Microsoft paid $240 million for a 1.6% stake in Facebook, valuing the rapidly uglifying website at an impressive $15 billion. Given that this comes shortly after Ebay finally admitted it overspent for Skype by several billion dollars, many people must be wondering why Microsoft would pay so much for ?
It’s simple. This pretty trivial investment (for MS) raises the cash barrier to entry for new startups and makes it several times more expensive for companies like Google/Yahoo/Ebay/Sun/Apple/Adobe to buy new technolgies. MS isn’t that concerned about crazy runups in Web 2 bubble valuations because it’s got its extraordinarily profitable Office business just ticking along nicely coining it a cool $1 billion per month. Microsoft always sees these things as long drawn-out battles of attrition. Inflating the bubble some more will just bleed the major Silicon Valley players and divert them as they scramble over each other to over-pay for me-too companies.
Maybe this will push Yahoo into an acquisiton binge again. Given that it apparently retains some institutional memory of how completely it was FUBAR’d during the last bubble, it has been unusually parsimonious in its acquisitions this time around. Except for occasional splurges on companies like Flickr and Delicious, it has been notably reticent to get involved in major investment pissing matches. This caution has been negatively interpreted by the CNBC and webvangelist heads and led to a restriction in Yahoo’s valuation compared to other, more hyped stocks. Ironically, this has left it less able to bid up crazy valuations. Who knows? Microsoft’s play here might spark a Yahoo run-up?