Could Snap crack open location tech M&A? 

Contact: Scott Denne

Snap has picked out a battleground in its attempt to become the next internet giant. In less than a month, the social media upstart has acquired two location technology companies – ad attribution vendor Placed and location-based social app provider Zenly. Those moves into a nascent space could lead other firms to give location tech a closer look.

A valuation of 39x trailing revenue has saddled Snap with hefty expectations and in bolstering its location-based marketing tools, it’s shown how it is planning to meet those expectations. Many of Snap’s features are intimately tied to location – geo-filters and stories, for example – and its larger competitors have only made limited moves toward location-based marketing. That could change, and as it does, acquisitions could follow. Notably, Facebook regularly counters Snap’s announcements with similar products of its own.

Even companies that lack such a direct rivalry with Snap may be enticed into the space as marketers become more aware of the possible applications of location tech following Snap’s deals. Adobe, AOL, Oracle, Google and dozens of smaller vendors expect to expand by serving legacy marketers with large budgets and sales that are tied to a physical location, whether movie theaters, retailers or auto dealerships. Also, Amazon’s dramatic bet on the convergence of physical and digital retail – its pending $13bn purchase of Whole Foods – could put location tech on its shopping list.

Outside of a handful of large GPS and mapping transactions, mobile location technology M&A has been sparse. Location tech encompasses multiple overlapping capabilities, most of which are lacking among the biggest marketing and media firms. Some startups, such as Snap’s Placed, sell the infrastructure to collect, cleanse and deploy location data for targeted marketing and attribution (e.g., NinthDecimal, Placecast, PlaceIQ and Reveal Mobile). App providers like Snap’s Zenly have a legitimate need to collect location data and could bolster the scale of an organization’s location data assets – Foursquare, for example, plays in this segment as well as the former one. Then there are those such as MomentFeed, Placeable and Yext that enable national brands and retailers to manage local presence.

Just as data generated by web servers became the heart of digital marketing, consumer location could fill the same role for the convergence of physical and digital marketing. But the applications for this data are poorly understood today. Major retailers spent years investing in beacon deployments although few have developed a strategy to get a return, while advertisers continuously test how to make use of location data, whether through targeting places and people or measuring results. Despite the growing pains, the attention on this corner of the tech ecosystem from a widely watched company like Snap could make location the place to be.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

Will Microsoft and Nokia make for a ringing success?

Contact: Brenon Daly

In an acquisition that effectively formalizes a partnership of two and a half years, Microsoft plans to hand over $5bn for Nokia’s phone business. Additionally, it announced a $2.2bn agreement to license the Finnish company’s patents and mapping technology. Taken together, the moves mean that Microsoft – in its efforts to make the leap from the PC market to the much broader mobile world – has now tried all three of the corporate development strategies: buy, build and partner.

And yet so far, the results of that effort remain underwhelming. In an August survey by ChangeWave Research (a service of 451 Research) just 9% of corporate respondents indicated they planned to purchase a Windows Phone-powered device in the fourth quarter of this year. Microsoft’s ranking was dead last among the mobile OS providers. Even BlackBerry, which is fading dramatically, drew a level of support that was three times higher than Windows Phone.

Nor does the addition of Nokia, when the deal closes early next year, appear likely to bump up Microsoft’s standing among corporate mobile-device buyers. Just 7% of respondents to the ChangeWave survey indicated they planned to buy a Nokia device in Q4. That was the lowest standing among the six specific vendors included in the ChangeWave survey.

Obviously, Microsoft’s purchase and license agreements with Nokia extend far beyond the immediate timeframe covered in the ChangeWave survey. But even as we look ahead a year or more, we don’t necessarily see the transaction doing much to establish Microsoft as more than a distant fourth-placed mobile OS vendor.

For starters, there’s Microsoft’s mixed record on hardware, including its recent $900m write-off because it hasn’t sold anywhere near as many Surface tablets as it expected. And even when we look at precedent transactions where software companies have reached for hardware vendors (even those with solid underlying IP), the returns have been low. One dramatic example from the enterprise world: Oracle has struggled to get out from under the billions of dollars of hardware that it inherited when it acquired Sun Microsystems.

Even more relevant to the Microsoft-Nokia transaction, Google hasn’t radically altered the fortunes of Motorola’s smartphones since it acquired that business in a deal that was announced two years ago and closed May 2012. Yes, the Android OS continues to gain momentum for all device makers. But specifically for Motorola, the percentage of corporate buyers who plan to purchase a Motorola device in the coming quarter has dropped almost uninterruptedly in the year that Google has owned the device maker, according to ChangeWave research.

 

Undressing demand for wearable technologies

Contact: Ben Kolada

Still in the fad phase, wearable technology is gaining market interest, driven by new devices being introduced both by tech companies and old-school consumer goods firms. The advent of these new Internet-connected form factors, such as ‘smartwatches,’ fitness and health devices, will spur the creation of new application markets in the technology industry.

Demand for wearable technology is specifically being seen in interest for an Apple iWatch, a smartwatch that many expect will be released later this year. According to a recent report by ChangeWave Research, a service of 451 Research, prerelease demand for the iWatch already matches what the iPad and Intel Mac saw before their respective debuts.

The likely launch of the iWatch and overall emergence of new wearable technology devices, such as Google’s Glass, Nike’s FuelBand, Jawbone’s UP and various devices from Fitbit, will create new markets in application software. For example, there’s already an investment syndicate, called Glass Collective, made up of VC firms Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, that are ready to fund companies building new ways to use Google’s Glass device.

Our senior mobile analyst, Chris Hazelton, believes these devices will create extremely tight bonds between users, the cloud and very likely new technology players. For example, unlike smartphone and tablet apps that are used infrequently or once and discarded, Google Glass apps will be persistent, following and advising a user throughout their day.

If you already own a wearable tech device, or are planning to buy one, let us know what you think of this sector and which applications you think will become most valuable. You can tweet us@451TechMnA or contact us anonymously.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

AOL’s MapQuest ‘Discovers’ Everlater

Contact: Ben Kolada

In a fairly rare M&A move, AOL has acquired online travel journal startup Everlater to expand its MapQuest offering into the travel industry. The announcement coincides with the launch of MapQuest Discover, an interactive travel planning and discovery tool. Although this appears to be AOL’s first acquisition specifically for MapQuest, it may not be the last.

Founded in 2008 and based in Boulder, Colorado, Everlater provides a free online travel journal for consumers, as well as a paid customer engagement and travel planning product called Concourse for companies in the tourism industry. The startup lists six employees on its site and had secured about $750,000 from incubator TechStars and venture firm Highway 12 Ventures. Terms of its sale were not disclosed.

The move by AOL is an attempt to reinvigorate its staid MapQuest mapping assets, with an apparent focus on consumers (MapQuest’s B2B licensing services revenue has been declining). The acquisition of Everlater also appears to be the first inorganic move AOL has made specifically to expand MapQuest beyond navigation to providing original travel content and planning features. (We’d note, though, that AOL has bought other local content companies, including Patch Media and Going Inc in 2009.)

To expedite the growth of MapQuest’s travel content and interactive features, AOL could do additional small acquisitions in the travel and tourism sector, similar to what TripAdvisor has done over the past half-decade. In the past five years, TripAdvisor has announced nearly a dozen travel-related acquisitions, including the recent pickups of Wanderfly, Where Ive Been and EveryTrail.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @MAKnowledgebase.

Will TeleNav be a buyer or a seller?

Contact: Ben Kolada

TeleNav’s revenue is expected to decline significantly in 2013, but the company is making attempts to expand into growth markets, as evidenced by its recent acquisition of local mobile advertising startup ThinkNear. With its shares continuously battered on the public market, could TeleNav spurn public scrutiny and seek a private equity buyer? Its mountain of cash could enable the company to go in either direction – buyer or seller.

TeleNav stumbled onto the Nasdaq in May 2010. After repeatedly issuing guidance below analysts’ estimates, the company’s shares are currently trading nearly one-third below their IPO price. Revenue for its fiscal 2013, which ends in June, is expected to decline 13% to $190m. The company’s revenue primarily comes from providing GPS navigation software to wireless carriers, though it also serves the automotive vertical and enterprises, and recently began targeting the local advertising market.

