Groupon gets lost in translation

Contact: Brenon Daly

Sometimes, business models lose a little something in translation. For all of the talk about globalization, commercial homogeneity and so on, we often get reminders that what works in one country may not necessarily flourish in another. That’s particularly true around commerce, as was evident once again in the Q2 results that Groupon announced Wednesday.

First, a bit of history: About a year and a half after its launch in late 2008, Groupon went on an international shopping spree. The heavily funded company picked up about 10 ‘clones’ in locations around the globe, ranging from its massive $126m consolidation of Berlin’s CityDeal, which it paid for with pre-IPO shares, to the tiny tuck-in of Israeli online coupon service Grouper. Other acquisitions got the Chicago company into markets such as Russia, the Philippines, South Africa and beyond.

But so far, Groupon isn’t getting the kind of returns it had hoped for when it started throwing money around the globe. Revenue from business outside of Groupon’s home North American market has actually shrunk so far this year. And it’s not just a slight downtick, but a full 20% decline in sales. Further, international sales are barely breaking even, as investments in ‘rest of world’ (primarily Asia) operations nearly siphon off all of the operating income produced in its EMEA division.

The dramatic slide in international sales contrasts sharply with the 44% growth Groupon posted for revenue in North America. (Add to that the fact that North America business at Groupon is almost half again as large as business outside of its home market.) That disparity stands as a reminder that while the world may be ‘flat’ (as Thomas Friedman and his cohorts have termed it), the business done on it tends to be lumpy.

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Dassault continues to acquire for growth

Contact: Ben Kolada

Continuing its search for external growth opportunities, 3-D modeling software vendor Dassault Systèmes says it is paying $205m for manufacturing software provider Apriso. The deal pushes Dassault into the manufacturing operations management software industry and provides cross-sell opportunities for both companies.

The all-cash transaction values Apriso at 4.1x last year’s sales. An Apriso press release earlier this year noted that sales growth over the past seven years exceeded 20% on a compound annual growth rate (CAGR); software revenue specifically grew at a CAGR of 31% over the same period. Last year, software represented 65% of total revenue, with services accounting for the remaining 35%. Jefferies & Company advised Apriso on its sale.

The deal is primarily a product expansion for Dassault, making manufacturing operations software available to customers that are currently using its DELMIA manufacturing and production modeling software. With Apriso, Dassault also expands its presence in a variety of industries, such as consumer goods, packaged goods, high tech, life sciences, transportation and mobility, aerospace and defense, and industrial equipment.

Beyond the sales rationale, Dassault also appears to be seeking more outlets to further its growth. We previously wrote that, although the greater European economy continues to struggle, Dassault was able to announce a pair of acquisitions in April due in part to the fact that the company is still growing total revenue. With this purchase, its fourth this year, Dassault has already tied the number of M&A moves it made in its most acquisitive year, 2011. And with a large war chest – nearly $2bn (€1.5bn) in cash and short-term investments at the end of March – Dassault has enough firepower to keep announcing expansion acquisitions.

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Is Backflip next for Nexon?

Contact: Ben Kolada

If the rumors are true, Japanese gaming giant Nexon will have spent nearly $1bn on gaming acquisitions in just one month. We’re hearing the company has acquired three-year-old gaming startup Backflip Studios for about $385m, and that’s not including a significant earnout. That would be on top of the $470m it dropped on fellow Japanese gaming company gloops at the start of the month.

Rumors of Nexon acquiring Backflip Studios first started circulating in September. We were recently told that Nexon is shelling out $385m, excluding a significant earnout, for Backflip. The Boulder, Colorado-based startup had grown considerably on its own. Published reports claim its revenue grew 200% in 2011, with 350% growth projected for this year. According to our sources, Backflip is set to generate roughly $40m in EBITDA this year.

The sale – provided it comes – would give a rather rich return to the entrepreneurs running Backflip, which has taken very little funding. In a lone SEC filing, Backflip disclosed it had secured just $140,000 in equity financing, but did not state who its investors were. Nexon may well provide more detail about the rumored transaction on or before its next earnings call, scheduled for November 8.

Will SoftBank-backed Sprint look to M&A?

