Jive talkin’ on Wall Street

by Brenon Daly

Despite one of the more inhospitable environments for IPOs, Jive Software has put in its paperwork for a $100m offering. The company, which sells a social network for businesses, has seen revenue nearly triple from 2008 to $46m last year. In the first half of this year, Jive has continued its strong growth on the top line, pushing revenue up 77%. Assuming it continues to track to that level, it would finish 2011 at about $80m in sales.

Clearly, that growth is what Jive will be selling on Wall Street. And that pitch seems to have caught the attention of IPO investors, at least looking at recent offerings that resemble the planned IPO from Jive. For instance, the financials of Cornerstone OnDemand, which went public in March, line up very similarly with those at Jive. Both companies are relatively immature, having only really begun generating any revenue of note in 2007 and still finishing 2010 with less than $50m in sales. Further, neither Jive nor Cornerstone have been running their businesses at an operating profit, much less a net profit, in recent years.

Not that the ‘sub-scale size’ or red ink has hurt Cornerstone on the Nasdaq. The company hit the market at about $900m, and even after the historical declines on the broad market earlier this month, it is still valued at close to $700m. That works out to an incredibly rich valuation of almost 13 times trailing sales. So maybe Cornerstone’s eye-popping multiple has something to do with Jive’s decision to file its prospectus, even as the market and the economic outlook have deteriorated since Cornerstone debuted.

Social CRM: haves and have-nots

Contact: Brenon Daly, China Martens

Even though social CRM is still an emerging market, the deals have been flowing. And it isn’t just one-off, conventional activity, but just about every conceivable type of transaction: public-to-private deals, private-to-private deals, a private equity-backed rollup and even (apparently) a wind-down. Among the more notable deals in this broadly defined space has been RightNow reaching for tiny startup HiveLive last September to add a community offering to its core CRM product and Attensity cobbling together the parts of three companies to form a European giant about a year ago. Attensity was back in the market last month, adding Biz360 to bolster its voice-of-consumer product.

Activity picked up again earlier this week, as Lithium Technologies confirmed that it had acquired Scout Labs for a reported $20-25m. As my colleague China Martens reports, the purchase adds Scout Labs’ social-media monitoring and analytics capabilities to Lithium’s management platform for customer communities. We would highlight the fact that Lithium’s buy comes just four months after the company raised its third round of funding, an $18m tranche that brought total funding to $39m.

While Lithium was raising fresh money – and putting it to work on an acquisition – it appears that another social CRM startup was coming up empty in its effort to get more cash and has pulled the plug. Helpstream, which apparently raised about $10m in two funding rounds from Mohr Davidow Ventures (MDV) and Foundation Capital, has shut its doors, the former CEO has written in a blog post. Helpstream’s website no longer works and MDV has erased Helpstream as a portfolio company, despite leading the vendor’s second round. (Calls to the VCs went unreturned.)

If indeed Helpstream has dried up (as it were), we might point to two reasons why the company struggled. For starters, it was basically a SaaS helpdesk provider that then tried to get into the online customer service community-building game. And if its customers were confused by that, they would have been additionally puzzled by Helpstream’s ‘freemium’ business model. In the end, Helpstream managed to land just 40 paying customers, compared to 200 customers using the free version of its product.

What’s next for billionaire Twitter?

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

At a time when the social networking bubble is quickly deflating, micro-blogging startup Twitter seems to be living in an alternative universe. We are, of course, referring to the much-publicized $1bn valuation the San Francisco-based company received in a recent round of funding. The rich funding dwarfs even the kinds of valuations we saw during the height of the short-lived social networking bubble last year. And it’s pretty difficult to justify Twitter’s valuation based on its financial performance, since the money-burning startup has absolutely no revenue to speak of, nor a clear plan of how to change that. It seems the entire valuation is predicated on the impressive user growth it has experienced over the past year, as well as the charismatic founders’ wild dreams of ‘changing the way the world communicates.’ That’s pretty thin, particularly when compared to LinkedIn’s funding last year at a similar valuation. That round, which was done at a time when the social networking fad was near its peak, nonetheless had some financial results to support it. Reid Hoffman’s startup was profitable on what we understand was about $100m in revenue and a proven and lucrative business model.

