Selling to Facebook

Contact: Ben Kolada

Rather than buy into Facebook after it debuts on the open market, many companies may consider selling to the social networking giant after its IPO. Facebook is already rich with cash, and is about to become much richer. Meanwhile, its M&A strategy has so far focused on acquiring smaller startups for their IP and engineering talent, but the company has said it may do bigger deals in the future.

According to The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase, Facebook has so far bought 25 companies, mostly for their specialized employees such as software engineers and product designers, but also for complementary technology. The company has been fairly cash conscious in its transactions, preferring to motivate acquired personnel with stock options rather than upfront cash payouts – in fact, Facebook spent just $24m in cash, net of cash acquired, on the deals it closed in 2011.

While innovative startups with skilled personnel, particularly those in the collaboration and social networking sectors, should still consider selling to Facebook a viable exit, midmarket and larger technology firms should also consider Facebook a potential suitor. In both public reports and in its IPO prospectus, the company has said it could put its treasury to work on larger deals. And it will certainly have the fire power – adding proceeds from its $5bn public offering to its treasury would bring its total spending power to nearly $9bn (including cash and marketable securities).

Facebook could apply some of its rationale for buying smaller vendors to larger acquisitions. For complementary technology, it could target a larger mobile advertising network (it picked up development-stage rel8tion in January 2011). The lack of a mobile ad platform is a gaping hole in Facebook’s portfolio, especially considering it had 425 million mobile monthly active users at the end of 2011. A company similar to AdMob (which sold to Google) or Quattro Wireless (acquired by Apple) such as Millennial Media or Jumptap would go some way toward filling that gap. For regional expansion and consolidation, Facebook could make a move for any of a number of international competitors, including Cyworld in Korea, Mixi in Japan, Vkontakte in Russia or Renren in China. As the trend toward consumerization in the enterprise continues in the form of social networking and collaboration (’s Chatter or Oracle’s Social Network come to mind), Facebook could look at an enterprise offering as well. The leading candidate in this sector would be Jive Software, one of the most prized properties in the social enterprise space with a market valuation of about $1bn.

Buying and building at

Contact: Brenon Daly

At the rate Marc Benioff is going, we have to wonder how long it will be until he renames the company he founded. Or at the very least, shouldn’t Benioff, who founded in 1999 and continues to serve as the company’s CEO, be thinking about swapping the company’s current ticker (CRM) for something that captures the broad, all-encompassing vision for the ‘social enterprise’ that he laid out at last week’s Dreamforce?

After all, the company’s core sales force automation (SFA) product barely merited a mention at the conference. Instead, most of the attention was directed toward upgrades and expansions to the Chatter and Radian6 offerings, as well as moves to broaden its two main platform plays, Heroku and As such, Dreamforce dramatically underscored just how much of’s future has been staked on its M&A program.

Of course, virtually all tech vendors use acquisitions to change the trajectory of their business, whether it’s a slight nudge in some new direction through a tactical purchase (Informatica comes to mind) or roll-the-dice-and-bet-the-company transformational transactions (Dell and, more painfully right now, Hewlett-Packard.) But hardly any other tech company (with the possible exception of VMware) has used M&A so consistently to expand beyond its original offering while still managing to preserve an acrophobia-inducing valuation.

Just consider the role that acquired companies played in announcements around’s conference:

  • Chatter has been bolstered by the purchase of two firms (GroupSwim and Dimdim), as has Service Cloud (InStranet and Activa Live). Service Cloud is’s largest non-SFA product.
  • The product, which was launched at the show, goes back to the purchase of Jigsaw Data in April 2010. It was further bolstered last week through a partnership with company records provided by Dun & Bradstreet.
  • Heroku was acquired last December, and noted at the conference that the platform currently has triple the number of customer applications built on it than it did a year ago.
  • The social media monitoring capabilities that obtained with its acquisition of Radian6, which was announced in late March, are only starting to make their way into the products but are a key part of the ‘social enterprise’ that the company has described.

Altogether, noted that non-SFA offerings – in other words, products and technology that got significant boosts through acquired IP or engineers – accounted for a full 20% of second-quarter revenue. (That was the first time the company has broken out revenue for its new products.) Given that booked nearly $550m in Q2 revenue, that would imply non-SFA sales of about $110m. To be clear, very little of that amount has come directly from the acquired companies, all of which were still in their early days. Instead, it’s the net result of the ‘buy and build’ approach at goes for a GroupSwim

Contact: Brenon Daly, China Martens

Almost two months ago, we noted that several sources had indicated that may have reached outside its own walls for a little help in getting its Chatter product out the door. ( showed off Chatter, an enterprise collaboration product, at its Dreamforce conference in November, although it is not yet available.) The official company line at the time was that Chatter was developed in-house, which is consistent for acquisition-averse The vendor has done just six deals – all of them tiny – in the decade that it has been in business.

In recent days, it has surfaced that did indeed acquire a startup. A visit to the homepage of GroupSwim indicates that the company ‘is now part of’ We have followed GroupSwim since mid-2008, with my colleague Kathleen Reidy initially writing that the startup’s pairing of semantic analysis with content sharing/collaboration appeared to be a promising approach in a rather crowded market. When we last visited with GroupSwim a year ago, the 15-employee firm claimed 30 customers. It was still living off angel money.

In contrast to the rather meager financial situation at GroupSwim, is closing in on an all-time price for its shares. (Current market capitalization: $8.6bn, which works out to a triple-digit P/E ratio on a trailing basis.) And the on-demand giant just priced $500m in a convertible note offering that will bring its total holdings of cash and marketable securities to $1.5bn. With such a rich treasury, could likely buy hundreds more startups like GroupSwim. Or maybe it’s thinking of something bigger?