After a long, drawn-out, and scrutinized sale process, Verizon is acquiring Yahoo’s core operating business for ~US$4.83 billion in cash, marking a tumultuous fall for the once-iconic Internet giant, which once had a market capitalization exceeding US$125 billion. Verizon’s purchase includes “core” Yahoo, which spans search, email, advertising products, and the media business, including Yahoo Finance. It does not include Yahoo’s ~ 3,000 patents with an estimated value of over US$1 billion, which reportedly are being hived off through a parallel auction process. Beating out competing bids from a range of probables such as Advent International Inc., AT&T, Bain Capital, TPG, and Vista Equity Partners, the deal adds an important dimension to Verizon’s burgeoning digital media and advertising business, building on its 2015, US$4.4 billion acquisition of AOL.
Not surprisingly, numerous digital revolution themes are reflected in this deal.
- The pace of disruption is unprecedented: We are increasingly witnessing companies achieving meteoric status, then being forgotten. While the demise of Blockbuster, Kodak, and RadioShack can be attributed to the innovators’ dilemma, fundamentally new technologies and consumption require companies to master the art of reinvention. Akin to running on a treadmill with a continually increasing pace or incline, being the poster child of one technology wave, even the Internet, is no guarantee of future relevance if you don’t reinvent and respond nimbly to market changes. Looking back at the history of the modern enterprise, there are only a handful of firms – think GE and IBM – that have reinvented themselves and continue to be relevant today. Verizon is prepping its arsenal as it looks to battle against the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Netflix for the fickle attention of an increasingly mobile consumer. It has made meaningful moves, but integrating AOL and Yahoo into its broader digital content and advertising narrative will be crucial for these bets to pay off.
- Time-to-value is experiencing exponential contraction: The lifetime of technology companies (and enterprises in general) has shortened drastically. This has fundamental implications for business strategy, as modern leaders don’t have the luxury of time in the wake of quarterly Street expectations, fickle investors, intense competition, and extreme scrutiny. Companies need to stop overthinking about the long term, and instead focus on meeting shorter hurdles. There’s no longer room or relevance for a five-year horizon, as there’s no saying what the next wave of technology onslaught is going to be.
- The law of gravity catches up: Yahoo, despite being ubiquitous during its heyday, is still a relatively young company born in 1995. Its downfall was hastened by the likes of Facebook and Google eating up the advertising pie. As the volume, variety, and velocity of competition keeps increasing, we may need to redefine the definition of long-term. For example, the common thread among Airbnb, Dropbox, Fitbit, Instagram, Pinterest, Slack, Snapchat, Spotify, Tumblr, Twitter, and Uber is that all are billion dollar companies (Unicorns) that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Yet, other than Salesforce – which started in 1999 and now has a market cap of over US$50 billion – most technology companies have failed to meaningfully scale, and have died a slow death or been acquired by a bigger fish.
- Tactical re-engineering can only get you so far : Yahoo failed to adequately respond to challenges in its core business, and once caught off-guard, it responded with successive leadership changes (Marissa Mayer is its fifth CEO since 2009), employee layoffs (Mayer culled nearly 15 percent of the total workforce), and overvalued acquisitions made out of desperation (it bought ~58 firms since 2009, including Tumblr for US1.1 billion in 2013). None of these moves dramatically changed its fortunes, as they only tangentially addressed its core travails. Companies lacking a “real” asset will always be at risk. Yahoo, like Microsoft to a certain extent, missed the bus on social, mobile, and cloud. While Microsoft has belatedly begun to make amends under Satya Nadella, Yahoo remained stuck in a bygone era, underscoring the importance of looking out for future trends and placing bets early.
Going forward, we expect other marquee tech companies to also face the heat, whether it’s Apple trying to tackle plateauing iPhone sales, and perhaps pivoting to a rising enterprise business, Facebook/Google endeavoring to increasingly monetize their saturating mobile advertising moats, or Twitter attempting to answer its user acquisition dilemma. The future is uncertain, and there are no longer clear winners in the digital era.