The market for tech mergers and acquisitions is strong right now. Facebook is acquiring Oculus. Comcast is buying Time Warner Cable, and AT&T is combining with DirecTV. Not to mention all the rumored deals in the works, including the latest — a report that Google’s newly acquired Nest division is itself interested in acquiring connected home camera company Dropcam.
So what about Microsoft? Oh right, the Redmond company just completed one of the largest acquisitions in its history, the $7.2 billion purchase of Nokia’s Devices & Services business, transforming Microsoft into a smartphone maker.
But that was Steve Ballmer’s deal. Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, has a chance to make his mark with a major acquisition — something bold and perhaps even unexpected that could reshape Microsoft’s business or lay the foundation for future flagship products.
Microsoft employs an experienced team of corporate development execs, and we wouldn’t presume to tell them how to do their jobs. But just for fun, the GeekWire team put our heads together and came up with a list of potential Microsoft acquisitions, below. They range from some very realistic (or at least conceivable) deals to game-changing acquisitions that are, admittedly far less likely to happen.
Of course, there’s a case to be made that Nadella should avoid big deals altogether, for now. Acquisitions are very tough to pull off successfully, as evidenced by Microsoft’s failed attempt to swallow aQuantive. The company has gone through a year of unprecedented change, and it’s only now starting to integrate the Nokia devices business, with no guarantee of success. There’s something to be said for focusing instead on accelerating and expanding the pipeline of innovation inside the company.
But M&A is a timely topic: With Nadella appearing tonight at Re/code’s Code Conference, he’ll be rubbing shoulders in the hallways with the top executives of many potential acquisition targets, talking with many of them for the first time in his new role.
So what should Satya buy? Here is our attempt at a shopping list.
Box: The enterprise cloud storage company would bolster Microsoft’s efforts to offer cloud services to large companies, something that is high on Nadella’s agenda. As a bonus, Mercer Island’s own Aaron Levie would get a chance to help shake up his hometown software giant from the inside. Box has delayed its IPO, which could open the door for a large acquirer.
Sonos: If you’re building the Internet of Things, don’t forget the speakers! The wireless home audio company has a loyal following among music fans, and it has a Microsoft pedigree already, having brought former Xbox exec Robbie Bach onto its board in 2011, and more recently hired former Xbox executive Marc Whitten as its chief product officer. If Nadella wants to double-down in the living room, Sonos could be a logical step.
Jawbone: Speaking of speakers, this privately held company markets wireless Jambox speakers and Bluetooth Jawbone headsets, but the real appeal for Microsoft would be the Jawbone UP wristbands, which would instantly give Microsoft a serious presence in wearables.
Evernote: Right, probably not going to happen. Microsoft seems intent on competing in this market with its own OneNote apps, as evidenced by OneNote’s integration into the Surface Pro 3 pen. But Evernote has a loyal fan base on a variety of devices, and made its mark by leading the way for synchronizing notes across platforms.
Haiku Deck: Hey, Adam Tratt, you never know, it could happen! The former Microsoft product manager and his team at Seattle startup Haiku Deck have reimagined the process of creating slide decks with their easy-to-use apps for iPad and the web, giving people a new way to create presentations. The next version of PowerPoint could benefit significantly from their approach.
LinkedIn: Microsoft has dabbled in social networks on its own, through its acquisition of Yammer, and as a pre-IPO Facebook investor. But in contrast with Facebook, LinkedIn’s business focus actually fits more closely with Microsoft’s strength in enterprise technology. If it were to happen, it would be a massive deal, given LinkedIn’s status as a public company valued at nearly $20 billion.
Netflix: Another whopper here, in more ways than one. Netflix has a market value of nearly $24 billion, and CEO Reed Hastings — a former Microsoft board member — would be unlikely to go down this path. But Netflix would significantly boost Microsoft’s position in content and home entertainment, with lots of natural tie-ins to the Xbox business beyond the current Netflix apps for Microsoft’s consoles.
Tableau Software: Tableau’s newfound status as a public company makes this less likely, but the data visualization software company plays into Microsoft’s broader push to bring “big data” tools and insights to the masses. Tableau is also based in Seattle, which would (theoretically) make the integration easier for the companies, and give Microsoft a presence in the Center of the Universe (a.k.a. Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood).
Tesla Motors: The suggestion that Microsoft would buy an electric car maker — and Elon Musk would be willing to sell — divided the GeekWire newsroom, with certain members of the team declaring it a ridiculous idea. Yes, it is a bit far-fetched. But hey, as long as we’re talking about Microsoft’s future, why not completely break the mold? The car is just another connected device, and Tesla is certainly a better candidate for Microsoft than, say, General Motors.
T-Mobile US: File this one under “out of the box.” T-Mobile has been shaking up the wireless industry, and attracting interest from its larger competitor Sprint (and its parent, SoftBank) as a merger candidate. So why shouldn’t Microsoft jump into the wireless industry? As a bonus, the Bellevue-based company is just down the road from Microsoft, and T-Mobile’s brash CEO John Legere would introduce the concept of on-stage profanity to Microsoft’s product launches.
OK, that’s our list. It was a fun exercise, although we probably won’t be getting recruited by any M&A departments anytime soon.
What do you think? Tell us we’re nuts and post your own list below.