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More Zeitgeist: Current M&A Wave Reflects Two Web Eras

March 24, 2005

The recent M&A activity in the tech sector has a certain dichotomy to it – a kind of tale of two Web eras. At one end of the spectrum you have questionable deals like the New York Times Co. buying About.com and InterActive Corp. buying AskJeeves. Neither of these acquisitions has been very well received – and with good reason. About.com is a perennial orphan that’s been kicked around from one owner to the next. AskJeeves is a second-rate search engine that’s been trudging its way for years through a market dominated by giants. At price tags of $410M (About.com) and $1.9B (Ask), the acquirees in these deals feel cumbersome to us – like bloated relics of a bygone era.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have Yahoo buying Flickr, Google buying Picasa, and three large newspaper companies buying Topix. Take the Flickr deal, which may offer the best example of M&A in the new Web era. Even without knowledge of the company’s accounting ledger, it’s obvious to the a:c that Flickr was created efficiently – and to great effect. The company has well over 250,000 registered users who have uploaded millions of images. The service works well and has managed to cultivate a loyal following. In the storied and irrational history of Web acquisitions, the price, rumored to be in the range of $30M, is entirely reasonable.
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Flickr’s Shining Moment…
And while you may think the execs at Flickr, Picasa, and Topix are the winners in this latest wave of M&A transactions, we actually believe the real winners are the Googles and Yahoos. They’re acquiring tested ventures for a song, with almost zero hassle. Most of these companies are left to run their operations independently, integrating with the acquiring company virtually overnight. Buy these guys a new coffee maker and they’re happy. VCs and investment bankers have been largely absent from the process.
It’s a shining moment – and one that probably won’t last. It will be interesting to see how the entrepreneurial teams that built these ventures fare within their new corporate surroundings – even if they are left to operate independently. The seminal deal in this new era of M&A was probably Google’s purchase of Pyra Labs, the creator of the popular Blogger software. Evan Williams, Pyra’s founder, bolted from Google after just 18 months.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 20, 2006 10:29 pm

    Edmonton dominated the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night and the 4-0 margin in Game 6 makes it hard to imagine the Oilers not hoisting hockey’s Holy Grail above their heads in less than 48 hours. And it would not come as any shock to see defenseman Chris Pronger, who had another 31-minute night, take the honors for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

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