The most monocle-dropping tech acquisitions of the past five years

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The most monocle-dropping tech acquisitions of the past five years

Looking at the roster of tech’s most notable acquisitions is like opening a time capsule not just of companies, but of the attitudes that surrounded them. For example, Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp makes total sense now, but when the deal was announced in 2014, a lot of people, especially in the U.S., didn’t quite grasp why a messaging app was worth $19 billion. This is a list of tech deals from the past half decade that were surprising because of their size, impact or seeming randomness. Some have paid off, while others (cough*Microsoft-Nokia*cough) remain head-scratchers.


April 2012: Facebook agrees to buy Instagram for $1 billion

Facebook had been working on a standalone photo app, so its acquisition of Instagram wasn’t shocking—but the $1 billion price tag was widely derided because Instagram made no revenue at the time. But the deal has paid off. In its last earnings report, Facebook said Instagram now has 700 million users—a gigantic increase from 30 million when the acquisition was announced. While Instagram’s revenue is still undisclosed, the launch of its Snapchat clone, Stories, was successful enough to pressure Snap’s user growth—sweet revenge considering that Snap CEO Evan Spiegel reportedly turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook in 2013.


May 2013: Yahoo confirms it will buy Tumblr for $1.1 billion

While Yahoo hoped its acquisition of Tumblr would let it tap into younger demographics, the platform’s users were horrified by the deal, reacting in the same way they would have if their parents started their own Tumblrs. Despite Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s now famous promise “not to screw it up,” the company wrote down the value of its Tumblr acquisition two times last year, citing lower-than-projected results.


June 2013: Google agrees to buy Waze for $1.1 billion

It’s not a mystery why Google would be interested in a crowdsourced location app and Waze had been widely viewed as a potential acquisition target for months. The news came as a surprise, however, because speculation had pinned Facebook and Apple as potential buyers, not Google.


August 2013: Amazon says it will pay about $1 billion for Twitch

Like Waze, Twitch was rumored to be an acquisition target, but in this case Google was widely expected to scoop up the game-streaming site. Instead, Amazon ended up being the winner, adding Twitch to its portfolio of entertainment services along with Prime Music and Video.


September 2013: Microsoft enters deal to buy Nokia’s hardware division for $7.2 billion

While many people did not anticipate that Microsoft would buy Nokia’s hardware assets, and certainly not for more than $7 billion, it wasn’t a complete shocker because the two companies had already partnered on the Windows Phone. Now the deal is most notable for being a giant flop. In 2015, Microsoft wrote down $7.6 billion related to the acquisition, at the same time it announced 7,800 layoffs, mostly in its phone business, due to lower-than-expected revenue and unit volume.


January 2014: Google announces acquisition of Deepmind for more than $500 million

Back in 2014, the deal was a surprise simply because many people did not know about DeepMind, an artificial intelligence startup. Since then, DeepMind’s technology has gained notoriety for milestones like beating the top human players of Go, an infamously challenging abstract strategy board game.


February 2014: Rakuten says it will buy Viber for $900 million

The Rakuten-Viber marriage was impressive until Facebook announced its $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp less than a week later, stealing Viber’s thunder. Viber now says it has more than 800 million users, but it has not released updated user metrics in years, so it’s difficult to tell how it stacks up against WhatsApp and other rivals.


February 2014: Facebook announces purchase of WhatsApp for $19 billion

TechCrunch reported on a rumored Facebook-WhatsApp deal all the way back in 2012, but this was when many people–at least in the U.S.–still saw messaging apps as mere SMS replacements. So Facebook’s agreement to pay $19 billion for WhatsApp blew many minds when it was announced two years laterWhen the deal was confirmed, WhatsApp had over over 450 million monthly active users, with 70 percent of those active each day. In July Facebook announced that WhatsApp has hit 1 billion daily users.


March 2014: Facebook announces it will acquire Oculus Rift for $2 billion

Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift seemed a bit random–why would a social media network agree to pay billions for a virtual reality startup? While virtual reality has yet to reach its full potential, almost every big tech company (Google, Samsung, HTC, Intel, Qualcomm, etc) now has a VR headset, so Facebook’s long-term strategy still looks prescient, even though it enraged Oculus Rift’s early Kickstarter backers.


October 2015: Dell agrees to buy EMC for $67 billion

Not only is this the largest tech acquisition in history so far, but most people did not see it coming. In fact, Adrian McDonald, EMC’s president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said Dell’s offer came as a surprise to the company, which wasn’t looking for a buyer.


July 2016: Microsoft agrees to acquired LinkedIn for $26.2 billion

Despite its jaw-dropping price tag, Microsoft’s deal with LinkedIn made sense because it’s been gradually building its enterprise social media strategy since buying Yammer for $1.2 billion in 2012 (it also reportedly considered a $8 billion bid for Slack last year).


August 2016: Didi Chuxing confirms it agreed to buy Uber China

When Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing app, said it planned to acquire Uber’s Chinese unit to form a combined entity reportedly worth $35 billion, it was a major setback for Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. In recently revealed text messages, Kalanick seemed to think that conquering the world’s largest Internet market would be relatively straightforward. “The way you keep China in check is showing up when they ask every once in a while,” he wrote just five months before the deal was announced.


January 2017: Cisco says it will acquire AppDynamics for $3.7 billion

Cisco’s announcement was a surprise because it came just days before AppDynamics’ highly-anticipated IPO. The acquisition was a pure data play and doubled AppDynamics’ previous valuation of $1.9 billion.


June 2017: Amazon agrees to buy Whole Foods in deal worth $13.7 billion

Finalized in August, the acquisition dramatically accelerates Amazon’s grocery business and is bad news for basically every grocery delivery startup–as well as major retailers like Walmart, Target and Costco, which saw their shares tumble in reaction to the announcement. The deal has already resulted in price cuts at Whole Foods and inspired some, um, intriguing meat sculpture.