When Netflix announced this week that it acquired Night School Studio, a Los Angeles-area narrative game developer, the deal stood out on a couple fronts. First, it offers a hint of faster strategic shifts ahead for the streaming giant as it accelerates plans to expand into the gaming space. Secondly, in what concerns us here, buying any company is an unusual step for Netflix, which has a famously slim track record for M&A.
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In a survey of the least acquisitive giant technology companies a few years ago, Netflix took a leading slot. To date, the company has never bought a venture-backed startup, per Crunchbase data. In its 24-year history, it’s made just three known purchases: children’s media brand StoryBots and comic publisher Millarworld, and now, Night School.
Could Netflix be shifting its attitude toward M&A? It’s notable that all of its purchases have been in roughly the past four years. And while the Los Gatos, California-based company hasn’t bought VC-funded startups, it does a lot of big-ticket licensing deals, spending around $8 billion on content in the first half of 2021.
Plus, Netflix certainly has the means to do more buying. It’s currently valued around $270 billion, with billions in cash on the balance sheet.
Other giant companies that don’t buy many startups
Beyond Netflix, several other ultrahigh-valuation companies that weren’t into buying startups in our first survey have picked up the pace. Below, we revisit some of the names on our old list, and add some new ones from among the ranks of the 30 most valuable American public companies.
While not a big startup acquirer on our first list, Nvidia has since proven willing to spend massively on M&A. Last year, the graphics chipmaker reached an agreement to pay $40 billion for semiconductor industry heavyweight Arm Holdings, a deal that still faces regulatory hurdles.
Beyond the Arm tie-up, Nvidia has also been flexing its M&A muscle with some smaller purchases. Acquisitions since last year include DeepMap, an autonomous vehicle mapping upstart; Cumulus Networks, a networking software developer; and SwiftStack, a private cloud storage provider. All are venture-backed.
The takeaway: Nvidia is now a pretty active startup acquirer, a change of pace from a few years ago. It helps to have huge equity. Shares have roughly quadrupled in the past year, pushing Nvidia’s market capitalization to over $500 billion.
It seems Elon Musk can say (or Tweet) whatever he wants, and Tesla shares just keep soaring higher. The electric-car maker is currently valued around $780 billion, with the stock up over 800 percent since the beginning of 2020.
But while Tesla could certainly afford to buy lots of startups, it hasn’t historically been much of an acquirer. The carmaker has made nine acquisitions to date, per Crunchbase data (see list). Of those, just two were private, venture-backed companies: battery technology company Springpower (acquired this year), and autonomous vehicle technology provider DeepScale (acquired in 2019).
The Home Depot
Valued at around $350 billion, The Home Depot’s market cap has been on a pretty steady upward trajectory for over a decade, with shares currently around record highs. Ask any property owner how much they’ve spent there in recent years on repairs and upgrades, and it’s not hard to see why.
But despite its lofty market cap and enormous revenue, Home Depot hasn’t been much of a startup acquirer. Its last startup purchase was in 2019, for Askuity, a retail and supplier analytics provider. Over the years, the retailer has been reasonably acquisitive, with 19 deals in the Crunchbase dataset. But of those, only a few are funded startups, none of which had disclosed deal prices.
Moreover, it’s not that there aren’t companies to buy. A Crunchbase analysis of funding to U.S. home services-focused startups this summer found at least $1.4 billion invested over the prior year.
People spend astonishing sums on footwear. The size of the global sneaker market alone is estimated at around $79 billion, and projected to grow to $127 billion by the end of 2027.
These stats bode well for Nike, the most valuable name in athletic footwear, with a market value around $230 billion. But while Nike has a long track record for excelling in a competitive growth market, acquiring startups hasn’t historically been a big part of its strategy.
Data shows Nike’s startup M&A pace is picking up. In the past four years, it’s acquired Datalogue, an AI-enabled data platform; TraceMe, a sports media upstart; Celect and Zodiac, two predictive analytics platforms for retailers; and Invertex, a 3D foot-scanning startup. Over the past 33 years, meanwhile, Nike has made a total of 10 disclosed acquisitions, per Crunchbase data. (See list.)
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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