Category Archives: Money

Zillow to Buy Trulia; Will Pursue Twin Brand Strategy

Zillow is buying Trulia, its chief rival, for $3.5 Billion in stock. The two companies – both nine years old — have a lot of overlap currently. But after the deal closes in 2015, they will seek to develop two differentiated marketplaces for real estate-related information, which includes house sales, rentals, mortgage and related national and local advertising.

As the acquiring company, Zillow would focus on “top of funnel” awareness advertising. Trulia, meanwhile, would focus more on specific agent-related, final purchase (or rental)- related advertising. According to ComScore, Zillow attracted 83 million unique visitors in June, while Trulia attracted 53 million. Roughly half of Trulia’s visitors do not visit Zillow.

The proposed purchase price, roughly $70.53 a share, represents a 25 percent premium over Trulia’s current stock price. Combined revenues from both companies could produce $721 Million in 2015 under present conditions, according to estimates by Benchmark Research. Separately, the companies estimate $100 million a year in cost savings by eliminating redundancy. Under terms of the agreement, Trulia CEO Pete Flint will report to Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff.

In our view, the primary goal of the acquisition isn’t to build the one-two punch of differentiated real estate sites, or even to maximize cost savings from eliminating overlap. Mostly, it takes Trulia out as a rival company, and per GeekWire, it also ends apparent merger talks between Trulia and Move.com, the #3 Real Estate site that controls the NAR’s Realtor.com site. (It also isn’t the first time Trulia has considered selling itself. Google apparently was interested in buying the site in 2009 when it was pursuing a major listings effort).

Over the next several years,the effort to differentiate the two sites make more sense than to collapse them into one brand. Such a strategy would be reminiscent of what AutoTrader.com has accomplished with KBB.com; The Weather Co. has accomplished with Weather Underground; and what Match.com has accomplished with the purchase of several dating verticals.

Winning national advertising dollars is especially viewed as a key growth area. Zillow has budgeted $45 million in marketing dollars this year to accelerate that effort. Zillow, perhaps best known for its controversial Z-Estimates, sees a unique advertising market among speculative home browsers, targeting everything from landscapers to auto companies. Trulia, meanwhile, has been less controversial than Zillow in the Realtor community and might be a better brand for Realtors to work with.

Will there be anti-trust issues? Both Zillow and Trulia tend to draw from Realtors and brokerages that are digitally minded in their advertising. Zillow head Rascoff, however, suggests that the market is nascent and represents less than 3 percent of the $12 Billion market in real estate advertising.

We don’t know about that. The reality is that the two companies actually tie up a great deal of the linkages between real estate advertising and distributors, such as the search engines, local media companies and others. But ultimately, it probably falls short of real anti- trust concern.

Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff at a recent BIA/Kelsey conference

A Look at Yodle’s $75 Million IPO Filing

Yodle — part of the class of 2005-2007 SEM-focused Independent Sales Organizations that took on traditional local sales organizations — filed this week for an IPO that could raise $75 Million.

The filing provides insights into Yodle’s evolution, and the evolution of the local online sales space overall, which has moved towards cloud-based automation. As Yodle notes, it not only provides its customers with an online presence, but mobile and social presences as well.

“Businesses need a comprehensive digital presence that includes a professional quality website that is easily discoverable and optimized for mobile devices, exposure on leading online directories and ratings and reviews sites, and tools to communicate with customers via email, text messages and social media” notes Yodle in the filing.

The company’s customer base currently consists of 44,800 local businesses, making it one of the largest sales groups. These customers helped it achieve revenues of $161.9 million in 2013, with the average customer of its flagship product paying under $300 a month – or less than half what they’d have to spend if they purchased similar functionality a la carte, says the company.

Many of Yodle’s customers belong to one of several vertical categories. For instance, the company reports that it has account relationships with 6,400 dentists (out of 166,500); 4,500 plumbing, heating and air conditioning contractors(out of 226,500); 3,400 lawyers (out of 165,000 ) and 1,200 landscapers (out of 459,600).

Yodle has also focused increasingly on servings “brand networks” — national franchisors, manufacturers and multi-location businesses that are targeting locally. As the space evolves, the competitive picture has evolved as well. Yodle’s filing notes that rivals for local business marketing budgets now include a wide range of players, including traditional Yellow Pages, direct mail campaign providers and advertising and listings services on local newspapers, magazines, television and radio.

Other competitors include online search engines, online business directories, providers of digital presence offerings (i.e. GoDaddy, Main Street Hub, Web.com); providers of digital marketing solutions, such as SEM companies; and productivity and office management tools, such as Constant Contact, Demandforce, MailChimp and Solutionreach.

Priceline Moves Upscale via $2.6 Billion OpenTable Acquisition

Priceline is sort of like eBay – a company known for its origins in auctions, but more recently focusing on distinct, “buy it now” niches. It has recently fleshed out its core travel brand by moving up the value chain to travel reservations via its acquisition of Kayak. It has also gotten into the “sharing economy” by adding AirBnB-like private listings to its Booking.com brand, which is an international powerhouse.

