Stick with what you know

Contact: Ben Kolada, Thejeswi Venkatesh

Some moves just don’t pan out as planned, such as basketball legend Michael Jordan playing baseball or actor Joaquin Phoenix attempting to become a rapper. While those moves may have dented personal pride, when companies make failed moves, it hits their bottom line. Videoconferencing giant Polycom is experiencing that pain today. The company announced on Friday that it is divesting its enterprise wireless communications assets for just $110m to Sun Capital Partners, or about half the price that it paid for the business five years ago.

Polycom entered the wireless communications market in 2007 when it paid $220m for then publicly traded SpectraLink – it’s largest-ever acquisition (today’s divestiture also includes the assets of Kirk Telecom, which SpectraLink acquired for $61m in 2005). While we had doubts, Polycom argued that its rationale for the deal was sound. Polycom thought it would be able to boost revenue by leveraging the two companies’ complementary sales channels as well as by merging their server-side software products into a single platform.

Polycom, however, wasn’t able to generate the revenue that it expected from the acquired assets. The SpectraLink and Kirk Telecom assets dwindled within their newfound parent, falling from $144m in revenue in 2006 to about half that, $94m, in 2011.

Not to pick on Polycom, but its SpectraLink divestiture is just the most recent reminder of the risks involved in attempting game-changing acquisitions. Companies use M&A to enter new markets all the time, and often fail. HP shuttered its Palm Inc business just one year after paying $1.4bn for the company. And in 2010, Yahoo divested its Zimbra collaboration assets for $100m, or less than one-third of the $350m that it paid for the company in 2007. Cisco attempted to move into the consumer video segment when it paid $590m for Pure Digital Technologies, maker of the Flip video camera, but shut down that division two years later.

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ViVu bolsters Polycom’s Web-based videoconferencing credentials

Contact: Thejeswi Venkatesh

After sitting out of the market for four years, Polycom’s M&A wheels are turning once again. The acquisition of ViVu on Monday was the company’s third purchase this year, and helps Polycom round out its videoconferencing offerings. With many observers expecting video collaboration to become ubiquitous, the purchase helps Polycom extend its offerings into the Web videoconferencing arena – in-line with its declared strategy.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but we understand that ViVu was generating less than $2m in revenue. Cupertino, California-based ViVu, which came to market in 2010, had raised just $3.2m in venture funding and was looking to score a second round at the time of its acquisition. (Other companies in the space, including Vidyo and Blue Jeans Networks, have been successful at landing substantial amounts of funding.) Given these dynamics, we suspect that ViVu received a healthy multiple and we wouldn’t be surprised if other suitors, including TIBCO Software, were involved in the bidding process.

The transaction comes at a time of dramatic changes in the videoconferencing market. Microsoft closed its pickup of Skype – the largest-ever purchase for the tech giant – just last Friday. ViVu provides a plug-in for Skype and Polycom has worked with Microsoft on its Lync offering for a number of years. Polycom believes that the two deals will expand its market opportunities.

Select Polycom acquisitions

Date announced Target Deal value Focus
October 17, 2011 ViVu Not disclosed Web-based videoconferencing capabilities
June 1, 2011 HP (visual collaboration business) $89m Videoconferencing
March 23, 2011 Accordent Technologies $50m Non-real-time capabilities
February 7, 2007 SpectraLink $220m Wireless IP telephony

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase