-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
||Number of deals
Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase
Napster, once hailed as the king of digital music, has fallen on hard times. Its stock is down 35% this year alone, and 55% from its 52-week high set in October 2007. Resulting shareholder ire forced the company to announce last week that it is seeking strategic alternatives to boost value, and it has hired UBS Investment Bank to lead the effort. Who might acquire the house that Shawn Fanning built?
Since relaunching as a legal music service in late 2003, Napster has been unable to turn a profit. The company pulled in $125m in revenue for the trailing 12 months ended June 30 from about 708,000 paid subscribers. Despite increasing revenue 15% year-over-year, the company had a negative EBITDA of $12.3m and subscriber count decreased from last quarter’s total of 761,000. The switch from stagnation to a drop in subscribers for the first time means that Napster will be unable to keep growing revenue. Consequently, that makes it doubtful that it will be able to achieve profitability. Nevertheless, with $36.9m in cash and $30.7m in short-term investments, Napster is an attractive target at its current valuation of $62.25m.
We previously speculated that SanDisk would attempt to acquire a proprietary music service of its own. But given its financial woes, as well as reported takeover negotiations with Samsung, we do not think it will bite. We believe Napster’s fierce competitor RealNetworks, the majority owner of the Rhapsody music service, is the most likely acquirer. Amid growing competition from Apple, which unveiled its iTunes 8 and a new line of iPods this week, and with digital music newcomers Amazon, Nokia and a few promising startups making waves, this is a much more plausible proposition. Last year Rhapsody picked up Viacom’s Urge, which had been struggling despite its high-profile association with MTV and Microsoft. RealNetworks has the cash, and has repeatedly told us it is bullish on acquisitions that spur growth. Given Napster’s current valuation and similar deals, we estimate that it will fetch around $80-100m in a sale.
As Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference winds down, the hype for the new iPhone is only beginning. Amid all the hoopla, though, we couldn’t help but make an observation about not so much what was in Steve Job’s all-important keynote, but what wasn’t. Specifically, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ much-touted iFund was only mentioned in passing, and none of the surprisingly few ventures were highlighted. (KPCB has written checks to just three companies, out of thousands of applicants.) In fact, a major competitor of iFund’s location-aware application Whrrl, Loopt, was a highlight of the keynote. This comes as somewhat of a surprise after Palego’s Jeff Holden and KPCB partner Matt Murphy spoke highly of their relationship with Apple in a May 27 BusinessWeek article and even speculated on the chances of being a featured app. This led many to believe they were a shoe-in for the keynote. Given Apple’s obsessive demand for radio silence prior to the event, perhaps loose lips do indeed sink ships.
Loopt is funded by KPCB competitors New Enterprise Associates and Sequoia Capital to the tune of $15m. It has a few hundred thousand paying customers, but more importantly, it is the leader in the mobile location-aware-social-networking space spanning several carriers and operating systems. This is a market that has seen a lot of interest from the likes of Google, AOL, Microsoft and even Facebook. In the aftermath of the conference, whispers and rumors of potential acquirers of this little app are all over the place.
Since Google let Plaxo go to Comcast and has failed with its in-house development (Orkut), the search engine has been itching to make headway in the sector through acquisitions. Given Google’s huge push into the mobile space, it is seen as a likely acquirer. However, we think the most probable acquirer is Facebook. The soaring social networking site has been serious about pushing into mobile-social-networking, and a pairing of Facebook’s mobile application with Loopt seems a perfect fit. Since valuations in the social networking space are like something out of the bubble era, it is not unrealistic to see a price tag of just south of $100m for Loopt, a 40-employee startup. With healthy cash reserves and an estimated $400m in revenue for 2008, Facebook has the resources. In fact, though this would only be its second acquisition, we understand Facebook has been gearing up to make more acquisitions in the coming year. If indeed Loopt is taken off the block, rivals Palego, Zyb, and Buzzd may follow in quick order.
Traditional social networking acquisition deals for more than $50m
|May 14, 2008
|March 13, 2008
|March 4, 2008
|May 30, 2007
|July 18, 2005
* official 451 Group estimate, Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase
In a time of increasing competition and decreasing margins, the once-soaring navigation companies seem to have lost their bearings. Former Wall Street darlings Garmin and TomTom both reported lackluster quarters last month. Although overall revenue at both companies is still solid, other lines on the P&L sheet have deteriorated – notably margins. Both companies are now trading near 52-week lows, down roughly 70% from their highs for the year. (Undoubtedly, Garmin will face some investor ire when the company holds its shareholder meeting on June 6.)
With fierce consolidation and price declines, the issue facing Garmin and others is how to differentiate themselves from the new entrants that range from conglomerates Nokia and Research in Motion to small startups such as Dash Navigation. (Looming over all of this is the phenomenal success of Apple’s iPhone.) We foresee 2008 being a year of further consolidation as Garmin continues to shop in an attempt to retain its competitive edge.
Garmin’s gross margins are down to less than 50% from 70% just a few years ago and are expected to decline to below 40% this year, according to CFO Kevin Rauckman. The new competitive environment has forced a steep decline in average selling price: the company’s personal navigation device sold for $500 just a few years ago, but now the gizmo goes for half that amount. Garmin has stated that it intends to stave off the price erosion by setting up its products as a premium brand, much like what Apple did with the iPod. In order to achieve this, Garmin has been looking to make acquisitions in the content segment and will launch its first mobile phone, the Nuvifone, which looks, sounds and works eerily similar to a GPS-enabled iPhone.
So which companies might be ripe for the taking? Aside from the expected distribution acquisitions such as Garmin’s rumored purchase of Raymarine, mapping, traffic and content provider startups such as Dash, Inrix and Networks in Motion offer the kind of technology that Garmin needs. Moreover, if Garmin is serious about branching into the complex mobile phone market, a case could easily be made for an acquisition of longtime partner Palm Inc. The struggling pioneer was reportedly in play last year, but instead opted to have Elevation Partners take a 25% stake in the firm. Palm’s valuation has since been cut in half; we believe the company could surely be had for cheap as investors are eager to recoup their losses. Debt-free Garmin is cash-rich with about $600m, plus another $550m in marketable securities. So financing acquisitions is not a big issue for the company. The real question is whether Garmin can navigate a margin-boosting plan into place before it plummets off a cliff.
Signs of a consolidating industry
|Oct. 1, 2007
|July 23, 2007
Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase