-Email Thomas Rasmussen
It’s becoming increasingly evident that once-dominant makers of personal navigation devices, such as Garmin and TomTom, have lost their way. They have seen billions of dollars in market capitalization erased as smartphone manufacturers have encroached on their sector, largely through M&A. Consider the most-recent example of this trend: Research in Motion’s acquisition of startup Dash Navigation earlier this month.
RIM’s buy is more of a catch-up move than anything else. Rival Nokia has already spent the last few years – and several billion dollars – acquiring and building a dominant presence in the location-based-services (LBS) market. And let’s not forget about the omnipresent Google. Starting with its tiny 2005 purchase of Where2, the search giant has quietly grown into a LBS powerhouse that we suspect keeps even the larger players up at night.
The Dash Navigation sale may well signal the start of some overdue consolidation, a trend we outlined last year. Specifically, we wonder about the continued independence of TeleNav, Telmap and Networks in Motion. TeleNav, for instance, is the exclusive mapping provider for the hyped Palm Pre through Sprint Navigation. But with the trend for open devices, we wonder how long that will be the case.
Contact: Brenon Daly
The ‘storm’ caused by Research in Motion’s ‘bold’ play for Certicom looks likely to linger a bit longer. The Blackberry maker originally launched its unsolicited offer for Certicom a month ago, but the cryptography vendor has nixed it. (Certicom also lined up TD Securities to help it fend off the unwanted attention from the fellow Canadian company.) RIM’s bid, which values Certicom at some $52m, was originally slated to expire next week but has been extended through the end of the month.
With this unsolicited offer, RIM joins a growing list of big-name tech firms that have used this once-taboo M&A strategy. Over the past year, firms using unsolicited offers include Microsoft, EMC, Electronic Arts and Cadence Design Systems, among others. If RIM does manage to secure Certicom, it will mark the company’s second recent deal, after some two years out of the market.
Recent Research in Motion deals
|December 2008 (announced)
Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *451 Group estimate
-by Thomas Rasmussen
Despite its stock trading near a five-year low and plans to cut 10% of its workforce, eBay managed to go shopping last week, picking up a pair of companies for a total of $1.3bn. The auction giant spent $945m on Bill Me Later, an online payment processor popular among big-ticket retailers, and $390m on Danish classifieds giant Den Bla Avis. The acquisitions mark a return by eBay’s recently appointed CEO John Donahoe to a focus on the company’s core operations. It also brings into sharper relief the largest strategic misstep by Donahoe’s predecessor Meg Whitman: the purchase of Skype. We believe that will soon be remedied, with the newly refocused eBay divesting its communications division.
It’s clear why eBay would want to return to its roots, and why the Bill Me Later acquisition makes a lot of sense. (The purchase of Den Bla Avis is another step in the company’s international expansion strategy.) Bill Me Later is a complementary acquisition to eBay’s PayPal payments division, which unlike the Skype acquisition has paid off handsomely. The payments segment now represents more than 25% of total revenue, or $2.2bn for the past 12 months, while Skype only brought in about $475m, or roughly 6% of total revenue. (Remember that eBay paid just $1.5bn for PayPal but handed over $2.5bn for Skype.) So who might want to pick up the Skype business?
Just because eBay has struggled to realize a return on its acquisition of Skype doesn’t mean another owner, particularly one focused on communications, couldn’t do well with the property. With about 340 million registered users, Skype is the undisputed leader in VoIP. That commanding market share is likely to attract attention from the existing telcos. It is particularly enticing once you factor in what is happening in the mobile space right now and Skype’s position to dominate mobile VoIP. So far, the wireless telcos have been fighting to keep Wi-Fi, VoIP and other services they do not control or profit from off their handsets. This is a battle they are quickly losing (case in point: Android, BlackBerry and iPhone). Much in the same way that the legacy telcos were quick to adopt wireless technology when it was still in its infancy rather than cling to the wires, it makes sense to try to profit from the trend rather than fight it. Another likely bidder for Skype is Nokia, which has been an avid acquirer of mobile content in its bid to move away from strictly hardware. In addition, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo might consider picking up Skype, since all three of these companies have used acquisitions to enter the emerging mobile communications market.
Performance of select eBay acquisitions
|Date of acquisition
||Current TTM revenue
||Current revenue to deal value multiple
|September 12, 2005
|July 8, 2002
|October 6, 2008
||Bill Me Later
||$130m (projected for calendar year ending December 31)
|October 6, 2008
||Den Bla Avis
Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase
Nokia has been going navi-crazy lately. Last week, the Finnish conglomerate bought location-based social networking company Plazes for an estimated $30m. This comes as the company is wrapping up the largest acquisition in its history – the $8.1bn purchase of Navteq. We believe this is just the beginning for Nokia and others in the excessively hyped mobile location-based services (LBS) space. The question arising from this acquisition, as well as Vodafone’s $48.7m acquisition of Zyb in May, is what these acquisitions mean for the rest of the market. One implication is already clear: GPS technology has been commodified. (Just ask shareholders of Garmin, who have seen the stock skid to a two-year low.) With this technology popping up on dozens of devices, we expect hardware vendors to be even more active in snapping up LBS startups.
Nokia plans to roll Plazes into its Nokia Maps division, which itself was formed from the acquisition of gate5 in late 2006. It is part of Nokia’s overall strategy to have GPS technology play a large role in expanding beyond just being a mobile hardware company. Nokia claims it will sell upward of 37 million GPS-enabled handsets this year alone. The approaching worldwide release of the GPS iPhone, as well as Research in Motion’s push to include the technology in most of its BlackBerry devices, make it clear why high-profile backers such as KPCB and Sequoia Capital are so excited about LBS applications.
Beyond being a simple technology purchase, however, Plazes and other future deals will likely bring another important component to the apps: users. Despite their hype and position as leaders in the space, services such as Palego’s Whrrl, Loopt and Brightkite have fewer than a million users combined. Compare that to the hundreds of millions of users that ‘traditional’ social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace command, and one wonders what the hype is all about. By pairing up with larger companies, however, the services get instant access to millions of users. It is the technology and expertise that rumored suitors such as Facebook, Microsoft, Google and now the mobile carriers and hardware manufacturers are interested in. With continued consolidation, the fear of being left behind in a potentially important market will drive many to acquire first and ask questions later. Nokia might have just lit the fire in the M&A race to dominate the LBS market.
Seven signs of a consolidating LBS industry
||Location Based Technologies (fka PocketFinder)
*estimated, Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase