Contact: Brenon Daly
With the passing of Steve Jobs earlier this week and all the deserved praise for the late Apple impresario, we can add one more tribute from the world of M&A: Jobs is the central figure in what’s probably the most accretive tech deal ever done. Remember that it was the purchase in December 1996 of the company that he founded after initially getting fired from Apple (NeXT Computer) that brought Jobs back to Apple.
So viewed that way, the once-and-future king at Apple only got to play that role because Apple acquired NeXT for some $400m. Without that deal, there’s every chance that Jobs wouldn’t have returned to Infinite Loop, and that the company would have simply continued on its path toward irrelevance in the PC Era. Instead, Job worked his magic, introducing computers, music players, phones, tablets and other products that customers may not have known they wanted but found they couldn’t live without.
To get some sense of the impact of Jobs’ return to Apple, consider this: when Apple acquired NeXT, shares of the company were in the single digits. They closed Thursday at $377. Under Jobs’ watch, shares rose almost 6,000%, giving it a current market valuation of $350bn. Apple currently enjoys the richest market cap of any company on the planet. And all that came from a deal that was part IP and part HR.
by Brenon Daly
Earlier this year, rumors were flying that Apple was putting together a bid – valued at more than $500m – for cloud storage startup Dropbox. That speculation obviously didn’t go anywhere, but it looked a whole lot more credible in light of Monday’s introduction of Apple’s online storage and synching offering, iCloud. The service, which will be free for up to 5GB, will be available in the fall.
On the face of it, Apple’s new service looks mostly like a convenient and efficient way to move iTunes into the cloud. Viewed in that rather limited way, iCloud appears to compete most directly with Google and Amazon, which have both launched online music storage offerings in recent weeks. But as is the case with most of what Apple does, there’s much more going on.
In addition to automatically storing and synching media files such as music, photos and movies, iCloud will keep up-to-date documents as well as presentation and other files. In other words, the uses for iCloud are pretty much exactly the same reasons why some 25 million people also use Dropbox. Is this yet another case of a Silicon Valley giant initially looking to buy but then opting instead to build?
-Contact Thomas Rasmussen
Following Google’s purchase of AdMob in November, we predicted a resurgence in mobile advertising M&A. That’s just what has happened and, we believe, the consolidation is far from having run its course. Apple, which we understand was also vying for AdMob, acquired Quattro Wireless for an estimated $275m at the beginning of the year. At approximately $15m in estimated net revenue, the deal was about as pricey as Google’s shopping trip for its own mobile advertising startup. And just last week, Norwegian company Opera Software stepped into the market as well, acquiring AdMarvel for $8m plus a $15m earnout. We understand that San Mateo, California-based AdMarvel, which is running at an estimated $3m in annual net sales, had been looking to raise money when potential investor Opera suggested an outright acquisition instead.
These transactions underscore the fact that mobile advertising will play a decisive role in shaping the mobile communications business in the coming years. For instance, vendors can now use advertising to offset the costs of providing services (most notably, turn-by-turn directions) that were formerly covered by subscription fees. Just last week, Nokia matched Google’s move from last year by offering free turn-by-turn directions on all of its smartphones. Navigation is only the beginning for ad-based services as mobile devices get more powerful and smarter through localization and personal preferences.
While traditional startups such as Amobee will continue to see interest from players wanting a presence in the space, we believe the next company that could enjoy a high-value exit like AdMob or Quattro will come from the ranks that offer unique location-based mobile advertising such as 1020 Placecast. The San Francisco-based firm, which has raised an estimated $9m in two rounds, is a strategic partner of Nokia’s NavTeq. As such, we would not be surprised to see Nokia follow the lead of its neighbor Opera by reaching across the Atlantic to secure 1020 Placecast for itself.
-Contact Thomas Rasmussen
The consolidation in the mobile payment market that we outlined recently is still on. Startup Boku announced on Tuesday a $13m venture capital infusion in the form of what we understand was a $3m series A round followed quickly by a $10m series B round a little over a month later. Benchmark Capital led the latest round, with Index Ventures and Khosla Ventures also pitching in some cash. The money was used to acquire two competitors, Paymo and Mobillcash. We estimate that very little of the cash was used to buy the vendors. We understand that the purchase of Paymo, which raised a reported $5m itself, was primarily done in stock. The deals were largely a way for Boku to gain customers and technology, as well as expand its international reach. It’s increasingly important for mobile payment startups to do something to stand out among the dozens of rivals also trying to crack this market. What’s unusual about Boku is that this strategy is playing out so quickly. The company only incorporated in March.
The real question for Boku and other promising startups in the mobile payment space such as RFinity is what will ultimately happen to this hyped market. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars poured into startups, they haven’t been able to generate much revenue, certainly not to the level that would make them viable businesses at this point. We believe the best outcome for these firms is an exit to a larger strategic acquirer. An example of this that may well be in the offing is Obopay, which took an investment from Nokia a few months ago. We suspect that could be a ‘try before you buy’ arrangement for the Finnish mobile company. Research in Motion and others could look to use acquisitions to catch up, as well.
However, we wonder how long it will be before other smartphone providers, platforms and mobile operators do as Apple has done. Micro-transactions are a huge selling point for the new iPhone 3.0 update and, frankly, one of the few bright spots for the mobile payment sector. However, all transactions for iPhone applications are done through Apple itself, leaving companies such as Boku out in the cold. If other vendors – including RIM, Palm Inc, Google, Microsoft and even application platforms like Facebook – stay in-house to develop the technology, there isn’t much need to go shopping. That could well hurt the valuations of mobile payment startups, even those that survive this current period of consolidation.
