Microsoft and Linkedin – not an obvious slam dunk

        Microsoft recently this June has reached a deal to acquire LinkedIn for $26.2 Billion and not going too much into whether the shareholders and regulators would approve it, let us assume for this blog this is a done deal.  Yes, slam dunk used here intentionally as the NBA finals where Cleveland managed to beat the favorites Golden State is still fresh in everyone’s mind.   And the title is relevant another way as well because Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft, owns the Portland Trail Blazers team.

      Microsoft is buying LinkedIn at a price that is about 25% less than its all-time high, but still at a 50% premium from where it is presently.  There are about a third of all the global working professionals as members of LinkedIn.  Although we see LinkedIn as more a professional C2C social network, of late, it has been trying to get into the social space much to the annoyance of the members already there.  For that, the LinkedIn members believe there is a Facebook.   What may not be obvious it that they are already big in the B2B space in terms of recruitment which  seems to be their cash cow today.

    Yes, LinkedIn gets most of its revenues through licenses and subscription charges from the recruitment space with their Recruitment platform and the Talent Solutions offering.  It has been faced with hard reality recently – slowing growth and has been offering weak financial guidance, and they would have been eager to jump on any sugar daddy that came their way.  Salesforce, a CRM giant, was also in the reckoning to buy them, as admitted by their CEO, but their valuation of LinkedIn was much lower.   By selling at a premium, LinkedIn seems to have made its shareholders rich given this may have been its only option, as even the ads business was slowing down.  Office 365 for Microsoft has been growing well for the past two years and has displaced Google in this space – a big enterprise cloud play by Microsoft.  Ah Hah:  Licenses & Annual Subscription + Office 365 = Good Synergy in Business Model?    Also their combined strength may also give them better revenue in the ads space.

    When one does the math, Microsoft has paid about $60 for each of the 433 Million members professional data (mostly), their connection details, their group subscriptions and some of the personal information that one has shared(contact numbers, education, email etc.).  If the premium was not there, your information was only worth $40 for Microsoft.  And Microsoft rightfully feels they got a steal.  Compare it to what Facebook paid for WhatsApp in 2013, $19B for about 600 million users, which works out to approximately $31 per head and that too only for your phone numbers!  Some social network experts said Facebook paid only $2B for WhatsApp users which works out to $3.33 for each phone number, and 4/5th of the money paid was more out of “Goodwill”, whatever that means.  When Facebook got Instagram the previous year for $1B for 30M users which worked out to $33 per user for the photos they shared but an evaluation by a leading bank couple of years later put that value at $80 per user as it had grown well and big under Facebook (Facebook announced they had 1B active mobile users in Instagram in April 2014).  Not bad for Mark (What a purchase, he can say!), whose main revenue source is ‘ads’ and more the user, merrier he can be.  Once he integrates his acquisition well, a business model would eventually evolve to monetize the entire user base and they get to strike gold.  Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch is the old adage and it still applies.   Can you and I live without WhatsApp now – we are all hooked and addicted which is making Facebook smile. Every corporate need to make money for their stakeholders and for the rich to become richer, right?

       LinkedIn on its own had made some purchases recently – Lynda which offers video tutorials and training and a great online medium for learning, and Connectifier which  uses AI and machine learning  solutions to search for appropriate profiles for talent acquisition.  Again, once integrated, with a solid analytics engine, this can be a money bagger for anyone who has the names, their connections, what they want to learn, and whom they want to recruit, with all data available open without any privacy issues as you had built your own LinkedIn profile, viewable to all. And campus placement would just get easier with the lowering of the age of LinkedIn membership to 14 and the Student portal available so that students have access to all the best places they want to join.   

