Navigating a decent exit

Contact: Brenon Daly

When we last checked in with Networks In Motion (NiM) two weeks ago, we noted that the turn-by-turn navigation vendor had just been stepped on by the not-so-gentle giant, Google. As it turns out, NiM’s valuation got stepped on a bit, too. The Aliso Viejo, California-based company sold itself Tuesday to TeleCommunication Systems for $170m. Terms call for TeleCommunication to hand over $110m in cash and $20m in shares, along with a $40m note. Raymond James & Associates advised TeleCommunication Systems while Jefferies & Co advised NiM on the transaction, which is expected to close by the end of the month.

The offer values NiM at 2.3 times 2009 revenue and 1.7x the company’s projected sales for next year, according to our understanding. NiM’s expectation of $100m in sales in 2010, representing 33% growth, strikes us as a bit aggressive. The reason? Google has started giving away a turn-by-turn navigation product for select Android devices that run on Verizon Wireless, the only network on which NiM currently offers its service. Although the threat of Google completely wiping away NiM’s business is grossly overblown, we suspect that it did put some pressure on the price of the company. NiM’s early focus on feature phones gave competitors such as TeleNav an early lead on smartphones such as BlackBerry and Windows Mobile. According to one rumor, T-Mobile and NiM had been close to a deal earlier this year. Without the ‘Google overhang,’ we could imagine that NiM would be selling for quite a bit more than the $170m that TeleCommunication Systems is slated to pay.

That said, it’s actually a decent exit for seven-year-old NiM. Although it’s getting an admittedly so-so multiple for its business, the company is providing a solid return for its backers, largely because it didn’t raise much money. It drew in a total of less than $20m, with Mission Ventures and Redpoint Ventures as early NiM backers and Sutter Hill Ventures joining in the third – and last – round of NiM funding in March 2006. (There was also some money from unnamed strategic investors.) Unlike rival TeleNav, NiM was unlikely to go public because of concerns about competition from Google. (TeleNav, which put in its IPO paperwork a month ago, isn’t immediately threatened by Google because the latter’s service isn’t yet available on TeleNav’s networks, AT&T and Sprint.) A solid (if not spectacular) trade sale of NiM in the face of growing competition from Google isn’t a bad bit of navigation for the startup at all.

Is mobile advertising back?

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

In a clear sign that mobile advertising has grown up, Google spent a whopping $750m in stock on Monday to pick up San Mateo, California-based AdMob in what we hear was a contested process. This transaction goes a long way toward securing control of mobile display advertising for Google and comes just days after the launch of Android 2.0. Although we’ve been projecting dealmaking in the mobile advertising market for quite some time, we’re nonetheless floored by the rich valuation for AdMob, a three-year-old startup that’s raised just shy of $50m. We estimate that the 140-person firm pulled in about $20m in gross revenue in 2008 and was on track to double that figure this year (we surmise that this translates to roughly $20m on a net revenue basis).

The double-digit valuation for AdMob reminds us more than a little bit of the high-multiple online advertising deals that we saw in 2007. Viewed in that context, Google’s purchase of AdMob stands as the third-largest ‘new media’ advertising purchase since 2002. Of course, like many of those transactions, this was not based on revenue, but instead on technology and market extension, which is consistent with Google’s strategy of acquiring big into core adjacencies.

Looking forward, AdMob’s top-dollar exit is sure to have a number of rival mobile advertising startups excited. One competitor that’s preparing to raise an additional sizable round of funding quipped at the near-perfect timing of this transaction. This is an industry that has seen its ups and downs over the past few years. When we first wrote about AdMob back in May it was in the backdrop of fire sales and failed rounds of funding. If nothing else, this deal will dramatically change that.

Microsoft has been actively playing catch-up to Google in advertising and search, and is sure to follow it onto the mobile device. As are many other niche advertising shoppers such as Yahoo, Nokia, AdKnowledge, Adobe-Omniture and traditional media conglomerates such as Cox. AOL has already made its move, reaching for Third Screen Media two years ago. (We would note that AOL’s $105m purchase of Third Screen is a rare case of that company actually being ahead of the market.)

