organization's data and plans (be they financial, hiring, supply chain, etc.) with its decision-makers. Connecting all of the above with each other, Anaplan can help with efficiency, keep everyone playing on the same page, and ultimately help drive better decision making.
Anaplan's offering lies at the crossroads between several technologies. The software was built in and is deployed to customers using the cloud. Being cloud-native, it can connect and process massive amounts of data to account for different scenarios an organization needs to plan for. And it makes use of machine learning (a branch of artificial intelligence) to process all of that data and factor in unforeseen variables more efficiently.
It's an impressive software suite, and a study, based on actual customer data, Anaplan commissioned from Forrester Consulting says that users of the product could realize returns on investment of 324% over a three-year stretch. Results like this are likely behind the planning service's soaring sales. Revenue is up 46% through the first nine months of 2019, and Anaplan's stock has doubled since its IPO in the fall of 2019.
This cloud stock is certainly worthy of attention, but here's the downside: As with the other stocks on this list, Anaplan's big potential and fast growth have it trading for a premium. The company operates in the red (although that's by design to maximize growth), and shares trade at a lofty 20.2 times trailing-12-month sales. Nevertheless, this software outfit is disrupting corporate decision making and decision-maker planning for the better and is worth keeping on your radar.
2. Twilio: Altering the fundamentals of business communications
While Anaplan is attempting to create a new industry, it's following in the footsteps of Twilio -- which itself pioneered the cloud communications industry. The company operates a cloud-based toolbox of APIs. In layperson's terms, that's a line of code that allows a software application to implement a function. In the case of Twilio, its APIs enable web-based communication -- everything from chat to video to voice call app functionality.
Most people have never heard of Twilio, and that's because the toolbox was put together for software developers. Businesses implement Twilio's APIs into their own programs to enable communications within the company, as well as interaction with customers. Notable customers include Lyft, Airbnb, and Nordstrom, to name just a few. If you regularly interact with companies you do business with online, there's a good chance you've benefited from Twilio's technology.
Twilio's raid into the world of communications looks far from over, too. Third-quarter sales were 75% higher than a year ago (or 47% higher when backing out the addition of the SendGrid email acquisition from earlier in the year). The dollar-based net expansion rate was at 132% in Q3, implying that existing users of the platform spent 32% more with Twilio than they did in the same quarter in 2018. In other words, there are a lot of happy customers finding new ways to implement cloud communications into their operations.
Twilio is a big company, hauling in $1 billion in revenue over the last 12 months. Yet it, too, operates at a loss to maximize its growth. Paired with a price-to-sales ratio of 11.8, that makes for a volatile stock. Share performance will ultimately hinge on Twilio's ability to maintain its momentum, though, and things look positive for the software suite. With internet use only on the rise, this cloud-based communications play is certainly worth considering for the long haul.
3. NVIDIA: Getting the robots in on the conversation
For many, NVIDIA is synonymous with high-end video gaming chips, and rightly so. Just over half of the graphics processing unit (GPU) designer's sales come from that industry. However, NVIDIA has been leveraging its technology leadership to get itself into new industries for years. The latest push, and perhaps the most lucrative one yet, is artificial intelligence (AI).
NVIDIA's work in the world of GPUs -- originally designed to handle video and imaging tasks on a computer -- has paved the way for the processors that are a key ingredient in AI. A computer mimicking the way the human brain functions requires a massive amount of computation firepower, and GPUs can dramatically speed up the process. The technology is still in the early innings of implementation, but early uses have revolved around recommendation systems (like search results in a search engine or a website). According to NVIDIA, the next big push for AI is conversational AI -- computers being able to recognize human speech and then formulate a natural-language response.
Of course, NVIDIA's sprawling chip empire (market cap is currently $126 billion) hinges on much more than just conversations with a computer system. However, mimicking human conversation is no easy task, requiring complex systems that process the input (what the human is saying) followed by a near-instantaneous system that processes an output (what the computer says to the human). NVIDIA's GPUs and the applications it has built using them are leading the way in cracking the code, validating the company's dominance in the emerging AI industry. The possible applications are extensive, with the most immediate being customer service solutions. Beyond conversational AI, expectations are that market-wide AI spending could top $1 trillion a year in the near future. The potential for NVIDIA is massive.
Thus, while it's already a large enterprise, NVIDIA's sky-high price-to-sales ratio of 12.7 is at least partially justified -- even though sales are only just beginning to get back to even with all-time highs after a 2018 slump. A leader in the fast-emerging world of AI, the GPU giant is worthy of being a core portfolio component.