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Summary:

[qi:115] Suddenly, it’s mating season in the tech sector. Xerox is paying $6.4 billion for a piece of the cloud, Adobe is hooking up with Omniture and Intuit with Mint, and that may just be the start. As Om pointed out, this is good news for […]

[qi:115] Suddenly, it’s mating season in the tech sector. Xerox is paying $6.4 billion for a piece of the cloud, Adobe is hooking up with Omniture and Intuit with Mint, and that may just be the start. As Om pointed out, this is good news for startups and entrepreneurs, especially those with money tied up in late-stage investments that aren’t likely to go public soon. But is a wave of mergers necessarily a good thing?

Not always. And particularly not right now when it comes to web and social media startups, many of which are still more focused on innovation and building up audiences than on making profits. Rushing them into deals to fulfill long-delayed plans for an exit strategy could derail the evolution of a strong business plan.

From an investment standpoint, founders and venture capitalists have good reasons to cash out now. Market caps of public tech giants are rising — the Nasdaq gained 15 percent last quarter alone – and so are their cash stockpiles: Microsoft is sitting on $49 billion in cash; Google, $24 billion. The IPO market is coming back to life, but not enough to meet the pent-up demand. And high-profile deals like the ones we’ve seen recently have a way of spurring on other acquisitions.

The risk is that, just as the quality of IPOs tends to deteriorate the longer a market boom lasts, a wave of M&A deals will bring on marriages that make less and less sense. Sure, Amazon buying Zappos was a good transaction all around, as was Facebook’s investment in Friendfeed. But we’re already seeing some that, from a user standpoint, are questionable. As a fan of Mint, am I really going to benefit from its purchase by Intuit? When your biggest competitor takes you over, it blunts the competitive spirit that can drive innovations.

Internet mergers rarely happen for the reason they do in older industries — to cut costs through consolidation. More often, they involve an aging company buying a young, promising one to amp up revenue growth. TimeWarner buying AOL and eBay buying Skype come to mind. Even snapping up a hot startup for its technology or talent — Google buying Dodgeball or Yahoo buying Flickr – can lead to culture clashes, customer anger and other disappointing results.

Yet expectations are high that more web mergers are on the way. Sandeep Aggarwal, an analyst at Collins Stewart, argued in a report this week that growing confidence in the economy and broader adoption of the Internet will keep deals coming. He lists 20 startups and matches them with five Internet giants.

mergers

Aggarwals’ report has some interesting points, so it may be unfair to nitpick over some potential matches. But just because, say, Microsoft could easily buy SecondLife, Yahoo could go after Digg or eBay, Zillow, should they? Many of the deals would benefit investors more than users, and that’s often a recipe for a messy marriage. There are times when mergers make sense, but for web companies, now is not one of those times.

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  1. Shankar Saikia Saturday, October 3, 2009

    RISK, INVESTORS AND CUSTOMERS

    The risky nature of the technology industry is one reason why smaller innovative tech companies merge with or are acquired by larger, not-so-innovative ones. In the tech industry one wrong business move and/or a sudden change in technology and/or move by competitors can quickly eliminate any advantage. That is why investors opt for M&As. Of course, there are other reasons for M&As, but investor risk preference is one of them. It would be great for customers if these companies continued innovating and coming up with new offerings. The reality is that these startups have to please their investors as well as customers.

  2. How about the most destructive Internet merger of all in recent years: Google buying DoubleClick? The average Web user’s privacy will never be safe again.

  3. Jerome Pineau Monday, October 5, 2009

    “There are times when mergers make sense, but for web companies, now is not one of those times.” – Unless, of course, these web companies happen to be running out of cash. In which case it’s a survival or opportunistic move, and all bets are off with respect to potential benefits to the public.
    J.

  4. Why Tech Mergers May End Up Hurting the Web | Kevin Kelleher | Voices | AllThingsD Monday, October 5, 2009

    [...] Read the rest of this post on the original site Tagged: Internet, Silicon Valley, Voices, economy, innovation, Adobe, GigaOm, Intuit, Kevin Kelleher, Mint, Omniture, Xerox | permalink Sphere.Inline.search("", "http://voices.allthingsd.com/20091005/why-tech-mergers-may-end-up-hurting-the-web/"); « Previous Post Next Post » ord=Math.random()*10000000000000000; document.write(''); [...]

  5. isn’t all all about the bottom line? Mint may have been a terrific service, but did it ever turn a profit?

  6. aging company buying a young, promising one? and ebay and skype comes to mind. Not sure I would characterize ebay as aging

  7. Recent Spree of Aquisitions in 2009 « Wandering Minds Tuesday, October 6, 2009
  8. Some Places Google Could Put Its Money, But Shouldn’t!!! « Anil's Blog Sunday, October 18, 2009

    [...] Google should buy, let’s look instead at what Google could buy, but shouldn’t. I’ve argued before that, given the history of M&A in the web sector, a surge of new deals could end up like [...]

  9. 4 Places Google Could Put Its Money, But Shouldn’t – GigaOM Friday, November 20, 2009

    [...] should buy, let’s look instead at what Google could buy, but shouldn’t. I’ve argued before that, given the history of M&A in the web sector, a surge of new deals could end up like a 2 [...]

  10. Why Are Tech Layoffs Rising in a Recovery? Saturday, November 21, 2009

    [...] companies have different reasons for the restructurings. M&A activity has also been on the rise in the tech industry, and integrating two separate operations into one often means some workers [...]

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