Today, Priceline added restaurant reservations and search to its stable via the $2.6 Billion purchase of industry leader OpenTable, which works with 31,000 restaurants – mostly high end white table cloth restaurants willing to pay a hefty premium for reservations management and leads to undecided consumers. Open Table is an international leader with strong customer bases in the U.S., U.K.,, Germany, Japan and Mexico.

For Priceline, the most attractive parts of the deal are probably OpenTable’s 15 million, high end, travel-oriented customers; the company’s verified, high quality restaurant reviews; OpenTable’s strong mobile orientation; and its extensive affiliate network with 600+ local and vertical sites, which receive commissions for sending traffic to OpenTable (and accounting for 5-10 percent of OpenTable’s business.) These networks might be extended to include other Priceline properties.

There is probably some disconnect with OpenTable’s high-end customer base and Priceline’s discount set – most OpenTable customers won’t be using Priceline itself. And an effort to extend OpenTable’s feature set with Groupon-like deals proved to be underwhelming (although the company has maintained an extensive and apparently successful “Dining Checques” loyalty program). Many OpenTable customers are also not using the service in travel mode — they are local.

Still, OpenTable customers might use the other services. And the seamless Priceline app experience could also be applied as mobile becomes a paramount factor for all travel services.

A larger question we’d have is the core of OpenTable’s value proposition for restaurants: the reservations management system, which is based on dedicated customer premise equipment (known as The Electronic Reservations Book.) The average ERB using restaurant pays $249 for the service (plus $1.00 per seated diner using the OpenTable system.) But in the age of tablet-based POS and reservations services using WiFI, OpenTable’s proprietary system would seem threatened.

So far, it has held its own against such tablet-oriented companies as UrbanSpoon’s Rez and Groupon‘s Breadcrumb – OpenTable’s base of customers is too strong to quickly turn off. OpenTable itself is preparing for a transition. Yet, it has been developing a Cloud Based program that charge a $2.49 per diner charge.

Structurally, we also ask ourselves whether OpenTable is in a distinct “high end restaurant reservations silo,” where it now sits; or whether it is really part of a developing “food silo” that is based on search and discovery, would also include reviews; restaurant and fastfood delivery (i.e. GrubHub), grocery delivery (Amazon Fresh, Google) and reviews (Yelp.) Priceline might be positioning itself to be in the right of the middle of these conjoining elements. (then again….the new silo might ultimately be oriented more around delivery).

More Exec Changes at ReachLocal Amidst Advertiser Growth

We’re watching ReachLocal closely, and note some changes at the company. Reach has been pushing the envelope as it transitions from a company that is largely dependent on reselling search and display to one that has a deeper relationship with SMBs via a wide range of platform services – and a direct relationship with consumers as well via service leads, placement and transactions.

Today, during its 3rd quarter earnings call, Reach announced the departure of President (and SMB Digital Marketing Keynoter) Nathan Hanks. Hanks follows founder Zorik Gordon out the door and will be replaced by CRO Josh Claman, who joined the company in August 2012 from Dell and NCR. Interim CEO (and DoubleClick Cofounder) David Carlick remains in place.

The announcement was made during the company’s Third Quarter earnings, which emphasized that the company has expanded its advertiser base 11 percent from a year ago, to 24,600. It also grew its advertiser campaigns 11 percent , and now has 34,600 active campaigns.

Additionally, international operations in 16 countries have become increasingly important to the company’s revenue mix, with 34 percent of its revenue now coming from international, up from 29 percent in 2012.

GrubHub, Seamless Merge; Mobile Drives Food Ordering Growth


Photo: CNN

Online restaurant ordering and discovery giants GrubHub and Seamless have agreed to merge their operations, creating a single company. Chicago-based GrubHub currently serves more than 20,000 food ordering establishments in 500 cities, while New York-based Seamless serves more than 12,000 food ordering establishments in 400 U.S. cities plus London.

GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney, who co-founded the company in 2004, keeps the CEO job. Seamless CEO Jonathan Zabusky becomes president. Zabusky recently came on to spin off the operation from Aramark, the corporate catering giant.
The two companies had been going head-to-head in a number of their markets. Both share a vision of the food ordering business being rapidly transformed via smart phone.

We had an extensive discussion with Zabusky in March. At that time, he noted that Seamless had two million regular users and grossed $85 Million in topline revenues in 2012. It projects $100 million in top line revenue in 2013, with major growth seen in coming years.

The company has had a strong foothold in the corporate market, providing food ordering and delivery to law firms, tech firms and investment houses. But its major effort has been focused on the consumer side, which has been experiencing year-over-year growth of 60 percent.

