Securing a tweet

Contact: Wendy Nather

Whisper Systems has announced that it has been acquired by Twitter (appropriately enough, the news was tweeted). Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but given Whisper’s emphasis on Google Android security, we expect that the deal was as much about the brains behind the technology as it was about the tools themselves. Whisper’s products include WhisperCore, a set of functions for data and network encryption as well as permissions management; WhisperMonitor, an Android-based firewall for mobile devices; Flashback, a cloud-based secure backup service for Android data; TextSecure, a facility for encrypting SMS messages on the fly; and RedPhone, an encryption function for voice that saw heavy use by activists during Egypt’s political uprising.

Twitter has inked 15 transactions, but this is the first one that focuses on security, and it’s in an area that appears to add real gravitas to the communications technology: it’s not just for ensuring that your Uncle Fred can’t accidentally get to your status updates. Mobile devices and protection against regimes make a solid combo, and they bolster Twitter’s use as a real-time reporting system. It’s not clear how many of the current products will remain viable under Twitter’s control, but the reasoning behind the choice of Whisper, as opposed to any number of other mobile device security startups, seems pretty clear.

But we find this deal even more interesting due to the fact that one of Whisper’s founders, security researcher Moxie Marlinspike, has also been making the conference rounds discussing a well-known problem: that of Internet-wide trust in domain name system (DNS) and SSL infrastructure. Certificate authorities that underpin transactions over the Internet have been increasingly attacked directly (with COMODO and DigiNotar being prime examples; the latter went bankrupt as a result of its breach), and DNS-based attacks are on the rise. Marlinspike not only points out the inherent design problems in the trust-based system, but also has proposed the most plausible solution: overhauling the structure into a new system he has dubbed Convergence. When you have access to an Internet security architect of Marlinspike’s caliber, you don’t let it go to waste. We’ll be watching for new developments on a possibly more fundamental level than just secure text messaging for Tweets.

A potentially expensive missed call

Contact: Brenon Daly

With AT&T’s planned purchase of T-Mobile USA now looking increasingly unlikely to close, we may have to take an eraser to our deal totals for 2011 – a very big eraser. Like most other M&A databases, The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase tallies transactions by their date of announcement rather than close. (However, we do note when the transaction is officially complete in our deal records, where relevant.) And recent regulatory developments in AT&T’s proposed consolidation of T-Mobile, which was announced eight months ago, appear to indicate the $39bn pairing may not get consummated.

If that happens, the total M&A spending for 2011 will decline by a full 17%. The planned purchase, which is the largest telco transaction in a half-decade, is three times the size of the next-largest deal announced so far this year, Google’s $12.5bn proposed purchase of Motorola Mobility.

Another way to look at it: AT&T’s $39bn cash-and-stock purchase of T-Mobile roughly equals the average monthly M&A spending around the globe for two full months so far this year. Without the big telco deal, the total value of all 2011 transactions is likely to come in just slightly below the $226bn we recorded in 2004. If that’s where spending does indeed land this year, it would represent an uptick of about 28% compared to 2010 full-year total of $172bn.

Best Buy buys outside the box

Contact: Brenon Daly

Best Buy continues to buy outside the box. The consumer electronics giant, which has more than 1,000 big-box stores, announced a pair of deals Monday that add to its emerging businesses that have been responsible for most of the company’s recent growth. In the larger of its purchases, Best Buy will pay $1.3bn to pick up full ownership of its US and Canadian mobile phone business, which had been run as a joint venture with British retailer Carphone Warehouse Group. Additionally, Best Buy will pay $167m for mindSHIFT Technologies, a managed service provider that has about 5,400 small business customers.

The transactions continue a revamp of Best Buy, which started out life as an audio equipment store in 1966. More recently, it has made several acquisitions to expand beyond its historic business. For instance, it bought Geek Squad in 2002 to provide helpdesk support for customers. Service revenue, which has been bolstered by Geek Squad, currently accounts for 7% of the roughly $50bn in sales Best Buy will record this year, and it’s one of the few business lines that has actually increased same-store sales so far this year.

While the Geek Squad pickup has paid off for Best Buy, others have been disappointments. The retailer paid almost $700m for mall-based CD retailer Musicland in 2001, just as the business got ambushed by online music. More recently, it spent $97m in a puzzling purchase of Speakeasy, an Internet service provider. And then there’s the $121m acquisition in September 2008 of Napster. While some of those M&A missteps may have hurt Best Buy, they’ve been nothing like the stumble by its main rival, Circuit City. The company, which pioneered the electronic superstore model, got liquidated in 2009.

‘Googorola’ close to closing

Contact: Brenon Daly

In what could be its last financial report before it is formally acquired by Google, Motorola Mobility said after the closing bell Thursday that mobile device revenue in the third quarter rose 20% over the same period last year to $2.4bn. That was nearly twice the overall rate of growth at the company in the quarter, although it was a slower rate than the mobile device division had grown in earlier quarters this year.

The main drag on the unprofitable division was anemic sales of its Xoom tablet, with the company indicating that it shipped just 100,000 units in the quarter. That’s just half the number it shipped in Q1 and one-quarter the number it shipped in Q2. But Motorola Mobility did manage to ship more smartphones in the just-completed quarter (4.8 million) than it did in either of the two previous quarters.

And once Google does assume ownership of the company, it may well see a slight bump in demand for those devices, at least according to a finding by our ChangeWave Research division. In late September, ChangeWave asked more than 4,100 consumers what impact Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility would have on their plans to buy a smartphone from the combined company. The vast majority said Google’s ownership wouldn’t have any impact. However, of the respondents that indicated a preference, four times the number said they were ‘more likely’ (13%) than said they were ‘less likely’ (3%) to buy a smartphone from the combined company in the future.

The planned $12.5bn sale of Motorola Mobility stands as the second-largest tech acquisition announced so far this year. (The purchase doubled Google’s aggregate M&A spending.) Shareholders in the Libertyville, Illinois-based company are slated to vote on the proposed deal November 17, although it will still need to be cleared by regulators. Assuming that all goes to plan, Google should close its acquisition of Motorola Mobility by the end of the year or early next year.

Keynote adds to its mobile monitoring business

Contact: Brenon Daly

Moving to bolster its enterprise mobile monitoring portfolio, Keynote Systems said Monday that it will hand over $60m in cash for testing and quality assurance (QA) startup DeviceAnywhere. (Additionally, terms provide for a potential $30m earnout over the next two years, although Keynote indicated that any payments would likely be back-end loaded.) Keynote will finance the deal, which is expected to close in two weeks, entirely from cash on hand. There were no advisers on either side of the transaction.

DeviceAnywhere is based about five miles from Keynote’s headquarters in San Mateo, California, and will move most of its 119 employees into the building that Keynote owns. The startup had attracted more than 1,200 customers, although about 1,100 of those are developers with the remaining 100 being enterprises. DeviceAnywhere brings testing and QA capabilities for mobile websites and applications to Keynote, which has focused almost exclusively on monitoring. It generated about $20m on a trailing revenue basis.

Taken together, DeviceAnywhere and Keynote’s existing enterprise mobile monitoring unit would generate roughly $26m in revenue – a level that Keynote executives project could quadruple in the coming years. The purchase of DeviceAnywhere is Keynote’s first acquisition since April 2008. Since then, shares of Keynote have basically doubled, compared to a single-digit percentage gain for the Nasdaq over that period. Keynote will discuss the acquisition more fully when it reports fiscal year results on November 3.

Google gets discounted Droids

Contact: Brenon Daly

Google didn’t have to reach too deeply to fatten its patent portfolio as it also becomes one of the few vertically integrated smartphone and tablet makers. Sure, it will have to hand over $12.5bn in cash for Motorola Mobility to cover its planned purchase of the hardware manufacturer. But it will immediately get back some $3bn in cash from Motorola Mobility, as well as an undisclosed amount of tax advantages that can be used to lower the amount of taxes that the wildly profitable search giant will face in the future. Even setting aside the very real tax breaks, Google is on the hook for just $9.5bn for Motorola Mobility.

The enterprise value of $9.5bn works out to just 0.75 times the $12.7bn of revenue that Motorola Mobility has generated over the past four quarters. That’s less than half the median valuation (1.8x trailing sales) of all tech transactions announced so far this year, according to our calculations. Further, it’s just one-third the multiple of 2.2x trailing sales that we calculated for the 50 largest deals (by equity value) so far this year.

More relevantly, it’s half a turn less than Hewlett-Packard paid in 2010 to bolster its integrated mobile strategy. Last April, HP paid $1.4bn for Palm Inc in a transaction that valued the struggling company at some 1.1x sales. (And we could certainly make the case that Motorola Mobility is in better financial shape than Palm, which was burning cash amid a dramatic sales slowdown.) Another way to look at it: Google’s bid values Motorola Mobility only slightly above the current market multiple for fellow mobile device vendor Research In Motion. But then, we should add that shares in the Blackberry maker are currently changing hands at their lowest level in a half-decade.

A ‘patently’ big deal for Google

Contact: Brenon Daly

Google said Monday that it plans to hand over $12.5bn in cash for Motorola Mobility, spending more for the mobile company than it has, collectively, on the more than 100 acquisitions it has done in its history. The deal makes it more likely that Google, which will continue to offer its Android OS free to other handset manufactures, will be able to more deeply integrate the hardware and software on future devices. Additionally, Google will be gaining substantial heft in its patent portfolio, with the Motorola division counting some 17,000 issued patents and another 7,500 pending. That’s a key concern for Google, which has found itself at the center of several IP-related lawsuits.

Under terms, Google will pay $40 for each share of Motorola Mobility, for an equity value of some $12.5bn. While the bid represents a premium of 65% over the previous closing price of Motorola Mobility, it is only slightly above the price the shares fetched on their own in the days following their debut back in January. (Under pressure from activist investors including Carl Icahn, 80-year-old Motorola split itself into two companies at the start of 2011. The remaining company, Motorola Solutions, sells primarily networking and communications technology and is unaffected by Google’s proposed acquisition of the smaller but faster-growing mobile division.)

In looking at the price, however, we should note that Google will enjoy a substantial ‘rebate’ when the deal closes because Motorola Mobility basically carried no debt but held nearly $3bn in cash. So Google’s net cost is closer to $9.5bn, which works out to just 0.75x the $12.7bn of revenue that Motorola Mobility has generated over the past four quarters. Google shares, which have underperformed the Nasdaq for nearly all of 2011, were down slightly Monday on an otherwise up day on Wall Street. We’ll have a full report on the transaction in tonight’s Daily 451.

RIM calls internationally

by Brenon Daly

As Research In Motion gets set to report fiscal first-quarter financial results later this afternoon, investors will be paying particularly close attention to the company’s international business, which has essentially provided most of the growth it has put up recently. Overseas sales have outstripped lackluster sales in RIM’s core markets of the US and Canada to the point where the home markets account for less than half of total sales.

It’s perhaps fitting, then, that RIM’s acquisition strategy shares a similar cosmopolitan approach. We’ve already noted the company’s recent acceleration of M&A activity, with the smartphone maker announcing as many deals so far in 2011 as it did in all of 2010. And yet, that deal flow has increasingly been coming from overseas. RIM’s previous two acquisition targets – Scoreloop, a mobile gaming developer, and mobile device management vendor ubitexx – were both headquartered in Germany. Add in its December purchase of Swedish design firm The Astonishing Tribe, and fully three of RIM’s eight deals over the past year have been done overseas.

Callidus learns to love Litmos

Contact: Brenon Daly

Continuing to broaden its portfolio beyond its core commission-calculation offering, Callidus Software recently reached across the Pacific Ocean to snag early-stage learning management system (LMS) vendor Litmos. Based in New Zealand, Litmos had yet to raise any outside capital but had nonetheless drawn in more than 150 customers, which likely put revenue in the mid-single digits of millions of dollars. The acquisition should help Callidus in two main areas: in-application training and mobile learning.

In that way, Callidus’ move is unlike many of the other noteworthy deals over the past year in the LMS market, which has been dominated by talent management providers buying their way into the training and education space. Last September, for instance, Taleo picked up longtime partner for $125m, while in April rival SuccessFactors paid $290m for Plateau Systems. Over the past year, we’ve tallied more than $1.8bn worth of spending on LMS deals.

Undoubtedly, the acquisition of Litmos won’t add much to the total spending in the sector. But the transaction is nonetheless significant for Callidus, particularly as more and more sales activity is done in the field. (Litmos can be used not only to update sales records and provide onsite sales coaching, but also to give training courses.) And Callidus may not be done buying. The company recently netted about $60m through a convertible offering, and we understand that it may well put some of those proceeds to work on another purchase in the next month or so

Out with the old, in with the new

Contact:  Brenon Daly

Just over the past week, we’ve been struck by the fact that after in-house development efforts came up short, companies simply reached out of house for other companies that were doing the same thing – only better. In one case, it was to buy; in another case, it was just to partner.

Take Hewlett-Packard’s purchase earlier this week of Vertica Systems. (Subscribers can see our full report on the transaction, including our estimates of the undisclosed deal terms.) The purchase came just three weeks after HP said it was phasing out its Neoview platform, which never caught on in the otherwise fast-growing data-warehousing market. (We’re just guessing, but the move might have also been rooted in personal reasons, as well as financial reasons. Neoview was closely associated with HP’s former CEO Mark Hurd, who has been taking shots at his former shop ever since he joined Oracle.)

Although that acquisition doesn’t entirely line up with Nokia’s ‘strategic alliance’ with Microsoft, there are more than a few echoes. In both cases, a tech giant – armed with tens of millions of R&D dollars, not to mention dozens of engineers dedicated to the effort – was in danger of slipping into irrelevancy in an explosively growing market. The agreements represented dramatic about-faces for HP and Nokia. But that’s probably better than both trying to put a good face on what the market has said is a losing effort.