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The year in tech deals

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Hello! Today is the last Index of the year (we'll be back Jan. 8) so we're taking a look back at the deals that mattered in 2020 — for better and for worse.

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Overheard

  • "I don't see the need to change my process and chase short-term rotational factors … The underlying growth rate for tech companies still looks very strong." —Portfolio manager Henrik Nyblom said tech's outperformance isn't going away anytime soon.
  • "It's presented as some sort of game that you might be able to win." —Massachusetts Secretary William Galvin explained why the state's regulators filed a complaint against Robinhood, alleging it failed to protect unsophisticated investors.

The Big Story

2020's most important deals

This year was proof that you don't always need fancy conferences or a plush boardroom to get deals done: Despite half the world being stuck at home, an absolute ton of big-ticket fundraises and acquisitions got signed. Here are the ones that mattered the most.

Jio's fundraising spree

Most Americans had never heard of Jio Platforms before this year. But the Indian telecoms giant was all anyone in tech talked about this spring, as the company raised an astonishing $20 billion in under three months. Beyond the money, the caliber of investors was also notable: Facebook, Google, Intel and Qualcomm all got in on the action, as did the Saudi Arabian and UAE governments. And to top it all off, Mukesh Ambani did it all again a few months later, raising $6.3 billion for Reliance Retail.

Nvidia-Arm

One beneficiary from SoftBank's investment hangover this year? Nvidia. It managed to pick up Arm for $40 billion, only $9 billion more than SoftBank paid four years ago, giving Nvidia a shot at dominating the enterprise chip market.

The ramifications could be huge: Customers like Qualcomm were partly attracted to Arm because of its neutrality, but might be less inclined to give Nvidia, a direct competitor, money. That could boost the open-source architecture RISC-V, fundamentally reshaping the chip industry. For now though, consolidation seems to be the name of the game for the rest of the industry: Nvidia's acquisition was swiftly followed by AMD's $35 billion Xilinx acquisition and Marvell's $10 billion Inphi deal.

Salesforce's bet on the future of work

Slack should have been a major winner from the remote work revolution, but alas. Thanks to aggressive competition from Microsoft Teams, Slack struggled to make much of a dent this year: Its stock barely moved between January and November. Fortunately for investors, Salesforce came to the rescue, buying the company for just shy of $28 billion. Salesforce thinks Slack can become the new hub for all its other products — and of course, Salesforce's sales force can't hurt in facing off against Teams, either.

Buffett gets into ... data warehousing?

Berkshire Hathaway isn't known for complicated tech bets, instead choosing to stick with what makes Warren Buffett feel comfortable. But that changed this fall, when Berkshire bought $570 million worth of Snowflake shares ahead of its listing. It was a signal that Berkshire's starting to let his lieutenants Todd Combs and Ted Weschler take bigger bets — and perhaps a sign of future tech bets from the world's most famous investor. This one worked out well at least: Snowflake soared on listing, doubling Berkshire's money overnight.

Visa tries to bet on the future

It might feel like 200 years ago, but January was in fact part of this year. And in fintech, it was marked by Visa's $5.3 billion acquisition of Plaid, the open-banking API company. It was a clear attempt at positioning Visa for the future of finance, and it attracted scrutiny: The DOJ sued to block the deal. That wasn't the only fintech intervention the DOJ made this year: It sued Intuit over its $7.1 billion Credit Karma acquisition, which ultimately resolved itself when Credit Karma agreed to divest its tax product to Square. As antitrust worries heat up, we might see more settlements like that.

Uber's missed delivery

Food delivery's a tricky business: Since the entrance of venture-backed companies like DoorDash and Uber, stalwarts such as Grubhub have struggled to keep up. There was no surprise, then, when Uber was reported to have made an offer for Grubhub — a deal that would have consolidated the market and helped put an end to the delivery price war. But antitrust reared its head, reportedly nixing the deal. Instead, Grubhub ended up merging with Europe's JustEatTakeaway.com. In some ways, that deal makes more sense: Unlike Uber and DoorDash, both JET and Grubhub use a marketplace model, with logistics a secondary focus. In the end, Uber ended up sticking to the logistics model, settling for Postmates instead.