The company has 300 people in three major offices, as well as field based sales. While it is best known for its strong business in Manhattan, where it recently opened a 28,000 square foot facility, Zabusky notes that the company has a strong presence in 13 major U.S. markets. He added that Seamless had “a major national expansion strategy,” and was well-situated to execute it with a customer care center in Salt Lake City.

The key to growth, said Zabusky, was to keep selling new products and features to its food establishment partners. “We don’t make money unless they make more money.”

Zabusky noted that Seamless has been processing electronic order forms, and providing electronic terminals, along with table side ordering apps. Generally, its focus is to move restaurants away from fax machines, and away from phone calls and paper, which he says remains the segment’s biggest competition.

With Seamless, restaurants move up to a “multi-platform portal,” where they could “view, confirm and track orders,” he said. Restaurants also leverage Seamless and its vast network for discovery and retention. For instance, it offers different deals on different days to keep customers coming back. “It is very different than the daily deals space,” he said.

The industry’s transformation via mobile, however, is expecially key. Zabusky says it represents 40 percent of the total business, up from 10 percent a year ago. But for online food ordering, mobile doesn’t just represent a phone. The company’s best customers use the PC-based Web, phones and tablets, he says. “Thirty percent of the mobile volume comes from the iPad.”

After the merger is completed, major competitors for the combined company will include Living Social, which has recently bet big on online food ordering; Delivery.com, which claims a roster of almost 10,000 restaurants in 50 cities; and Eat24.com, which covers 20,000 restaurants in 1,000 cities across the country.

Chase Buys Bloomspot; Banks Continue Invasion of Deals Space

Another bank has telegraphed its strategy in the offers and loyalty space. JP Morgan Chase, the nation’s second largest bank after Bank of America, announced today that it had purchased Bloomspot.

The acquisition follows MasterCard’s recent purchase of TruAxis and BarclayCard’s purchase of Analog Analytics. Other banks have partnered with transaction marketing vendors, which include Cardlytics (Bank of America), Cartera and Edo Interactive.

Bloomspot is an interesting choice for Chase, which has previously done low key trials of deals in several markets with different vendors. Co-founded by ex-Yahoo Local execs Jasper Malcolmson, Frazier Miller and Ashish Baidua, the 100 person, San Francisco-based company had raised $46.1 Million, but apparently needed to make a deal – it has been cutting back on expenses in recent months.

What it brings to the table for Chase is a presence in 11 major markets, and a loyalty focus. Rather than directing its attention on building a giant consumer list a la Groupon and Living Social, it has instead worked with merchants to reach their best customers. It reports that 62 percent of its subscribers opt in to its loyalty program, and 92 percent spend above the deal value, compared to 59 percent for other deal sites.

Bloomspot has not, however, built a card -linked solution — which might be considered a strategic necessity for a major credit card vendor like Chase. This means that Chase may still be in the market to work with one of the key vendors (or build its own.)

Notes from Seattle Interactive: Microsoft and the Multi-Device User

Hot trends in Web and marketing were all on display this week at Seattle Interactive, a large regional show with 190 speakers and an audience largely comprised of Northwest agencies, startups and technologists.

The change in media was brilliantly illustrated by a single question posed by a speaker. “How many of you responded to a Nielsen diary entry since this session started? (no hands raised) And how many of you have updated your social media status or posted?”(many hands).

Big data, social media, responsive web sites and all things mobile were among the key topics at the event. And so, clearly, was the hoped for revival of Microsoft, which is sharply pivoting with the launch of Windows 8 to a multi-device outlook.

The mixed reviews that have greeted Windows 8 suggest its strategy may have trouble catching on. There are deeper issues, too. Last week, at OMMA M Commerce in LA, fewer than four people in an audience of 80+ raised their hands when agencies and developers were asked if they were planning to support Windows 8. Apple iOS and Android rule the nest, for now.

But the turf at Seattle Interactive is naturally friendly to Microsoft. At least 5 percent of the phones were Windows phones (OK, not many). But you could see that the company’s dramatic gyrations energizing much of the tech community.

One of Microsoft’s big initiatives is to be the first of the major Website leaders to engage the “responsive Web” to personalize solutions and conquer “message overload” and “channel attribution.”

Those are “old world problems, “ noted Microsoft General Manager Abe Thomas, during a conference keynote . The “new world” problems, he says, are “social noise.” A leader will develop strategies for the new multi- device consumer, “who wants a specific device in front of them at different times.”

The challenge is the tremendous fragmentation among the operating systems, and now, the devices as well. Sixty percent of iPad owners have an Android device, not an iPhone, Blackberry or Windows phone, he notes. Almost everyone has a Windows PC. “Sooner or later, you will say: Microsoft, Apple, Google – Get it together.”

Microsoft isn’t necessarily working to work inter-operably, but it is “living and breathing the customer journey,” becoming more transparent, and “knowing and respecting the competition,” he says.