In startup land, the mandate is to get bought, go public or die trying.
And, as far as getting bought goes, one of tech’s Big Five could be a desirable acquirer. They have a lot of weight to throw around. Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft account for a titanic amount of market value — close to $3.9 trillion at time of writing. At least, that’s according to Crunchbase News’s dashboard of notable tech stocks.
When challenged by one another, these hulking behemoths of the tech sector more often fight than flee. And when challenged by a scrappy upstart, it is likely that they will gobble up the talent, technology and business of any aspiring competitor. It’s the circle of life.
And it’s those acquisitions we’re going to look at here.
Taken together, tech’s Big Five account for a relatively small portion of the overall M&A market. The chart below shows the number of acquisitions made by members of tech’s Big Five from 2007 through 2017. (For reference, Crunchbase records thousands of acquisitions per year.)
But what the Big Five lack in quantity is made up for in size. If you’ll forgive the big-game pun, acquisitions by Big Five account for a lion’s share of big deals in dollar terms.
So, for each of the Big Five, let’s see just how big some of those deals got. We base our analysis on Crunchbase data that, whenever possible, has been cross-checked with public news sources and regulatory filings. We’ll proceed from the most valuable (in market capitalization terms) to the least.
Despite being the most valuable among the Big Five, Apple’s acquisitions are not just among the smallest of the bunch, but also the least disclosed. In other words, out of the deals listed in Crunchbase and elsewhere, most of them don’t have dollar values attached to them. This may speak to Apple’s secretiveness and its tendency to build most of its products and services in-house.
Apple’s biggest M&A deal to date was its $3 billion buyout of Beats Electronics, which is perhaps best known for its flashy wireless headphones. But it’s not the headphones that caught Apple’s eye. Rather, it was its streaming service, which Apple CEO Tim Cook told ReCode’s Peter Kafka was “the first subscription service that really got it right.”
Including the Beats deal, here are the largest M&A deals we were able to find.
It’s hard to find a business vertical Amazon isn’t somehow involved in. Web hosting? Check. White-labeled staples like batteries and paper towels? Check. Doorbells? Check. They apparently sell books online, too.
Now, in all seriousness, Amazon’s $13.7 billion buyout of Whole Foods in June 2017 brought the online shopping giant squarely into the world of brick-and-mortar retail as well. And while the Whole Foods deal was Amazon’s biggest splurge to date, it’s certainly not alone in the company’s collection of commerce company buys. These include Amazon’s buyout of Quidsi (the parent company of Diapers.com and Soap.com, which was the first to offer the free two-day shipping for which Amazon Prime is famous), footwear and clothing retailer Zappos, and Middle Eastern e-commerce site Souq.com.