The saga surrounding one of the world’s most recognizable internet stocks has come to a close.
Yahoo has finally sold its operating business to the highest bidder. The winner was Verizon – and the price was $4.8 billion. That’s worth less than 1% of the company it had multiple opportunities to buy: Google (now Alphabet).
Technology changes fast, and successful companies must leverage smart acquisitions in building for the future. Facebook bought Oculus Rift and Instagram, and Google bought companies like Youtube, DoubleClick, Boston Dynamics, and DeepMind to help flush out its strategy.
The executives running Yahoo have a rough track record in reading industry tea leaves. It’s not just about the deals they made, but it’s also the deals they failed to make.
In the end, a lack of execution with acquisitions proved to be the company’s Achilles’ Heel.
In 1998, Yahoo was approached by two young Stanford Ph.D. students to buy their search engine algorithm. Larry Page and Sergey Brin had created PageRank – a quick way to find the most relevant website for a given search query. Yahoo skipped out on buying it for $1 million, rationalizing that it would take people off of Yahoo’s website, while decreasing traffic and ad revenues.
Even later on when Google’s search business was well-established, Yahoo CEO Terry Semel balked at Larry and Sergey’s $1 billion asking price. He would eventually agree to it, but by then it was too late. The Google guys had already decided to up their price to a heftier $3 billion.
Around that same time, Yahoo was turned down by a 22-year-old Mark Zuckerberg. Yahoo offered to buy Facebook for $1 billion, but Zuckerberg declined. This was a moment that billionaire Facebook investor Peter Thiel lauds as the major turning point for the company that allowed it to become the behemoth it is today. Some sources even say that if the offer was increased to $1.1 billion, that Facebook’s board would have forced Zuckerberg to take it.
But it’s not just the offers made that were missed opportunities. Yahoo also turned down a hostile takeover from Microsoft in 2008 for $44.6 billion that valued the company for far more than it is worth today.
DEALS THAT BOMBED
Finally, the deals that did close were unable to add any value to the company.
Yahoo famously made two acquisitions in 1999 that are now ranked by Forbes as some of the worst internet acquisitions of all-time.
The first was a $4.58 billion deal for Geocities, a site that enabled users to build their own personal websites. While Geocities was a pioneer in this regard, it eventually was shuttered in 2009 after failing to deliver any value to Yahoo shareholders.
The second was the famous $5.7 billion deal for Broadcast.com, an online television site that was founded by Mark Cuban. Perhaps way ahead of its time, internet connections were too slow in 1999 to run this type of video content off the web.
Yahoo also bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion in 2013. While it is not ranked as one of the worst acquisitions of all time, it is not doing particularly well either.
YAHOO’S SAVING GRACE
There was one M&A decision that wasn’t a whiff. In 2005, the company bought a 40% stake in emerging online retail company Alibaba. The remainder of those holdings, now worth $30 billion, make up the majority of Yahoo’s market capitalization today.
In the context of the recent Verizon deal, the Alibaba shares are likely being spun off into a separate investment vehicle.