Startups that could benefit from this increasing focus on the sector include AdMarvel, Amobee, InMobi, and Velti’s Ad Infuse. However, we suspect that some of the major advances – and consequently the most promising targets – are likely to come from players that are just now getting started, with fresh and profitable approaches to location-based mobile advertising.

Some recent mobile advertising deals

Date announced Acquirer Target Deal value Target TTM revenue
November 9, 2009 Google AdMob $750m $20m*
September 14, 2009 Nokia Acuity Mobile Not disclosed Not disclosed
August 27, 2009 AdMob AdWhirl Not disclosed Not disclosed
May 21, 2009 Limelight Networks Kiptronic $1m $2m*
May 12, 2009 Velti Ad Infuse <$1m* $1.3m*
March 11, 2008 Qualcomm Xiam Technologies $32m Not disclosed
August 21, 2007 Yahoo Actionality Not disclosed Not disclosed
May 15, 2007 AOL Third Screen Media $105m $3m*

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

Like Intel, Microsoft buys scraps of parallel-processing startup

Contact: John Abbott

Despite a fair bit of talk about how important it is to demystify the art of parallel programming now that multiple cores and threads have become mainstream in x86 computing platforms, the actual level of activity has been surprisingly low. Over the last few years we’ve identified no more than a dozen small development tools vendors active in this area – some of them focused on the high-performance computing (HPC) sector – that appeared to have some prospect of success. And the companies with the most at stake in seeing better performance levels from new-generation CPUs (notably Intel and Microsoft) don’t seem to have been working particularly hard on the problem, either.

Perhaps, however, that’s starting to change. True, the number of startups is declining rather than expanding, but as they fail their assets are being acquired by larger vendors. One of the first to go was PeakStream in June 2007, snagged by Google after raising $22m in VC funding. But Google had no interest in sharing what it had bought. It withdrew PeakStream’s commercial product and began using it internally to boost the performance of its own software. Just last month Intel – currently in the process or rolling out six- and eight-core microprocessors – revealed that it had quietly picked up two small companies: RapidMind and Cilk Arts. And now Microsoft has announced, equally quietly, that it has purchased the technology assets of Interactive Supercomputing (ISC).

ISC had raised around $18m in VC funding over its four years of life, from Ascent Venture Partners, CommonAngels, Flagship Ventures, Fletcher Spaght and Rock Maple Ventures. It’s perhaps a bit of a stretch to call what ISC was doing mainstream, since it was focused on the HPC market. Its Star-P development environment let users create software models on their desktops using off-the-shelf packages from which parallel code could be automatically generated. The company claimed it could cut months from software development lifecycles. But Microsoft is talking about integrating ISC’s technology into its own products and using it for desktop computing as well as clusters. ISC CEO Bill Rock will bring over a team of experts to join Microsoft’s New England Research & Development Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Microsoft says it will continue to support existing Star-P users but won’t continue to sell the product in its current form.

Intuit mints a rich deal

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen, Brenon Daly

We might be inclined to read Intuit’s recent purchase of Mint Software as a case of ‘If you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em.’ The acquisition by the powerhouse of personal finance software undoubtedly gives the three-year-old startup a premium valuation. Intuit will hand over $170m in cash for Mint, which we understand was running at less than $10m in revenue. (Although we should add that Mint had only just begun looking for ways to make money from its growing 1.5-million user base.)

More than revenue, we suspect this deal was driven by Intuit’s desire to get into a new market, online money management and budgeting, as well as the fear of the prospects of a much smaller but rapidly growing competitor. (Intuit and Mint have been talking for most of this year, according to one source.) In that way, Intuit’s latest acquisition has some distinct echoes of its previous buy, that of online payroll service PayCycle. For starters, the purchase price of both PayCycle and Mint totaled $170m. And even more unusually, bulge bracket biggie Goldman Sachs advised Intuit on both of these summertime deals. (Remember the days when major banks would hardly answer the phone for any transaction valued at less than a half-billion dollars? How times change.) On the other side of the table in this week’s deal, Credit Suisse’s Colin Lang advised Mint.