Contact: Ben Kolada, Thejeswi Venkatesh

After churning through the rumor mill for the past half-week, official word came Monday that Japanese telco SoftBank is making a significant investment in Sprint, the third-largest mobile carrier in the US. SoftBank is acquiring 70% of Sprint in exchange for approximately $20bn, of which $12bn will be distributed to shareholders in exchange for 55% of the existing company. The remaining $8bn will be used for network expansion, primarily related to deploying 4G LTE. Beyond those efforts, the new Sprint could look to use some of its newfound cash to expand via M&A.

In announcing the deal, Sprint noted that this investment comes at a prime time. The company is continuing to execute on a multiyear turnaround. After Dan Hesse took the helm in December 2007, he spent the next three years focused on reversing Sprint’s customer attrition and improving its beleaguered brand. (Of course, some of those difficulties stemmed from its acquisition of Nextel in 2004. However, regarding customer service, those issues have largely been resolved, as the table below shows.) SoftBank’s move comes during Sprint’s investment phase, where it is now focused on building out its network and improving operational efficiency.

Now, with a stronger balance sheet, we wonder if SoftBank-backed Sprint will look to M&A for accelerated expansion. SoftBank has already shown a willingness to consolidate telecom assets in its home Japanese market. Earlier this month, it announced that it would buy Japanese wholesale broadband provider eAccess for $1.84bn. And in 2006, it picked up Vodafone K.K., the Japanese mobile unit of Vodafone Group, for about $16bn.

Although Sprint has struggled with M&A in the past, it could be spurred to move once more, as there are only a finite amount of targets left in the US and one was recently removed from reach. Earlier this month, T-Mobile announced that it was acquiring MetroPCS, which had long been rumored as a Sprint acquisition target. After MetroPCS, the next most likely candidate for Sprint to buy is Leap Wireless, which, including its cash and debt, is valued at about $3.2bn.

Wireless service provider satisfaction rating by company – ranking of customers who say they are very satisfied with their current wireless provider

Rank October 2006 September 2012
1 Verizon – 45% Verizon – 48%
2 T-Mobile – 33% Sprint – 32%
3 Cingular (now known as AT&T) – 30% T-Mobile – 28%
4 Sprint – 25% AT&T – 21%

Source: ChangeWave Research

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Accounting for M&A

Contact: Ben Kolada

As accounting software giant Intuit buys beyond its traditional roots, it is leaving the door open for competition from a new breed of accounting startups. A handful of accounting companies have popped up over the past few years in the US and abroad to target consumers and SMBs, some with freemium models. These Davids are walking in Goliath’s giant footsteps, and are announcing a number of their own expansion plays.

Over roughly the past year, accounting startups Wave Accounting (based in Toronto), Xero (based in New Zealand) and FreeAgent (based in the UK) have each announced at least one acquisition. For the most part, these companies’ purchases have been done to expand beyond their core accounting focus. Wave, for example, recently announced the pickup of small stock analysis startup Vuru.

Xero has been particularly acquisitive, announcing four acquisitions since its founding in 2006. The company, publicly traded on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, has been doing deals to both complement its products and expand geographically. Its purchase of PayCycle in July 2011 helped the company enter the nearby Australian market. Through organic and inorganic growth, Xero has grown its revenue to about $16m in its 2012 fiscal year, which ended in March.

Beyond M&A, some companies have developed new products as an offshoot to their businesses. Ruby on Rails developer LessEverything, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is now offering LessAccounting. And Toronto-based invoice vendor 2ndSite now offers FreshBooks.

Meanwhile, Outright Inc was recently acquired by Go Daddy Group. Though, if you ask LessEverything, it could have very well been its LessAccounting product. The company purported on its blog that Go Daddy approached it two years ago with interest in buying its LessAccounting product.

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Equinix increasing inorganic growth, nabs ancotel

Contact: Ben Kolada, Thejeswi Venkatesh

In its latest geographic consolidation move, colocation giant Equinix announced on Wednesday the acquisition of Frankfurt-based ancotel. Although previously an atypical acquirer, the ancotel buy is Equinix’s second purchase this month, following the pickup of certain assets from Hong Kong-based Asia Tone for $230m. Equinix recently said its dealmaking isn’t done yet. At the Deutsche Bank Securities Media & Telecommunications Conference in February, the company said it plans to place more emphasis on M&A.

Equinix didn’t disclose the price of the acquisition, but did say the valuation is in line with its projected 2012 adjusted EBITDA trading multiple. With a current enterprise value of $9.7bn, Equinix itself is valued at 11 times this year’s projected adjusted EBITDA. Assuming ancotel’s cost structure is similar to Equinix’s, we’d loosely estimate the deal value at $100-110m. Ancotel generated $21.4m in revenue in 2011, with a three-year CAGR north of 20%. The transaction adds a datacenter with 2,100 meters of capacity, 400 network customers, 200 new networks and 6,000 cross connects. Ancotel also has a presence in both London and Hong Kong.

In a departure from its usual practice of making just one acquisition per year, Equinix recently indicated that it intends to use more M&A to fuel growth. The company already dominates the American colocation market, so future M&A activity will likely continue to be overseas. Equinix has a lofty goal of being in 50 markets in the long term, with immediate priorities being India and China. The company has also expressed interest in growing its presence in South Korea and Australia.

Equinix’s international M&A, past five years

Date announced Target Deal value Target headquarters
May 16, 2012 ancotel Not disclosed Frankfurt
May 1, 2012 Asia Tone (certain assets) $230m Hong Kong
February 15, 2011 ALOG Data Centers* $127m Rio de Janeiro
February 6, 2008 Virtu Secure Webservices $22.9m Enschede, Netherlands
June 28, 2007 IXEurope $555m London
January 10, 2007 VSNL International (Tokyo datacenter) $7.5m Tokyo

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *90% stake

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Monitise pays out now for payoff later

Contact: Ben Kolada

Mobile banking and payments vendor Monitise made a big bet on Monday when it moved to consolidate its industry with the acquisition of startup Clairmail. At first glance, the deal should have set off alarms among Monitise’s investors. The all-stock transaction will significantly dilute Monitise’s shareholders, leaving them owning three-quarters of the combined company. However, its investors remained calm – Monitise’s share price closed down only 2%. Why? Although the deal is richly valued and dilutes Monitise’s shareholders, those same investors are all but assured of their own rich payoff eventually.

Another explanation for the muted shareholder response is that the transaction only seems overvalued on the surface. It is actually fairly valued by several metrics. Monitise’s £109m ($173m) offer values Clairmail at 9.3 times trailing sales, a smidgen below its own current 10x enterprise value (Monitise held $68m in net cash at the end of 2011, while Clairmail had $5m). Further, Monitise is also obtaining more valuable customers. Clairmail had 48 banking customers generating a total of $18m in revenue last year, or about $375,000 per customer. Monitise, meanwhile, had more than 250 customers, each of which generated an average of less than $150,000 in annual revenue. And because of Clairmail’s growth rate (its revenue jumped 90% in 2011), its price-to-projected-sales valuation is certain to be much lower. Further placating investors, Monitise is forecasting continued heady growth. The combined company, which would have generated $56m in revenue in 2011 on a pro forma basis, is projecting 2012 total revenue close to $100m.

There’s certainly no reason for alarm among the acquirer’s investors, considering valuations across the mobile payments industry are already high and the potential for Monitise itself to one day find a fruitful takeover offer. In July, eBay announced that it was buying Zong for $240m. And in June, Visa announced that it was buying Fundamo for $110m, or about 11x estimated trailing sales. The latter deal is of particular note, given the growing relationship between Visa and Monitise. Following the Fundamo buy, will Visa make a larger play in mobile payments, perhaps by acquiring Monitise? The two companies are already partners – Visa Europe made a $38m investment in Monitise in October, the two companies equally share a joint venture in India and Visa Europe president and CEO Peter Ayliffe sits on Monitise’s board. And as of February 28, Visa and Visa Europe combined owned 21% of Monitise’s equity.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter: @MAKnowledgebase.

Symantec gets the better end of a ‘win-win’ deal

Contact: Brenon Daly

When a marriage dissolves, it’s typically a messy process with bitter recriminations and resentments over how to divide the results of lives pooled together. Not so with Symantec’s step out of its three-and-a-half-year-old joint venture (JV) with Huawei. Selling its 49% stake in the storage and security appliance JV to its Chinese partner for $530m brings both companies a number of advantages. And while we might be tempted to label it one of those mythical win-win transactions, a closer look at the deal shows that Big Yellow gets more of the ‘win’ than Huawei, at least in our view.

