The dawn of the internet changed the business world forever. It created an opportunity for the smallest of merchants to reach the furthest corners of the globe, and for large corporations, it redefined what it means to be multinational.
But there's a new frontier. Artificial intelligence offers an expansion of the digital revolution, with the capability to rapidly complete tasks once impossible without significant amounts of human input. Capturing this in your portfolio might be crucial to outsize returns over the next decade, and our Motley Fool contributors think Upstart Holdings (UPST -1.93%), CrowdStrike Holdings (CRWD -2.63%), and UiPath (PATH -4.22%) could be among the most explosive ways to do it.
Out with FICO, in with AI
Anthony Di Pizio (Upstart): Most consumers are familiar with the FICO scoring system. It's what banks use to measure creditworthiness when you try to borrow money -- and it has been around since 1989.
While FICO scores account for the simple things like the borrower's payment history and existing debts, Upstart is leveraging artificial intelligence to assess over 1,000 different data points that include where the person went to school and their job history.
Capturing all of those unique factors wouldn't be possible without AI, and the results show 75% fewer loan defaults for the same number of approvals, which is certainly attractive for banks. Upstart doesn't lend money itself, but rather originates loans for banks and receives a fee for doing so. Additionally, lenders can pay the company to integrate its AI decisioning tools into their own application processes.
For investors this means Upstart faces no credit risks, and so it can scale its operations with fewer constraints because it's not burdened by the capital-intensive lending business. The setup has worked well so far, with the company's stock rocketing 700% higher this year alone.
The share price appreciation has been driven by rock-solid revenue growth and the fact that it's already a profitable company. In the first half of 2021 alone, Upstart originated $4.52 billion worth of loans, which was a 253% increase compared to the first half of 2020.
It's slated to get even better as the company enters the automotive finance market, boosted by its acquisition of car dealership sales-software developer Prodigy back in April. Over $1 trillion worth of cars are sold each year in the U.S., with many of them financed, and it's the largest market Upstart has operated in so far.
AI momentum is just warming up in the lending industry, so the next 10 years could be red-hot.
Industry-leading threat detection
Trevor Jennewine (CrowdStrike Holdings): In 2011, George Kurtz boarded a flight and watched a fellow passenger boot up his laptop, noting that it took 15 minutes to load the McAfee security software. At the time, Kurtz served as McAfee's chief technology officer, so the experience hit home. Shortly after, Kurtz resigned his position and founded CrowdStrike, aiming to build a faster, more effective product from the ground up.
To that end, CrowdStrike's Falcon platform exists in the cloud, meaning it can crowdsource data at an incredible scale. It then leans on artificial intelligence to analyze that information, making it possible to predict and prevent even the most sophisticated attacks. Today, Falcon comprises 21 different modules, each of which is delivered through a single lightweight piece of software, meaning the platform doesn't slow endpoint devices (e.g., laptops) like legacy solutions do.
Fueled by this innovation, the CrowdStrike brand name has become synonymous with industry-leading threat detection, and its platform has become the gold standard in cybersecurity. In fact, Forrester Research recently recognized Falcon as the best endpoint protection product on the market, citing its performance and preventative capabilities as key differentiators.
Not surprisingly, CrowdStrike has seen strong demand for its software-as-a-service offering, and that has translated into truly explosive growth. Earlier this year, the company became the third-fastest SaaS vendor (in any category) to reach $1 billion in annual recurring revenue.
In the most recent quarter, CrowdStrike reached 13,080 customers -- including 234 Fortune 500 companies -- up 81% from the prior year. Revenue surged 70% to $338 million, free cash flow jumped 127% to $74 million, and net retention remained over 120%, indicating that existing customers are spending more over time.
That's encouraging, but shareholders have every reason to believe that momentum can continue. Many legacy security providers have over 100,000 customers, but none of them rival CrowdStrike's technology. That should help the company take share in the years ahead, capitalizing on what management believes will be a $106 billion market by 2025. That's why this explosive growth stock looks like a smart buy right now.
A new age in business efficiency
Jamie Louko (UiPath): If you think about robots, you'd probably think of Amazon's warehouse robots or Lemonade's bots Jim and Maya, but another company that is automating the world with robots is UiPath -- which has a goal of "fully automating enterprises." The company is using artificial intelligence to automate simple tasks, freeing up employees to work on thought-intensive processes.
The company realizes that employees can be 50% less productive when they have to work on automatable tasks, and UiPath looks to diminish this. So far, The company has been successful -- attracting over 9,100 customers globally and reaching annual recurring revenue of $727 million -- representing a compound annual growth rate of 76% since the first quarter of fiscal 2020, the calendar year 2019.
UiPath's solutions have become a priority for enterprises, with 118 customers spending over $1 million on UiPath's software in the second quarter of fiscal 2022. The company's Q2 2022 net retention rate is 144%, meaning that customers are spending 44% more today than they did one year ago. With its loyal customers and high switching costs, it should come as no surprise that the company grew its Q2 2022 revenue by 40% from the year-ago quarter to $196 million.
UiPath's profits reflect this focus on growth. The company's sales and marketing expenses grew by roughly 60%, and its research and development and general and administrative expenses nearly doubled. This caused the company to lose over $100 million in this quarter alone. Financially, the company has a steep hill to climb, but with a massive $60 billion market opportunity, the company has plenty of room to grow and better its financial position. Shares are almost 40% off their all-time high, so now could be an opportunistic time to buy a company that could see explosive growth over the next decade.