Contact: Brenon Daly
Instead of Research In Motion, maybe we should start calling the company ‘Acquisition In Motion.’ With Monday’s announcement of its purchase of ubitexx, the BlackBerry maker has now rung up nine acquisitions in just the past 13 months. That’s as many as the company had done, collectively, in the previous seven years. As we think about RIM’s accelerated M&A pace, we can’t help but wonder how much of that activity is essentially papering over weaknesses that were exposed by its two big smartphone rivals.
For instance, RIM needed some help on its core OS, so it went out about a year ago and spent $200m on QNX Software Systems. Then it realized that office productivity apps could stand to be displayed a bit more clearly on BlackBerry devices, so it reached for DataViz. And then there was the somewhat clunky user interface, which RIM hoped to polish with its purchase of The Astonishing Tribe in December for an estimated $125m. Those deals – along with the other half-dozen recent acquisitions – were seen as signs that RIM was getting the message that its phones just weren’t as appealing as the Apple iPhone or Google Android-powered devices.
The pickup of tiny German startup ubitexx pretty much makes that sentiment official. (That’s particularly true when we consider that the transaction came just two days after RIM reported that it will sell fewer phones than it predicted this quarter, and that the phones that do sell will be going cheaper than the company originally planned. The warning knocked RIM into a tailspin, and the stock has now shed one-third of its value over the past year.) Ubitexx allows RIM to bring mobile device management for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets to its BlackBerry Enterprise Server – a somewhat belated recognition that it isn’t just BlackBerry devices that are coming to the office these days
Contact: Jarrett Streebin, Ben Kolada, Vishal Jain
Google continues to gobble up startups, and we’ve just uncovered a deal that supports its near field communications (NFC) ambitions. We’ve learned that Google recently picked up Zetawire, a Canadian startup focusing on mobile payments transactions. Like most of Google’s buys, this was a small deal, but it plays into a bigger market.
Little is known about Toronto-based Zetawire, but we suspect that the company was in the pre-revenue stage, making its only valuable asset a patent and corresponding trademark awarded by the US Patent and Trademark office. According to the filing, the patent provides for mobile banking, advertising, identity management, credit card and mobile coupon transaction processing. These features would allow a consumer to make purchases using their smartphone instead of their credit card. Think of a smartphone with this technology as a virtual wallet (in fact, the company has also trademarked the name Walleto for these very purposes).
This acquisition bolsters Google’s position in the coming wave of NFC and the phone as a device for payments, tracking and identification. For Google, the timing of the deal couldn’t have been better. Although we understand that the transaction closed in August, just earlier this month Google released its Nexus S smartphone, which has built-in NFC capabilities. In the meantime, Google’s competitors are hard at work. Research in Motion has also filed a patent for NFC functions, and Nokia in June announced that all of its phones will have NFC capabilities by 2011. Isis, a partnership involving telcos AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, is also planning a similar mobile wallet and UK startup Proxama has been working on NFC-focused technology for payments and advertising. (We’ll take a deeper look at the Zetawire purchase and the greater NFC market in an upcoming Post-Merger IQ.)
In an unusual bit of dealmaking, Nokia bought geo-tagging vendor MetaCarta in April and then turned around and sold it three months later. The recent divestiture might appear to be a botched acquisition. However, as we look closer at the deal, it turns out that Nokia actually got what it wanted out of the purchase. It is retaining MetaCarta’s engineering team while shedding its enterprise accounts to Qbase. (Nokia didn’t really have any use for the startup’s enterprise business, which was largely oil and gas industry as well as government installations.)
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based MetaCarta employed approximately 20 development engineers, plus 15 enterprise sales and support staff. Although terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, we understand that Nokia paid about $30m for MetaCarta. If we look at the price in terms of what assets Nokia actually wanted to obtain, we pencil it out at about $1.5m per engineer. This is obviously an expensive way to recruit personnel, and underscores the increasing pressure that Nokia is seeing in the mobile-mapping space.
Nokia ‘hired’ MetaCarta’s engineers to reinforce the search feature in Ovi Maps, Nokia’s most popular application. MetaCarta is a specialist in geo-tagging unstructured text such as websites and emails. While mapping competitor Google does the same, MetaCarta’s information will be layered on NAVTEQ’s mapping data, which is arguably more detailed than Google’s maps.
The transaction is another in the long line of acquisitions that Nokia has made in its move toward mobile advertising. However, Nokia’s rivals have also been active in the mobile M&A space. Research In Motion reached for GPS vendor Dash Navigation in June 2009. In November 2009, Google outbid Apple and bought AdMob for $750m. In response, two months later, Apple picked up Quattro Wireless for an estimated $275m. Nokia hasn’t made a purchase of this magnitude, but we still believe it could be on the hunt for additional mobile providers. The company could build on its MetaCarta acquisition by buying location-based advertising vendor 1020 Placecast. The San Francisco-based firm is a major strategic partner of Nokia’s NAVTEQ, and would supplement MetaCarta’s geo-tagging capabilities.
-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 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: 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
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