-Contact Thomas Rasmussen
Mobile advertising startup Ad Infuse received an infusion of reality last week. The vendor, which has raised $18m in venture backing, had to put itself up for sale after it was unable to secure follow-on funding this year. After being shopped around since last summer, Ad Infuse sold for scraps to UK-based mobile advertiser Velti. We estimate that Velti paid less than $1m for Ad Infuse, which we understand generated just $1.3m in revenue in 2008.
The distressed sale of Ad Infuse comes on the heels of SmartReply’s tiny all-equity purchase of mSnap, as well as several deals involving other niche advertising networks this year. Where does this leave the remaining mobile ad networks that we were bullish on last year as the logical next step of growth for online ad startups?
We suspect there is more VC portfolio cleanout coming, since there are still too many mobile ad startups. That’s not to say there aren’t a few firms that haven’t had some success. For instance, three-year-old mobile ad network AdMob, which has successfully ridden the coattails of Apple’s iPhone AppStore’s rise by providing a way for iPhone developers to monetize their users through ads, is currently at an estimated $30m run-rate. (AdMob has raised nearly $50m to date from Sequoia Capital, Accel Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Northgate Capital.) And on a smaller scale, AdMarvel is just getting started with what we can best describe as a mobile version of the popular video ad startup Adap.tv. It has raised just $8m to date and is in the process of closing a $10m follow-on round, something its competitor Ad Infuse was unable to accomplish.
Much like what we anticipate will eventually happen in the online video ad space, there will soon come a time when ad giants such as Google and Yahoo will have to buy their way into the mobile sector. In a rare sign of foresight, AOL is the only media behemoth with a sizable presence in the mobile ad vertical following its $105m acquisition of Third Screen Media in 2007.
-Contact Thomas Rasmussen
When SanDisk released its dismal earnings this week, dismayed shareholders hastily headed for the hills. The exodus caused SanDisk’s stock to plunge 25%. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the flash memory giant lost $1.6bn, pushing its total loss for the year to $2bn. This red ink from operations was exacerbated by the company’s $1bn of acquisition-related write-downs stemming from its $1.5bn acquisition of msystems in July 2006. In the days following the dire news, SanDisk has been trading at a valuation of around $2.2bn. That’s a far cry from the $5.6bn that Samsung offered for SanDisk in September.
To put the decline in perspective, SanDisk’s three largest outside shareholders – Clearbridge Advisors, Capital International Asset Management and Capital Guardian Trust, which collectively own more than 15% of SanDisk (as of September 30) – suffered a paper loss of more than $700m since the day Samsung walked away from the proposed deal. Given this, we wouldn’t be surprised if shareholder ire forced SanDisk to reconsider its strategic options this year. On its earnings call this past Monday, the company reiterated that its board is indeed open to deal with any interested parties, which begs the inevitable question: Who might be willing buyers?
With private equity largely stymied and longtime partner Toshiba repeatedly stating that it’s not interested in a deal, Samsung is still the most logical fit. It has the cash, has shown a willingness to pay a solid premium, and would integrate well with SanDisk’s overall portfolio of products. In addition to its valuable intellectual property assets (which would eliminate those ugly royalty fees) and flash and solid-state drive lineup, SanDisk would instantly give Samsung the second-largest share of the music player market, behind only Apple. Perhaps it’s time for SanDisk CEO Eli Harari to brush up on his Korean, or at least learn how to say ‘please come back’ in that language.
-Contact Thomas Rasmussen
The over-hyped world of online video is going through massive turmoil at the moment. While most investors and companies agree that online video is likely the future of broadcasting, no one has been able to make any money from it so far. And it’s likely to get even harder due to tighter venture funding, the closed IPO window and next-generation Web 2.0 entrants such as Hulu and even Apple’s iTunes. These factors have left the online video players scrambling toward any exit, no matter how cheap.
Consider the case of CinemaNow, which was picked up by Sonic Solutions for a mere $3m last month. The portal never managed to turn a profit and had estimated revenue of less than $4m. Yet it secured five rounds of funding (totaling more than $40m) and brokered partnerships with major studios, VCs and strategic investors. When CinemaNow went to investors begging for another round a few months ago, it found that there was no money to be had and a quick exit became the only alternative. That’s a common occurrence these days, and may well have driven rival MovieLink to sell for a paltry $6.6m to Blockbuster last year. (Expect more of these types of deals next year. According to corporate development executives who completed our annual M&A outlook survey, lack of access to VC will be the major catalyst for deal flow in 2009.)
If this sounds eerily familiar, it’s because a similar situation played out during the music industry’s awkward and reluctant switch to digital a few years ago. Several startups, even major ones backed by large studios, tried to become the distributor of choice. Yet, many of those went away in scrap sales or had the plug pulled on them (Viacom’s Urge, Napster and Yahoo’s music service, to name just a few high-profile failures). We’re now left with just a handful of dominant distributors: iTunes, RealNetworks’ Rhapsody, Amazon and, to an increasing extent, MySpace’s heavily funded music effort. Many of these companies are likely to also dominate online video. In fact, add in Google and Microsoft, and you have a list of the companies that are likely to be buyers for the few remaining online video startups.
Recent online video M&A
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Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase