Since its founding in 1998, Google has become one the biggest companies in the world by growing both internally and through almost 100 acquisitions. Some of the companies it bought were already well-known, such as YouTube and DoubleClick. While those purchases were in the billions of dollars, several smaller companies flying below the radar of most people have also been brought into the Google family. (These deals can make or break investors' returns. Find out how to tell the difference. See Analyzing An Acquisition Announcement.)
IN PICTURES: Companies Built On A Single Product
SayNow was founded in 2005 with the mission of creating new and entertaining ways for people to communicate. Based in Palo Alto, California, it secured startup financing from Tugboat Ventures, Altos Ventures and Shasta Ventures. It developed and built a hosted platform and several applications that are now engaged by a user community of 15 million people. The company was acquired by Google in January 2011 and will be merged with Google Voice.
One popular product is SayNow Broadcast, which enables users to broadcast, receive messages and chat individually or in groups. These conversations can be instantly integrated into social networking platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, as well as applications for iPhones and Android smartphones.
- Phonetic Arts
Formed in the summer of 2006 in the United Kingdom, Phonetic Arts quickly rose to prominence in computer gaming. Its client list includes EA Sports, Sony and Ninja Theory. It specializes in providing dynamic speech solutions allowing the creation of synthetic voices that sound naturally expressive. This revolutionary technology has eliminated the constraints of prerecorded voices and allowed game manufacturers to produce extremely realistic and interactive dialogue. The result is the ability to say any sentence with an unlimited choice of voices. (Learn more about the gaming industry in Play Video Games; Become A Millionaire.)
The company's products are bundled into a graphical set of tools that allows game developers to create synthetic voices without being experts in the technology themselves. The technology will be available to both high-end game console makers and smaller scale application developers that cater to hand-held devices. By acquiring the company in December 2010, Google committed its financial muscle to an emerging growing business segment.
If you've ever wondered where some of the technology for the Chrome browser came from, the answer may lie within an acquisition Google made in May 2007. At the time, the acquisition was classified as "internal use" as opposed to being connected to an existing service or product. This generated speculation about how GreenBorder's capabilities would be used within the Google product umbrella.
GreenBorder's technology allows isolation of programs from the operating system, without impacting the interaction and control of the operating system. This effectively protects the system against malware without the burden of cataloging and recognizing new threats as they appear. GreenBorder accomplishes this by running files and programs from suspicious sources inside a separate "sandbox."
Before Chrome came along, 16 months after Google's acquisition of GreenBorder, this technology was ideal for use with insecure browsers like Internet Explorer. Now Chrome is one of the main competitors to IE.
IN PICTURES: 5 "New" Rules For Safe Investing
This company was founded in Canada in 2008 and was acquired by Google two years later. Its goal was to create interactive games that could be played on mobile platforms by multiple users. Several titles were created for the iPhone and BlackBerry that could also be played across social networks such as Facebook. The games include Pet Hero MD, Color Connect and Shake & Spell, and more titles are planned for the future.
This acquisition fueled more rumors that Google was making additional inroads into the rapidly expanding social networking phenomenon. There has also been speculation that the internet giant would soon release its own networking site. (Social networking is a huge industry. Find out more in The Virtual Market: What We're Buying And How Much We're Spending.)
Only a month after Google launched its online ebook store in December 2010, the company expanded its presence in this market by purchasing eBook Technologies. The store differentiates itself from the competition by allowing visitors to see actual scans of books, and it can be accessed from any mobile or desktop internet browser. The addition of eBook Technologies provides Google with an established capability for the distribution of books.
This purchase may be more about people, patents and technology than it is about products. Google already has a superior ebook interface, but eBook Technologies owns patents relating to offline catalog shopping, secure content delivery systems, optimal paginated document presentation and database conversion for applications across different platforms. The company's expertise and proprietary technology will help Google efficiently distribute its growing library of digital books to a global audience.
Google has about $35 billion cash and short-term investments on hand. With that much money available, there's no doubt that the search giant will be on the prowl for more companies that fit within its expanding empire. (These tips can lead you to little companies with big prospects. See Trademarks Of A Takeover Target.)
Beyond acquisitions, Google is also planning to add significant numbers to its own workforce. In January 2011, Alan Eustace, senior vice-president Engineering and Research, reported that the company had added 4,500 employees in 2010 and that he expected 2011 to be the "biggest hiring year in company history." That's significant considering that 6,000 people were added in 2007.