Selling to Facebook

Contact: Ben Kolada

Rather than buy into Facebook after it debuts on the open market, many companies may consider selling to the social networking giant after its IPO. Facebook is already rich with cash, and is about to become much richer. Meanwhile, its M&A strategy has so far focused on acquiring smaller startups for their IP and engineering talent, but the company has said it may do bigger deals in the future.

According to The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase, Facebook has so far bought 25 companies, mostly for their specialized employees such as software engineers and product designers, but also for complementary technology. The company has been fairly cash conscious in its transactions, preferring to motivate acquired personnel with stock options rather than upfront cash payouts – in fact, Facebook spent just $24m in cash, net of cash acquired, on the deals it closed in 2011.

While innovative startups with skilled personnel, particularly those in the collaboration and social networking sectors, should still consider selling to Facebook a viable exit, midmarket and larger technology firms should also consider Facebook a potential suitor. In both public reports and in its IPO prospectus, the company has said it could put its treasury to work on larger deals. And it will certainly have the fire power – adding proceeds from its $5bn public offering to its treasury would bring its total spending power to nearly $9bn (including cash and marketable securities).

Facebook could apply some of its rationale for buying smaller vendors to larger acquisitions. For complementary technology, it could target a larger mobile advertising network (it picked up development-stage rel8tion in January 2011). The lack of a mobile ad platform is a gaping hole in Facebook’s portfolio, especially considering it had 425 million mobile monthly active users at the end of 2011. A company similar to AdMob (which sold to Google) or Quattro Wireless (acquired by Apple) such as Millennial Media or Jumptap would go some way toward filling that gap. For regional expansion and consolidation, Facebook could make a move for any of a number of international competitors, including Cyworld in Korea, Mixi in Japan, Vkontakte in Russia or Renren in China. As the trend toward consumerization in the enterprise continues in the form of social networking and collaboration (’s Chatter or Oracle’s Social Network come to mind), Facebook could look at an enterprise offering as well. The leading candidate in this sector would be Jive Software, one of the most prized properties in the social enterprise space with a market valuation of about $1bn.