       Recruitment in years to come is never going to be paper resume based, it is purely going to be a social recruiting through digital profile play – by going digital, we get to see the associations that the person has, conference and groups (s) he attends and recommendation he may have from previous bosses and sub-ordinates which may speak a lot about the candidate.   Hiring processes can become very fast and even passive candidates who seem to be better fits can be lured into new opportunities.  Data analytics of unstructured data would make Microsoft guide you what you want to learn next, whom you want to meet next, what you want to write about to get noticed, and above all, unknowingly the next job falling on your lap without you even applying for it.  In short, if all works out great, LinkedIn may be the sole or primary Learning and Development, and Recruitment solution of the WORLD. Whaav… now it is making some sense, is it not? They would wish that everyone pays them to avail their services.

      Microsoft, mapping it back to the 1980s has either acquired companies for the information, data and content that they possess or to kill a potential competitor that is the wings. They acquired top software engineers from Xerox to develop their WORD, bought out Forethought which had a presentation program to develop PowerPoint and bought out Fox Software for their FoxPro and had Access use their database engine.  They acquired Hotmail with 8.5 million subscribers then in the 90s and integrated them to their MSN services.  Their later bigger acquisitions from 2000-2015 like Visio for their graphics software, Skype technologies for their VoIP service Skype, Nokia for their smartphone hardware capabilities and Yammer, a smaller version of LinkedIn for their intra-organization social networking utility have not paid them much dividends.  In fact, Nokia acquisition may have been their biggest mistake to date.  Consumers do not want to see a Desktop like UI on their phones as well and they would like to pick and choose what apps and games they want to possess and the Store part of the Windows story did not offer them much. With an enterprise mindset that Satya Nadella comes with, I guess their phone business would just be an also ran but cloud software and services is where they want to invest and capitalize on.

     With LinkedIn, they may have hit a jackpot, depending on whom you talk to.  They get a huge free database of about a third of the world’s workforce, with a constant profile page for every professional and a reachable email to connect with, and a sense of their network across the world – they get your digital business card stored which is paper-less and easily accessible, and they can keep track of you and manage your relationship as well.  For now, LinkedIn is their CRM bounty.  They get to build their own bigger CRM around LinkedIn, many of the relationships already coming in for free.  Combine that with the fact that they would own the single biggest asset of the world in terms of recruitment and learning and development that you and I have to pay for to use, they are smiling to their bank all the way.    And I am sure there is more to it in this acquisition than what I can infer as an outsider through this blog.

     Just as a baseline, the top four  staffing  and recruitments companies(Adecco, Manpower, Randstad and Allegis) generate a combined revenue of about $70 billion and up, and even if LinkedIn gets 10% of this in the next 5 years, $7 billion revenue is not something to be sneezed at.   Talent solutions (Hiring and L&D) division today generates nearly 2/3rd of its total revenue and is in the order of $1.9B the year closing 2015 with projections in 2016 to be around 20% above this number.  For a $93B company like Microsoft, adding another 5% to the total revenue over the next few years would take them to a privileged $100B club just through LinkedIn. They seem to be SMAC on target.

   Integration being a challenge in any of these large name companies coming together in terms of employees and organizations, that apart, once a cohesive story builds up around the combined entity in the next couple of years, we would most likely see a subscription model that everyone has to pay for, and they may not be alone with Facebook also likely to follow that route and users like us are stuck because we need to pay for our addiction for these cloud services. It would not be big news if they get to invest in some telecom company for their technology and infrastructure so that they get to rule the way we communicate globally all the way. Google would not be sitting and twiddling its thumb either– we will have to wait for some action on their front and their story to fall in place.  Stay tuned.

    In the meantime back to basketball, we are in the fourth quarter of the seventh game of the conference finals and the scores are tied.  It is time for the real players to make it count and win the game.

   How it all started?  On the evening of the day when the news of acquisition came out. I was sipping coffee with my friend, and asked him a simple “Why”? He drew a blank, just like me, but his wife sitting next to him who works for a leading job portal said “The value is in recruitment, stupid”. Now I get it, that too after a week… Whoever said “A woman can never be wrong” is absolutely right!

 The author of this blog is a business and technology consultant and a corporate trainer for Business Intellects based out Bengaluru, India.

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