From a purely financial standpoint, Symantec exits the JV having more than tripled the valuation of the entity. As CFO James Beer noted on a call discussing the sale, Symantec is realizing an annualized internal rate of return (IRR) of 31%. (We might add that performance came in the face of the worst global economic slowdown since the Great Depression, and is roughly three times the return of the Nasdaq over the same period. The IRR is undoubtedly higher than the numbers put up by many of the late-stage investors and buyout shops over that time.)

Additionally, the terms don’t limit Symantec from expanding its business in China, either in terms of distribution or even in new agreements with other hardware providers. Meanwhile, Huawei will be paying Symantec OEM royalties from its contributions to products for the next seven years. (No amount was given for those payments.) That’s not a bad deal at all for Symantec, which was advised by Citigroup Global Markets while Morgan Stanley banked Huawei.

US telcos feeling the squeeze

Contact: Ben Kolada

Amid double-digit revenue growth in the cloud infrastructure market, US telcos are increasingly buying their way into this industry in an effort to stem losses in their traditional wireline businesses. However, just as the hosting and colocation sectors are growing rapidly, so too are the major players being acquired. So far this year, we’ve already seen three of the largest hosters scooped up by eager telco service providers, with CenturyLink’s $2.5bn Savvis purchase being the most recent. If the remaining telcos don’t move fast enough, they could increasingly be squeezed out of the growing cloud infrastructure space. And competition for the remaining firms is expected to increase as foreign operators could look to enter the US market as well.

Atlanta-based Internap Network Services is among the short list of firms most likely to be taken out next. The company has a wide-reaching geographic footprint, with facilities spread throughout the US, Europe, Asia and Australia. The company’s large US and international presence makes it a particularly attractive target, especially for large CLECs such as tw telecom and PAETEC, or even cable MSO Comcast. However, its footprint could also attract foreign operators looking for synergies in their home markets, as well as entry into the US market. My colleague Antonio Piraino at Tier1 Research recently penned a piece reminding buyout speculators that just a few years ago Internap rebuffed a takeover offer from Indian telco Reliance Communications. He notes that Reliance may once again be a potential suitor, alongside Asian firms Pacnet and China Telecom or European provider Colt Technology Services Group.

Though opportunities for US acquisitions are diminishing, domestic telcos still have options. Given the hyper-competitive takeover market that is expected for remaining US hosters, US telcos may instead look for international deals. As seen by regional stalwart Cincinnati Bell’s CyrusOne unit expanding into London, US telcos are showing no fear of international expansion when it comes to their hosting and colocation businesses. If US telcos look abroad, we wouldn’t be surprised if they checked out Interxion. The Schiphol-Rijk, Netherlands-based firm operates 28 datacenters in 11 countries spread throughout Europe, and pulled in more than €200m in revenue in 2010, a 21% jump from the previous year.

A warm welcome on Wall Street

Contact: Brenon Daly

Against a backdrop that has the major stock market indexes at their highest level in about three years, investors have apparently signaled that they are ready to take a chance again on new issues. A pair of IPOs came to market Thursday at significantly higher-than-expected prices, and promptly surged in aftermarket trading. Collectively, the offerings for Responsys and 21Vianet raised a healthy $274m for the two companies.

In the hotter of the two IPOs, Chinese hosting company 21Vianet Group sold 13 million American Depository Shares at $15 each. (That raised $195m for the company, half again as much money as it originally planned to raise based on the midpoint of its initial range.) In the aftermarket, shares were changing hands at about $21 each. (We’ll have a full report on the company and its outlook in tonight’s Daily 451.)

Meanwhile, on-demand marketing software vendor Responsys also found a warm welcome on Wall Street. The offering, which we expected to be strong, raised $79m for Responsys. The company priced its 6.6-million-share offering at $12 each, roughly 30% above the midpoint of the initial range. Investors bid up the stock to about $15.50 in afternoon trading. With 44.1 million shares outstanding, Responsys garners a value of some $680m, slightly more than 7 times 2010 sales and almost 5x our projection for 2011 sales.