Will Taleo exercise its M&A option?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Having crossed the anniversary of its acquisition of Vurv Technology earlier this summer, Taleo recently indicated that it is looking to return to the M&A market. (Shares of the human capital management vendor trade essentially where they did when the company closed its $128m consolidation play with Vurv, while the Nasdaq is down about 12% over that same period.) Taleo’s pickup of Vurv was its largest-ever transaction, roughly doubling the number of customers for the company. The success that Taleo has enjoyed with migrating Vurv users to its own platform stands in sharp contrast to the other main consolidation play by a publicly traded rival, Kenexa’s $115m reach for BrassRing in 2006.

If we had to speculate on Taleo’s next M&A move, we suspect it would involve exercising a kind of ‘call option’ that it has on a startup. What do we mean by that? Last summer, when Taleo had its hands full with Vurv, it also made a $2.5m equity investment in a Redwood City, California-based startup called Worldwide Compensation (WWC). So rather than take on another acquisition immediately, Taleo smartly structured its investment – its only such investment – to give it right of first refusal to pick up all of WWC at any time through the end of 2009.

The investment in WWC comes with a partnership that adds WWC’s compensation management offering to Taleo’s core performance management products. In the second quarter, Taleo reported that it had three joint deals with WWC involving enterprise customers. As pay-for-performance offerings get more widely adopted, we could certainly imagine a case where Taleo would want to bring WWC in-house. In that regard, we might view the WWC investment as just a ‘try before you buy’ arrangement for Taleo.