The interesting development from this latest funding is that it makes a sale of Twitter less likely, we would argue. This may be fine with the founders, who have drawn in some $150m for the company and will (presumably) look to the public market to repay those investments at some point in the future. But without any revenue to speak of at this point, any offering from Twitter is a long way off. Also, an IPO by Twitter in the future hangs on successful offerings from Facebook and LinkedIn, which are far more likely to go public before Twitter. If both of those social media bellwethers enjoy strong offerings, and Twitter actually starts to make money off its fast-growing base of users, then a multibillion-dollar exit – in the form of an IPO – might not be farfetched. But we should add that there are a lot of ‘ifs’ included in that scenario.

An offering looks all the more likely for Twitter because the field of potential acquirers has gotten significantly slimmer, since not many would-be acquirers have deep-enough pockets to pay for a premium on the startups’ already premium valuation. As we know from Twitter’s own embarrassing leak of some internal documents, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Facebook have all shown an interest in the startup at one point or another. But we’re not sure any of those companies would really be ready to do a 10-digit deal for a firm that’s still promising – rather than posting – financial results. Moreover, we wonder if any of the four would-be buyers even need Twitter. Yahoo and Microsoft seem focused on other parts of their business. Meanwhile, Google is hard at work on Google Wave, and Facebook appears to have moved on already with its much-cheaper acquisition of Twitter competitor FriendFeed in August.

Recent high-profile social networking valuations (based on last known valuation event)

Date Company Valuation/exit value Revenue Revenue to value multiple
September 2009 Twitter $1bn $0* N/A
Summer 2009 Facebook $8bn $500m* 16x*
June 2008 LinkedIn $1bn $100m* 10x*
May 2008 Plaxo $150m* (acquisition by Comcast) $10m* 15x*
March 2008 Bebo $850m (acquisition by AOL) $20m* 42.5x*
July 2005 MySpace/Intermix $580m (acquisition by NewsCorp) $90m 6.5x
December 2005 FriendsReunited $208m (acquisition by ITV; divested to Brightsolid in $42m fire sale in August 2009) $20* 10x*

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *451 Group estimate

Bleak outlook for social networking M&A

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

In a sign of just how far the social networking market has fallen, brightsolid’s $42m purchase earlier this month of Friends Reunited from ITV Plc stands as the largest deal in the sector so far in 2009. The price is a mere 5% of the value of the largest social networking acquisition in 2008, which was AOL’s $850m all-cash pickup of Bebo. (We would also add that the sale of Friends Reunited netted ITV just one-fifth the amount it originally paid for the property in 2005.) On top of the notably smaller transactions, deal flow so far this year has been characterized by relatively paltry valuations. Friends Reunited garnered just 1.6 times trailing sales, compared to the estimated 42 times trailing revenue that Bebo got from AOL. Add all that together and it’s pretty clear that the bubble of social networking M&A has popped. In the space so far this year, we tally just 28 deals worth a total of $55.5m, compared to 53 transactions valued at more than $1.3bn in 2008.

As an aside, we would note that the acquisitions of Friends Reunited and Bebo have more in common than just ranking as the largest deals of their respective calendar years. The stalking horse bidder for Friends Reunited, Peter Dubens through his investment vehicle Oakley Capital Private Equity, has a close business relationship with Bebo founder Michael Birch. Dubens and Birch formed PROfounders Capital earlier this year under Dubens’ Oakley Capital umbrella. Oakley Capital reportedly offered to buy Friends Reunited for $25m, but declined to bump up its bid above even one times sales. Without reading too much into that, we might be tempted to conclude that except for Facebook, the little value that remains in most social networks is likely to only decline.