Although TeleNav is rarely an acquirer, its $22.5m ThinkNear pickup could be the beginning of a buying spree meant to propel growth in its local mobile advertising business. The mobile advertising market is in hyper-growth mode, and TeleNav has an audience of 34 million users accessing its services that it hasn’t yet materially targeted for advertising purposes.

Meanwhile, the debt-free company is sitting on nearly $200m of cash and short-term investments that it could use to fuel its M&A machine and inorganically grow this business segment, which represents less than 10% of its fiscal 2012 revenue.

Conversely, though, TeleNav’s treasury could attract buyout bidders. Its market value is currently about $260m, but its cash and short-term investments reduce its enterprise value to just about $60m. A lofty 30% per-share premium would give the company an enterprise value of less than half projected fiscal 2013 revenue. However, we expect that if the company is taken private, its newfound parent would continue to invest in its mobile advertising business because of that market’s growth potential. TeleNav reports fiscal 2013 first-quarter results after the bell tomorrow.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @MAKnowledgebase.

A valuable deal for Groupon

Contact: Brenon Daly

As it preps for its public debut, we note that Groupon, the coupon giant known for offering consumers deals up to 90% off, did a bit of smart bargain shopping of its own last summer as it made an important purchase to expand business in Europe. In May 2010, Groupon picked up Berlin-based CityDeal, a Groupon clone that’s posting growth that far outstrips the already astronomical rate at the acquiring company. CityDeal wasn’t even a year old when Groupon scooped it up, although it managed to generate approximately $450m in annualized revenue in 2010. For comparison, in its first year of existence, Groupon posted $30m in sales.

Groupon has since followed up the CityDeal acquisition with about a dozen other small deal-a-day sites across the globe. However, CityDeal remains the foundation for Groupon’s international operations, a business that is growing faster and has a higher gross margin than Groupon’s original operations in North America. Groupon now gets more revenue from outside its home country than from inside, which is an almost unheard of rate of internationalization for a three-year-old startup.

Given the contribution that CityDeal is making to Groupon’s financials, it’s worth remembering that Groupon only paid $125m in stock for the acquisition. Another way to look at it is that Groupon gave away about 10% of the equity of the company (roughly 41 million shares) for a company that now accounts for more than half its business. Of course, CityDeal’s owners took their payment in equity, so they will undoubtedly see their shares soar on the public market – far above the roughly $1bn valuation Groupon had when it acquired their company. (Valuations of around $20bn for Groupon on the public market are being kicked around right now.) As we think about that deal, it strikes us as a fitting structure for Groupon to use, in that the true value isn’t realized at the time of purchase, but at the point of redemption.

‘Acquisition in Motion’?

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

Google adds to NFC with Zetawire

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.)

Nokia hiring by acquiring

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.

nextstop gets Facebooked

Contact: Jarrett Streebin

After years of building up its platform organically, Facebook has been acquiring like mad this year. The Palo Alto, California-based startup has just purchased its fourth company since January, up from only one in 2009. The latest acquisition is nextstop, a user-generated travel recommendation site. Like earlier buys this year, this one is about adding features to the Facebook platform.

Location features are something Facebook has been promising for some time but has yet to deliver. The sheer growth of sites like Foursquare, Gowalla and SCVNGR has demonstrated widespread demand for location-based services and networks. Twitteradded location features through its Mixer Labs acquisition and Google already has a service called Latitude, in addition to having invested in SCVNGR, a network similar to Foursquare. Facebook has also recognized the attraction of such offerings. It’s rumored that it recently had talks with Foursquare about an acquisition.

However, what check-in-based sites like Foursquare and Gowalla lack is user-generated content. People can interact but there is no way for users to write reviews about locations they visit. It’s likely that with nextstop, Facebook will incorporate user reviews into its forthcoming location offering. Not only will users be able to see where their friends are, they will be able to read what they wrote about places. With these features, Facebook’s location offering will represent the next wave in location. That’s if it ever arrives. We’ll be looking at moves by Facebook and other key technology buyers as well as our outlook for dealmaking in the second half of the year in our midyear webinar on Thursday. Click here to register.