The broker consolidation continues

Ever since Robinhood appeared on the scene, the stock broker industry has been completely upended. A price war last year led to every major brokerage ditching their trading commissions, significantly affecting their business models (and stock prices). Larger players saw an opportunity to swoop in: Following Charles Schwab's $26 billion TD Ameritrade acquisition at the end of 2019, in February Morgan Stanley acquired E-Trade for $13 billion. Robinhood, meanwhile, just keeps soaring: It's weathering huge controversy extremely well, with its valuation jumping from $7.6 billion last summer to $11.7 billion this summer.

Private equity pounced on fear (and won)

At the start of the pandemic, Airbnb's fortunes looked very, very uncertain. Silver Lake and Sixth Street were two companies to take advantage of that, investing a combined $1 billion in debt and equity with warrants that reportedly valued the company at $18 billion, well below the $31 billion it was valued at previously. Silver Lake's target return reportedly involved Airbnb hitting a $40 billion valuation, so imagine Egon Durban's delight when the company listed last week with a market cap of around $100 billion.

Facebook's commerce push

Much of Facebook's strategy this year has been built around enabling commerce. (Probably safer than buying another messaging app!) With its Jio tie-up, WhatsApp is becoming a shopping portal; Facebook announced a big Shopify partnership; and Instagram boosted its own ecommerce features. To manage all of that, though, businesses need good customer service. Which might be why Facebook spent a reported $1 billion last month buying Kustomer, a customer service CRM platform. Facebook increasingly wants to become a hub for businesses, and it's willing to spend a lot to do so.

The $35 billion deal that wasn't

Ant's IPO should have made this list for its record-breaking listing, where it was set to raise $35 billion from astonishingly eager investors. But then everything went horribly wrong. Chinese authorities pulled the plug just days before the company was set to go public, reportedly ordered to do so by Xi Jinping. The reality of what happened is complicated, but the outcome is pretty straightforward: The company now faces a wave of regulation that could undermine its business. With Ant now being markedly contrite, we'll see if it manages to return to the markets next year. If it does, though, expect a vastly lower valuation.

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Micron

At Micron, we see an opportunity to establish memory and storage platform capabilities that will unleash software developers to deliver solutions that speed insight and ultimately support emerging customer requirements. The data-centric era has ushered in a new opportunity to tap data for business growth, but many companies continue to struggle to transform mounting data stores into competitive advantage.

Learn how here.

Up to Speed

  • Monday: EA outbid Take-Two for Codemasters, acquiring the games developer for $1.2 billion. Also Monday: Roblox bought Loom.ai; Reddit bought Dubsmash; Zenoti raised $160 million at an over $1 billion valuation; and SoftBank and WeWork failed to get their lawsuit (over a pulled stock tender) dismissed.
  • Tuesday: Blade announced it was going public via a SPAC in a deal that values it at $1 billion. Also Tuesday: GoDaddy bought Poynt for $320 million; Google bought Neverware; and ClickUp raised $100 million at a $1 billion valuation.
  • Wednesday: Wish priced its IPO above its range, but its shares fell on debut. Bill Gurley was remarkably quiet. Also Wednesday: Upstart shares rose on their debut; StockX raised $257 million at a $2.8 billion valuation; BigID raised $70 million at an over $1 billion valuation; and EQT bought a majority stake in Storable at a reported $2 billion valuation.
  • Thursday: Poshmark flipped its S-1 public, setting the stage for a January listing, while Coinbase and UiPath both announced that they've confidentially filed for an IPO. Also Thursday: Robinhood settled SEC charges over payment for order flow; Verily raised $700 million; Discord raised $100 million; Rubrik acquired Igneous' assets; and Didi Freight was reported to be raising $400 million.
  • Today: Tokopedia was reported to be considering an IPO for next year, with a dual-listing in the U.S. and Indonesia. Earlier this week, Peter Thiel's SPAC was reported to be in talks to take Tokopedia public at an $8 billion to $10 billion valuation.

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Micron

At Micron, we see an opportunity to establish memory and storage platform capabilities that will unleash software developers to deliver solutions that speed insight and ultimately support emerging customer requirements. The data-centric era has ushered in a new opportunity to tap data for business growth, but many companies continue to struggle to transform mounting data stores into competitive advantage.

Learn how here.

Thoughts/feedback/tips? Email me — shakeel@protocol.com — or tips@protocol.com. And subscribe to get Index in your inbox every week. Thanks for reading — I hope your holidays are wonderful and safe, and I'll see you in the new year.