Adknowledge inks super deal for social advertising dominance

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

Rumors of the sale of Super Rewards (also known as SR Points) have been swirling for quite some time. On Wednesday, acquisitive Adknowledge announced that it is indeed the winning bidder in a competitive sales process for Vancouver-based Super Rewards, a bootstrapped, 40-person incentives-based online advertising startup. (We understand that Super Rewards is profitable and generating approximately $60m in gross revenue – a number the firm says could hit as much as $100m this year. Of course, the company’s net revenue is much lower, likely in the neighborhood of one-fourth the gross amount after revenue share.) The purchase of Super Rewards marks the sixth acquisition for Adknowledge in less than two years, and we estimate this transaction is by far its largest yet. The deal also marks a shift in the M&A strategy of the Kansas City, Missouri-based online advertising giant, which has typically been more inclined to pick up heavily discounted distressed assets.

Nonetheless, Adknowledge, which we estimate was running profitably on close to $200m in revenue prior to the acquisition, has made a smart purchase in reaching for Super Rewards. Incentives-based advertising companies like Super Rewards have received quite a bit of attention recently because they seem to have found a way to actually make money off of social networks. (The fundamental business principle of profitability has largely eluded the social networks themselves.) Much like other online advertising niches, it is a sector that stands as a small, faster-growing piece of a much larger overall market. But in order to reach their full potential, incentives-based advertising vendors need the scale brought by established and wealthy companies like Adknowledge, which boasts more than 50,0000 advertisers. Because of that, we weren’t surprised to see Super Rewards gobbled up – and we wonder if the same thing might not end up happening to the firm’s two main rivals.

We’re thinking specifically about Fremont, California-based Offerpal Media and San Francisco-based Peanut Labs, which have taken approximately $20m and $4m in venture capital, respectively. The largest independent startup remaining in the niche sector, Offerpal Media recently said it was doing around $40m in revenue. Potential acquirers include dominant online advertising players such as Microsoft, Google, Time Warner’s AOL and ValueClick. In particular, we suspect ValueClick could be ready to shop as a way to stand out from its larger competitors. The Westlake Village, California-based company certainly has the means to do a deal, since it has no debt and some $100m in cash. Other potential suitors for incentives-based advertising startups include large-scale application platforms such as Facebook and NewsCorp’s MySpace that would benefit greatly from bringing the ad service in-house.

Adknowledge M&A

Date announced Target
July 22, 2009 KITN Media [dba Super Rewards]
March 12, 2009 Miva Media
November 6, 2008 Lookery (Advertising business assets)
November 3, 2008 Adonomics [fka Appaholic]
December 6, 2007 Cubics Social Network Advertising
November 8, 2007 Mediarun (UK and Australia divisions)

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Paper trade

Contact: Brenon Daly

To get a sense of just how tough the M&A environment is right now, consider LookSmart’s divestiture Monday of online bookmarking property Furl. When we last spoke with the company a year ago, it was hoping to pocket a few million dollars for Furl. Instead, it ended up trading it for paper.

In return for giving up ownership of Furl, LookSmart scored an undisclosed slice of equity in privately held Diigo. (We would estimate that LookSmart picked up maybe 10-15% of Diigo, which offers online bookmarking and annotation services.) The outcome may not be as lucrative – or as liquid – as LookSmart had hoped, but at least it didn’t initially overpay for Furl. LookSmart handed over less than $1m in stock for the startup in the September 2004 acquisition.

The planned sale of Furl ran into trouble as some of the marquee social bookmarking deals foundered as the market became overcrowded. (We would point to Yahoo’s purchase of Del.icio.us for an estimated $35m in December 2005 and eBay’s $75m acquisition of StumbleUpon in May 2007 as examples of deals that underperformed.) But mostly, the planned divestiture ran into a grizzly bear of a market. Over the past year, LookSmart itself has lost three-quarters of its market capitalization and is now valued on the Nasdaq at just half of the cash that it holds in the bank.

