Yahoo, the once highly regarded internet giant, is in shambles. Its revenue is in decline. Its shareholders are crying foul. Its prized public faces are scrambling for an exit, and the company is in the process of laying off 15 per cent of its workforce. Its core business — internet search and advertising — is negatively valued. Looming over all of this is a prospective sale of the company’s core assets, bids for which have reportedly reached more than $5 billion (£3.5bn).
That potential sale is in stark contrast to the four years CEO Marissa Mayer led Yahoo through an acquisition binge, snapping up 53 companies for a total of $2.3 billion (£1.6bn), according to a company spokesperson. (Other estimates put that number closer to $2.8 billion (£1.9bn).)
As CEO, Mayer has had the unpleasant honour of leading a company that seemed destined to fail, but that wasn’t always the case. When she took over in mid-2012, employees were so enthusiastic about her arrival that one even photoshopped her face on Obama-style “hope” posters and hung them up around the company’s headquarters. Mayer did her best to live up to lofty expectations. She deployed quick fixes to solve Yahoo’s morale problems, including expanding parental leave and hiring high-profile celebrities to run the company’s media division.
But there was a riskier, more aggressive side to Mayer’s strategy that’s ripe for examination now that Yahoo’s sale is all but certain. Part of Mayer’s rescue plan was an emphasis on growing its “MaVeNS” businesses — an odd acronym for mobile, video, native advertising, and social. Mayer’s acquisition binge was key to this expansion: it was seen as an easy way to add talent and technology the company desperately needed. Mayer has been vocal about the strategy, and it’s clear that the company believes in its success. “If broken out on their own as a company, [the MaVeNS businesses] would undoubtedly be one of the fastest growing startups in the world,” she said during a 2015 earnings call.
The reasons for Yahoo’s decline are complex. But what’s clear is that the MaVeNS and acquisitions rescue strategy hasn’t been able to save the company from itself, despite Mayer’s protestations that it was successful. It’s worth looking, then, at exactly why these deals were made, and what has happened since. In an effort to track the technology and talent that came aboard, as well as track the receipts for the pricey acquisitions, we’ve put together a list of the 53 companies Yahoo gobbled up under Mayer’s watch.
While not every company profile is exhaustive, we’ve done our best to track their whereabouts. Above all else, we wanted to understand why Mayer chose the companies she did, and what value, if any, they added to the company. After all, $2.3 billion (£1.6bn) is a lot of money, especially when the spending doesn’t appear to have paid off the way Mayer had hoped.
Shut downs: Companies that were gutted for talent and tech
According to Yahoo, many of the 53 companies were talent and technology acquisitions, so it should come as no surprise that most promptly shut down post-acquisition. It’s difficult to estimate to what degree each company’s technology was incorporated into Yahoo or its products (if at all), but we’ve made note of it where we found evidence.
As far as the talent acquisition was concerned, Yahoo took what an insider close to the process called a “prescriptive” approach.
“The whole point was, ‘Hey, your company isn’t working, therefore we’re bringing you on for the talent. We’re not interested in the product and service you have in market,” the insider told Gizmodo. These deals were done to bring people into areas that badly needed growth, particularly mobile, which Mayer has said had roughly 50 employees working on it when she joined. The tech acquisitions, on the other hand, were made largely to improve the company’s offerings and consumer products.
1. October 2012: Stamped
This social recommendation app shut down, and according to a company blog post, the team went on to work on Yahoo’s mobile side. They knew Mayer from Google, a connection she would continue to mine with later acquisitions.
2. December 2012: OnTheAir
Like Stamped, this video chat app shut down, and its team was brought on to work on Yahoo’s mobile side, according to the company.
3. January 2013: Snip.it
Snip.it, whose website now redirects to Yahoo’s tech vertical, was described as a “Pinterest-like site for article curation”. It shut down soon after, and most of its team was reported to have joined Yahoo’s ranks.
4. February 2013: Alike
5. March 2013: Jybe
Co-founder Arnab Bhattacharjee told TechCrunch that the recommendation app’s technology would be folded into Yahoo products, but the service itself shut down. The team joined Yahoo, where they had all worked before.
6. March 2013: Summly
The news-reading app famous for having teenager Nick D’Aloisio as its founder, who shut it down post-acquisition. He worked at Yahoo until October 2015, and helped create the Yahoo News Digest app. Gizmodo also made him cry once.
Nick D’Aloisio, circa 2012. (Image: Getty)
7. May 2013: Astrid
The productivity app alluded to a shut down in its initial blog post, but it didn’t bury Astrid until August 2013. The whole team reportedly joined Yahoo’s mobile division; its founder, Tim Su, still works there, according to his LinkedIn page.
8. & 9. May 2013: GoPollGo and Milewise
The teams of both companies — a real-time polling service and a travel website, respectively — joined the Yahoo mobile team at the same time, according to a statement provided to TechCrunch at the time. Both also shut down.
10. June 2013: Rondee
The conference calling service stopped accepting new users when it was acquired, and stopped giving users access to old data in August 2013. It also noted the team would be joining Yahoo’s small business team.
11. July 2013: Qwiki
Yahoo let this video creation app live for a little over a year, but then shut it down in November 2014. The team, Yahoo said at the time, “[would] continue to innovate on new digital media experiences for Yahoo users”.
12. July 2013: Xobni
Email services company Xobni — “inbox” spelled backwards — shut down in July 2014. Yahoo insisted then that it had injected “many Xobni-like features into Yahoo Mail”. In 2013, the team said it was joining Yahoo in California.
13. July 2013: Ztelic
The Beijing-based social data analysis company announced its acquisition and shutdown in a (translated) homepage note. The company’s founder, Hao Zheng, was a former Yahoo employee; he and eight other team members joined the company.
14. August 2013: RockMelt
RockMelt was a web browser built for sharing social content, then a news aggregator, but shut down after acquisition. Yahoo said it planned to use the tech, and two co-founders joined Yahoo, according to their LinkedIn profiles.
15. August 2013: IQ Engines
According to a post on its website, IQ Engines, an image recognition startup, shut down to work with Flickr. (In retrospect, that may not have been the best move.) Both co-founders went to work for Yahoo, per their LinkedIn profiles.
16. October 2013: LookFlow
LookFlow was working on image recognition technology, which Yahoo then injected into Flickr. According to the company, LookFlow — as well as IQ Engines — helped develop the deep learning system for Flickr’s auto-tagging feature.
17. October 2013: Bread
18. December 2013: Ptch
The DreamWorks Animation mobile video startup shut down in January 2014. Business Insider reported that Ptch was supposed to merge with Qwiki, another Yahoo purchase, but those talks fell apart, and Mayer bought them separately. Early employees who had equity reportedly didn’t get much in the deal, either.
19. December 2013: EvntLive
The online concert streaming company shut down and said it would be joining Yahoo’s video team. But based on their LinkedIn profiles, it appears that none of the company’s co-founders actually went to work for Yahoo.
20. December 2013: Quik.io
21. December 2013: SkyPhrase
SkyPhrase focused on natural language processing technology. Its CEO, who is now Yahoo’s Director of Sciences, once claimed the technology yielded more accurate results than that of Siri or Wolfram Alpha. The team joined Yahoo Labs.
22. December 2013: PeerCDN
PeerCDN promised to lower bandwidth costs with its peer-to-peer content delivery system. Yahoo confirmed the shut down, and said the team joined the video department. Two of the three co-founders no longer appear to work there.
The three PeerCDN co-founders: John Hiesey, Feross Aboukhadijeh, and Abimanyu Raja. (Image: Hassan Aboukhadijeh)
23. January 2014: Sparq
24. January 2014: Cloud Party
The browser-based virtual game world confirmed its services would shut down. A Yahoo spokesperson said the company was “excited to merge [Cloud Party’s] unique perspective and experience” with its own.
25. January 2014: Incredible Labs
Incredible Labs' personal assistant app Donna was shut down and discontinued, according to a blog post by the startup. Much of the team itself went to work for Yahoo, according to a company representative.
26. February 2014: Distill
Distill aimed to make technical recruiting easier, but a Yahoo spokesperson told Business Insider that it was actually acquired for the team’s previous work with TapJoy, a mobile ad platform. Distill said that its services would cease in March.
27. March 2014: Vizify
Vizify took data from a user’s social media feed and turned it into a pretty visualisation. The team said it would shut down its services, and a Yahoo spokesperson said they would join Yahoo’s “media product organisation”,
28. May 2014: Blink
The Snapchat-esque self-destructing messaging app announced news of its acquisition and shut down in a blog post. A Yahoo spokesperson said the seven-person team would join Yahoo to work on its “smart communication products”.
29. August 2014: ClarityRay
ClarityRay was working on ad blocking technology; according to Yahoo, when its tech and team came aboard, they began working on improving advertisement fraud detection. After the deal closed, ClarityRay’s services shut down.
30. August 2014: Zofari
The recommendation app isn’t in the App Store or Google Play Store, and its website is dead. (Though at the time, TechCrunch reported that the product would stay afloat.) The team went to work on Yahoo’s vertical search side.
31. September 2014: Luminate
32. September 2014: Bookpad
Bookpad made Docspad, a Google Docs-like service that let users to collaborate on documents within an app. Docspad was discontinued that October, and a Yahoo spokesperson said the team would work on Yahoo Mail.
33. October 2014: MessageMe
The messaging app, which was also reportedly being pursued by Snapchat, announced its acquisition and shutdown on October 3rd. It said it would “focus on helping build the best mobile communications products for Yahoo users”.
Companies with multiple apps that were shut down
While most of the above companies or apps were single products, some of Mayer’s acquisitions were software makers or app makers, and had more than one product. The following products were shut down or discontinued as a result of the acquisitions.
34. May 2013: Loki Studios
35. June 2013: Ghostbird Software
36. July 2013: Bignoggins Productions
Bignoggins’ sole full-time employee, founder Jerry Shen, was brought in to work on Yahoo Fantasy. His two fantasy sports apps were taken down, but he said in a blog post that “the technology driving those apps will be integrated into Yahoo’s own offerings”. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the case for long: Shen was fired from Yahoo in 2015, allegedly because he opened a company email with, “Wuddup my n*****, Ice Cube here,” apparently in reference to the movie Straight Outta Compton.
37. October 2013: Hitpost
The team of sports mobile app maker Hitpost joined Yahoo Sports and shut down its services at the same time it announced the acquisition. It also said its team of seven would be joining Yahoo Sports in California.
38. January 2014: Tomfoolery
The mobile app lab’s products, Anchor and Action, were discontinued. Some of its employees, including its CEO, Kakul Srivastava, were former Yahoos, and at least some of the team returned to the purple company’s halls.
39. June 2014: Photoful and PhotoDrive
PhotoSocial and PhotoDrive came from Jeff Bargmann, who was targeted in what looked to be a straight talent grab. He came on to work for Flickr — his apps focused on photo sharing and storage — and he shut down both projects.
40. July 2014: RayV
Mayer reportedly acquired the online video streaming startup in part to compete with YouTube. The tech was integrated into Yahoo’s video delivery network while its platform shut down. Most of its team joined Yahoo in Israel.
41. November 2014: Cooliris
Upon acquisition, Cooliris — maker of the photo apps Cooliris for Mobile and BeamIt — said its services would continue. However, while BeamIt is still available for download, it no longer appears to work for new users; Cooliris for Mobile carries a similar message. Yahoo said it was “excited” to welcome 17 employees.
Companies that continued in existing divisions
Not all of Yahoo’s acquisitions were simple talent- or product-grabs. Some of the companies that came aboard were allowed to continue to varying degrees, whether that meant rebranding under Yahoo’s name or continuing as subsidiaries. Some of them, like BrightRoll and Flurry, were what Yahoo terms strategic acquisitions — marquee buys that designed to be “transformational”.
42. July 2013: Lexity
Lexity’s path at Yahoo has been somewhat muddled. When it was acquired, the e-commerce app company said it would eventually adopt Yahoo branding. In 2015, that division rebranded and became Luminate, which in turn was part of Aabaco Small Business. That company was supposed to be spun off from Yahoo as part of the Alibaba spin off, but Yahoo reversed that decision in December. Lexity CEO Amit Kumar joined Yahoo Small Business in the original deal, but he left the company in 2014.
43. January 2014: Aviate
Yahoo turned Aviate, the smart homescreen app for Android, into Yahoo Aviate Launcher. At the time, Aviate said its tech and product would stay the same, but would “get better, faster”. Yahoo noted that Aviate’s team would join its own.
44. July 2014: Flurry
45. November 2014: BrightRoll
Yahoo bought the video advertising platform for $640 million in cold, hard cash, but the jury is still out on whether that was a success. BrightRoll was allowed to continue, albeit with some new Yahoo branding.
46. December 2014: Media Group One
Yahoo purchased Germany’s Media Group One to improve advertising growth in Europe. According to a press release, the company was “expected to continue to operate its business as usual in the short term”, though it’s since been folded in.
A couple of Mayer’s acquisitions, including Tumblr, her crown jewel, are still doing their own thing.
47. May 2013: Tumblr
Even if you’re not intimately familiar with Yahoo’s purchases, you likely know that Tumblr was Yahoo’s prized acquisition. It spent just over a billion dollars on it less than a year after Mayer took over, and promised — in the very next sentence after announcing the deal — “not to screw it up”. It’s still going, although some have questioned whether or not Yahoo has killed its vibe.
48. July 2015: Polyvore
The CEO and team joined Yahoo, but months later, some critics weren’t pleased. “It’s not acceptable to pay $230 million for zombie companies run by former APM [Mayer’s program at Google] members,” one hedge fund manager said in December.
Some acquisitions don’t fit into the above categories: some didn’t have products yet, while others’ assets were divvied up at a later date. In other cases, we weren’t able to explicitly confirm a shut down, but we’ll update if that changes.
49. May 2013: PlayerScale
PlayerScale — a software developer for cross-platform gaming — promised users it would “continue to support the same great games that you love playing today”. But in mid-May of this year, Yahoo announced it was shutting down its Games division, of which PlayerScale was a part. According to Yahoo, the company still owns the technology code licences; the back end services were transferred to The Games Platform Company.
50. July 2013: AdMovate
According to Yahoo, the company hadn’t launched any products when it was acquired, but its mobile ad tech went into Yahoo’s own ad tech. In a blog post, Yahoo said the firm’s engineers would be working with its display ad team.
51. February 2014: Wander
Wander, which focused on content creation habits, said that its Days app would live, but both it and Wander’s websites are dark, and Days is nowhere to be found. Wander said its team was going to work on Yahoo’s mobile and emerging products.
52. October 2013: Tocata Mobile
There’s not much information about the Tocata acquisition out there, and it appears it wasn’t reported on at the time. According to Yahoo, the team went to work on real-time analytics. The mobile commerce company’s website is currently up for sale, and its operations appear to have ceased.
53. July 2014: Leaf SR
Two of the security consulting firm’s employees joined Yahoo and developed the basis of its New York security team, according to the company. Leaf SR’s website is now dark, save for an announcement of the departures.