Intuit M&A, 2007 – present

Date Target Deal value
September 14, 2009 Mint Software $170m
June 2, 2009 PayCycle $170m
April 17, 2009 BooRah <$1m*
December 3, 2008 Entellium $8m
December 19, 2007 Electronic Clearing House $131m
November 26, 2007 Homestead Technologies $170m

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

ConSentry: more VC dollars for the NAC bonfire

Contact: Brenon Daly, Paul Roberts

It’s difficult – if not impossible – to point to any area of technology this year with a more consistently god-awful ROI than network access control (NAC). At this point, the return for VCs on their bets in the NAC market is literally pennies on the dollar. The latest addition to the imbalance between money invested and money returned: ConSentry Networks. As my colleague Paul Roberts recently noted, the company died earlier this month at least in part because it was counting on users defecting from either Cisco or Juniper Networks.

But that flawed business plan didn’t stop ConSentry from pulling down some $81m in backing over the past six years. The venture dollars incinerated by ConSentry brings the total amount burned by NAC vendors that have gone out of business in 2009 to at least $212m. Add to that the money raised by the one exit the NAC space has seen this year (Mirage Networks’ scrap sale to Trustwave), and the total swells to $252m. And the grand return on that quarter-billion-dollar cumulative investment? Mirage probably got about $10m for its business.

Versata bags Everest

Contact: Brenon Daly

In half of the recent buys by Versata Enterprises, Updata Advisors has worked on behalf of the acquisitive enterprise software provider. In the latest purchase, however, the boutique advisory firm swung to the other side of the desk. On Friday, Versata, the Austin, Texas-based company that used to go by the name Trilogy, picked up Everest Software for an undisclosed sum. (We hear from a source that Everest was running at a bit more than $10m in revenue. However, the vendor’s top line suffered recently because it sold predominantly to retailers, as well as SMB customers – both of which have been hit disproportionately hard by the ongoing recession.)

Since December 2007, Updata has advised Versata on its acquisitions of Nuvo Network Management, TenFold and Evolutionary Technologies International. Switching over to the sell side for Everest is perhaps understandable for Updata because its sister firm – Updata Partners, which does venture investing – had put money into the CRM vendor. Other backers of Everest include Sierra Ventures, Boulder Ventures and Actis Capital. Founded in 1994, Everest had pulled in around $20m in funding.

Incidentally, we would note that in a press release announcing its sale, Everest took the unconventional step of thanking all of its backers. Even though we understand that the investments in Everest didn’t necessarily produce the returns that had been hoped for, it’s nonetheless a classy move by Everest. Too few companies do that. Most executives and investors simply and quietly move on to ‘the new, new thing’ without taking time to acknowledge the money and time that people put into the first venture. So the sale of Everest probably wasn’t a high-dollar deal, but the firm did take the high road.

id Software exit signals continued consolidation in gaming

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

While we have been expecting continued consolidation in the gaming sector for a long time now, we didn’t see this combination coming. Id Software, a staunchly independent, Mesquite, Texas-based shop best known for founder John Carmack and the Doom franchise, sold recently to Rockville, Maryland-based ZeniMax Media. ZeniMax is a relatively small, privately held publisher, having picked up Bethesda Software in 2001. However, the firm has wealthy backers. It raised $300m in 2007 from private equity shop Providence Equity Partners and according to a US Securities and Exchange Commission filing, raised another $105m in debt financing on July 7, which was specifically earmarked for the acquisition of id. Given that ZeniMax undoubtedly wants to retain id’s employees (even giving a seat of the board to id CEO Todd Hollenshead), we suspect ZeniMax also had to tap into its equity to cover the purchase price, which wasn’t revealed.

This deal makes us wonder about the outlook for the remaining independent legacy videogame studios. Specifically, we’re referring to Bellevue, Washington-based Valve Corp and Cary, North Carolina-based Epic Games. Not that we’re suggesting any formal shopping is taking place. But if the id exit shows us anything, it is that in a time when development costs are skyrocketing and financing is harder to come by, it might be wise for studios to join forces with a larger publisher. That’s particularly true as the current economic slump has painfully shown that the videogame industry is not as ‘recession-proof’ as some people had hoped. Shares of Electronic Arts, which serve as a kind of proxy for the entire videogame industry, have been cut in half over the past year, compared to a mere 6% decline in the broader software stock index during the same period.

Videogame-related M&A by the big four, 2006-present

Acquirer Number of acquisitions Total known deal value
Activision Blizzard 10 $5.69bn (includes merger with Vivendi)
Electronic Arts 9 $771m
Microsoft 4 $235m
Sony 6 N/A

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

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

A ‘paper’ windfall in LogMeIn IPO

Contact: Brenon Daly

One of the investment banks that profited the most from Wednesday’s strong debut of LogMeIn wasn’t even on the prospectus. Instead, it was in the prospectus. McNamee Lawrence, an advisory shop with no underwriting business, realized a tidy little $2m windfall from the IPO.

Heading into the offering, McNamee Lawrence held some 99,000 shares in LogMeIn that it picked up in late 2004 for helping to place the startup’s series A funding round, as well as other advisory work. McNamee Lawrence took a small amount of money off the table, selling some 21,000 shares at the $16 initial pricing of LogMeIn. That netted the bank about $336,000. It still holds some 78,000 shares, which had a paper value of about $1.6m, based on the price of LogMeIn shares on Thursday afternoon.

Granted, the holdings of McNamee Lawrence are only a tiny slice of the overall 21.4 million LogMeIn shares outstanding. And the firm’s stake is a fraction of the major owners of LogMeIn, Prism Venture Partners and Polaris Venture Partners. Prism holds shares worth about $80m, while Polaris, which sold $7.4m worth of shares in the offering, still owns a chunk valued at about $59m.

Still, the shares represent a nice windfall for McNamee Lawrence. (In addition, some of the firm’s partners put money individually into LogMeIn in the company’s seed round in early 2004.) Of course, the practice of taking paper as payment was pretty common across all kinds of service providers back in the Bubble Era, when startups routinely handed out options and warrants to cover bills from banks, lawyers and even landlords. After so many people got burned by taking worthless options and warrants in the early 2000s, however, cash returned as the currency of choice.

End of a (Lucid)Era

Contact: Brenon Daly, Krishna Roy

After unsuccessfully trying to find a buyer for several months, LucidEra has turned itself over to a workout firm to sell off the patents and whatever else has value at the once-promising on-demand business intelligence (BI) vendor. We understand that CEO Robert Reid and the company’s board members have left LucidEra, replaced by Diablo Management Group. DMG, which got the mandate last week, has sole fiduciary control at LucidEra. A scrap sale, if it occurs, is likely within the next two months or so.

It’s a stunning fall for LucidEra, which was arguably the most visible startup in the market. Certainly, cofounder and former CEO Ken Rudin was one of the loudest – if not the loudest – evangelist for on-demand BI. (Rudin served as CEO until last July, when he assumed the role of chief marketing officer and turned the company over to Reid.) The company had raised some $23m from Crosslink Capital, Benchmark Capital and Matrix Partners over two rounds. We would note that if DMG does manage to sell LucidEra, the startups’ creditors will be first in line for payment, with any remaining funds then available to investors. LucidEra doesn’t have many creditor claims, but there are some.

In many ways, what initially allowed LucidEra to get going ultimately proved to be its undoing. From the beginning, the vendor tied its fate to, specifically offering a pipeline reporting and analytics feature for the on-demand CRM vendor. That essentially made LucidEra an after-market add-on for customers, which limited its market and always prompted questions about why wouldn’t just offer that technology. It also got us wondering in a report two months ago why wouldn’t just acquire LucidEra. That may still happen. If it does, however, will be picking up just a fraction of what LucidEra had been when they last discussed a deal. And it will be paying just a fraction of the price, as well.