LookSmart slims

Divestiture Announced Market Deal value
Furl March 2009 Social bookmarking Traded for undisclosed amount of equity in privately held Diigo
Net Nanny January 2007 Web filtering Not disclosed
FindArticles November 2007 Information retrieval $20.5m

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Google deflates Dodgeball.com

Contact: Brenon Daly

Like nearly all tech companies, Google has had a rough go of it lately. The search giant has cut jobs for the first time and scrapped a number of projects that it had planned during its more freewheeling days. The programs on the chopping block are both organic (print ad initiative) and inorganic (social networking service Dodgeball.com).

Google bought Dodgeball.com in mid-2005, just as it was beginning to ramp up its M&A spending. It inked as many deals that year (six) as it had in the previous two years combined. And it went on to double the number of acquisitions (11) in 2006. The frenzied shopping rate – buying a company each month – dropped off sharply last year. Google deflating Dodgeball.com isn’t all that surprising, given the underwhelming performance of the service that Google bought for less than $20m. The startup’s founders lasted about two years at Google, but they said the whole process was ‘incredibly frustrating’ for them. In an email as they walked out the door, the pair said Google didn’t give the service the engineering support that it needed. In the coming months, all support will be pulled.

According to a posting on the Dodgeball.com website, the service for hipsters and cool clubs will continue to function through February, with all accounts being erased around the beginning of April. Appropriately enough, the message also voices the notion of a ‘shutdown party.’ We guess that’s the Web 2.0 version of a wake.

Deal flow at Google

Year Number of deals
2003 3
2004 3
2005 6
2006 11
2007 15
2008 4

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Xing the Atlantic

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

In 2008, online social networking was the buzzword of choice. But as is the case with most tech bubbles, it imploded nearly as quickly as it ballooned. The year that started with a bang (Bebo’s record $850m sale to AOL in March and Plaxo’s sale to Comcast for an estimated $150m in May) ended with a whimper. Several smaller social-networking companies sold in fire sales, resulting in severe VC write-downs. And we expect this to carry on well into 2009.

Consider the case of business-focused Xing, which finished last year with a $4.1m tuck-in of New York City-based socialmedian. When we checked in with Xing before the holiday break, M&A and attractive valuations were the dominant themes. We fully expect the company to follow up on this with more acquisitions in 2009, particularly as social-networking competition goes global. Based in Germany, Xing has used M&A to expand geographically. In addition to its US deal last month, in 2007 Xing picked up Spanish competitors eConozco and Neurona. Furthermore, we understand that Xing was one of the active bidders for Plaxo, which would have represented a significant drive into the US market. On the flip side, US social-networking giants Facebook and LinkedIn are actively trying to expand across the Atlantic.

For Xing, there are literally dozens of US business-focused vertical social networks that would fit in with its expansion strategy. And the company has the resources to do deals. (It’s the only significant publicly traded social-networking company, plus it holds $61m in cash, no debt and is cash-flow positive on roughly $50m in trailing 12-month revenue.) Companies that we think might make a good match for Xing include Fast Pitch, APSense, Zerodegrees, and, dare we say, even Twitter.

Social networking M&A fizzles

Period Total deals Total deal value
January-June 2008 29 $1.28bn
July-December 2008 28 $15m

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

M&A ramp-up for Facebook?

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

Facebook’s rumored offer for micro-blogging site Twitter had the Web all atwitter recently. The $500m bid was reportedly rejected because it came in the form of a stock swap, with Facebook inflated to the infamous $15bn valuation that the social network got in Microsoft’s investment a year ago. Judging from our talks with insiders throughout the year, everyone knows this is a ludicrous valuation. Still, we wonder why some people – including big media – are still bandying this around, and more to the point, why Facebook thought Twitter would buy into the valuation. (More realistically, bringing the valuation down to earth, the offer amounts to $100-130m.) Nevertheless, the rumored run at Twitter confirms our speculation in June that Facebook, which has hardly ever dabbled in M&A, is gearing up to go on a substantive shopping spree. If that’s the case, it could do a whole lot worse than roping in Loopt.

When we first reported on this possibility, we had heard that initial talks were under way. However, the less-than-stellar adoption of the overhyped location-based services (LBS) applications probably put a damper on the enthusiasm. Nonetheless, recent developments have made LBS an attractive area again: Android devices have hit the market, the iPhone continues to sell well and Nokia is rolling out its own sleek new smartphone. Granted, the degree to which people are interested in having friends and family track their every move is debatable. But for Facebook and other social networks, which essentially base their entire business models on our instinct to pry into each other’s business, adding Loopt’s service to its currently static desktop and mobile offering is a no-brainer. And if Facebook was willing to hand over north of $100m to acquire Twitter, spending the same amount on Loopt, which is roughly where we pencil out its valuation, would make a lot more sense.

Social network M&A, 2006-2008

Period Number of deals Total known deal value
2008 YTD 32 $98.3m
2007 12 $149.7m
2006 8 $31.1m

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Ad networks: What recession?

-by Thomas Rasmussen

Akamai just got serious about online ads. It acquired ad network acerno from i-Behavior last week for $95m in cash. (See my colleague Jim Davis’ report for more on this acquisition.) This marks not just a somewhat drastic change in focus for Akamai, but is also an encouraging sign for the remaining online advertising networks. Despite the current economic meltdown, and more specifically the declining revenue and abysmal forecasts from ad giants Yahoo and Google, everybody seems to want a slice of the multibillion-dollar online advertising market.

Including the Akamai transaction, a total of 23 online advertising deals have been inked this year. That is up more than 25% from 17 deals for all of 2007, and just four in 2006. This increase in M&A activity stands in stark contrast to the overall Internet M&A picture, where the number of deals has declined more than 10%.

Moreover, despite highly publicized warnings from VCs about the decline in available venture capital and possible exits, funding has been flowing freely and rapidly to online advertising startups. Some of the many to receive funding recently include mobile ad firm AdMob, which raised $15.7m last week for a total of $35m raised to date; Turn Inc., which raised $15m recently for a total of $37m; ContextWeb, which raised $26m in July for a total of more than $50m raised; social networking ad network Lotame, which raised $13m in August in a series B round for a total of $23m raised; and Adconion Media Group, which closed a staggering $80m in a series C round in February, bringing its total funding to more than $100m.

With IPO markets closed, these startups should all be considered M&A targets. Adconion in particular stands out because of its international reach and large base of 250 million users, 50 million of whom are in the US. It would be a nice fit for one of the large media conglomerates competing for online advertising dominance. And they have shown that they are not afraid of opening the vault to do so. VC and banker sources say funding is likely to continue for the near term since there is still a lot of buyer interest. It is unlikely to suffer the same fate as the social networking funding fad, because some online advertising companies actually make money. As this segment continues to consolidate over the next year, we suspect deal flow will likely eclipse that of the past 12 months. Mobile and video advertising ventures are likely to lead the next generation of online advertising-focused startups.

Select recent online advertising deals

Announced Acquirer Target Deal value Deal closed
October 15, 2008 Technorati AdEngage Not disclosed October 15, 2008
June 18, 2008 Microsoft Navic Networks $250m (reported) Not disclosed
April 29, 2008 Cox Enterprises Adify $300m May 2008
March 11, 2008 Qualcomm Xiam Technologies $32m March 11, 2008
February 5, 2008 AOL Perfiliate Technologies $125m February 5, 2008
November 7, 2007 AOL Quigo Technologies $346m December 20, 2007
September 4, 2007 Yahoo BlueLithium $300m October 15, 2007
May 18, 2007 Microsoft aQuantive $6.37bn August 13, 2007
May 15, 2007 AOL Third Screen Media $105m May 15, 2007
April 13, 2007 Google DoubleClick $3.1bn March 11, 2008
April 30, 2007 Yahoo Right Media $680m July 12, 2007

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase