From Wall Streeters to members of the media, it is not uncommon to hear people wax eloquent about Facebook’s high-profile acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp as prescient moves toward future-proofing the business. But Google’s success with perhaps innocuous-seeming acquisitions often gets overlooked.
The jury is still out on Looker, the data analytics company Google bought to add muscle to its fledgling cloud business for $2.6 billion. Whether or not it turns out to be the next YouTube or next Motorola, it is an interesting bet. In its history, Google has bought over 200 companies, spending quite a substantial chunk of change on them. Many of them were well-known and, in some cases, established businesses — Doubleclick, for example.
However, I want to focus on strategic deals that have helped Google evolve and have kept it a dominant player in the ever-changing Internet ecosystem. Here is my list of their top acquisitions based on the best return on investment for the company and the potential for future-proofing it effectively.
- Android cost them $50 million dollars. After stealing ideas from Apple, Eric Schmidt probably got paid for his Apple directorship. Jokes aside, Android is a data gusher, and it powers everything Google builds. It is why the company has the best maps, the best idea of user behavior and most importantly, why Google Assistant will kick Alexa’s butt.
- YouTube was a crazy bet and it paid off handsomely. They paid $1.65 billion and got what is essentially the next generation of Google Search for a generation that doesn’t much care for text. People laughed at them for buying a company that people used for sharing cat videos and illegal music videos. Look who’s laughing now.
- Acquiring Applied Semantics for $102 million helped Google get Adsense and, with AdWords, become the proverbial Ghawar of the web.
- Urchin Software was a small analytics company, and it has given more contextual and in-depth data to Google than any of its other products. Google Analytics is now a key part of web infrastructure. Without it, few publishers would be able to understand their own business.
- Where2 and Keyhole resulted in Google Earth and Google Maps being part of the location infrastructure. Google Maps is the bridge between physical and digital world. As a result, Google is well positioned to be a major part of the mobile and post-mobile world.
- Postini was picked up by Google for about $625 million, but it improved Google Mail so much that even haters can’t help but appreciate the lack of spam on Google’s platforms.
- Waze cost Google nearly $1 billion dollars, but it is probably more sticky (and certainly less hateful) than Facebook. No Uber or Lyft driver can survive without this auto-routing service. On top of that, all that data being fed into the systems is making Google Maps better and more prepared for the future of autonomous driving.
If you take a step back and look at some of Google’s best bets, you can tell the company and its team at the time were looking at the future strategically. This is the result of an engineering culture that looked at the long term and appreciated the possibilities of technologies. Google Maps and YouTube are essentially “search” but better suited for the new post-desktop world.
This morning’s news that Google was going to include Google Assistant (a.k.a. its Alexa) into Waze is what made me go down this rabbit hole, in case you were wondering. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think Looker will ever make it to the list of top acquisitions from a strategic standpoint. However, it does seem like a good deal, considering that Salesforce paid about $15.6 billion for Tableau.