As Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference winds down, the hype for the new iPhone is only beginning. Amid all the hoopla, though, we couldn’t help but make an observation about not so much what was in Steve Job’s all-important keynote, but what wasn’t. Specifically, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ much-touted iFund was only mentioned in passing, and none of the surprisingly few ventures were highlighted. (KPCB has written checks to just three companies, out of thousands of applicants.) In fact, a major competitor of iFund’s location-aware application Whrrl, Loopt, was a highlight of the keynote. This comes as somewhat of a surprise after Palego’s Jeff Holden and KPCB partner Matt Murphy spoke highly of their relationship with Apple in a May 27 BusinessWeek article and even speculated on the chances of being a featured app. This led many to believe they were a shoe-in for the keynote. Given Apple’s obsessive demand for radio silence prior to the event, perhaps loose lips do indeed sink ships.
Loopt is funded by KPCB competitors New Enterprise Associates and Sequoia Capital to the tune of $15m. It has a few hundred thousand paying customers, but more importantly, it is the leader in the mobile location-aware-social-networking space spanning several carriers and operating systems. This is a market that has seen a lot of interest from the likes of Google, AOL, Microsoft and even Facebook. In the aftermath of the conference, whispers and rumors of potential acquirers of this little app are all over the place.
Since Google let Plaxo go to Comcast and has failed with its in-house development (Orkut), the search engine has been itching to make headway in the sector through acquisitions. Given Google’s huge push into the mobile space, it is seen as a likely acquirer. However, we think the most probable acquirer is Facebook. The soaring social networking site has been serious about pushing into mobile-social-networking, and a pairing of Facebook’s mobile application with Loopt seems a perfect fit. Since valuations in the social networking space are like something out of the bubble era, it is not unrealistic to see a price tag of just south of $100m for Loopt, a 40-employee startup. With healthy cash reserves and an estimated $400m in revenue for 2008, Facebook has the resources. In fact, though this would only be its second acquisition, we understand Facebook has been gearing up to make more acquisitions in the coming year. If indeed Loopt is taken off the block, rivals Palego, Zyb, and Buzzd may follow in quick order.
Traditional social networking acquisition deals for more than $50m
* official 451 Group estimate, Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase