By Brenon Daly
Even in write-offs, it’s not impossible for companies to come out ahead. That’s what we were thinking when we saw the news that Vodafone (VOD) pulled the shutter down on the Wayfinder Systems business that it acquired a little more than a year ago. Of course, in the year since the second-largest wireless operator picked up the turn-by-turn navigation vendor, a lot has changed in that market. Most notable, it’s gone from a paid service to a free offering, thanks to Google (GOOG) and, more recently, Nokia (NOK).
That development has erased hundreds of millions in market cap from the two main suppliers of traditional navigation devices, Garmin (GRMN) and TomTom (TMOAF.PK), and turned them into laggards on Wall Street. (Since Google announced in late October that it was adding free turn-by-turn navigation to a small number of Android devices, Garmin stock has shed 5% and TomTom has flat-lined, while the Nasdaq has posted a 12% gain.) Given the pressure that’s been felt by those two giants – both of which garner more than $1bn in annual revenue – we have to wonder if Wayfinder isn’t pretty content with selling the business back in December 2008.
It isn’t hard to see a scenario in which a tiny company ($14m in trailing revenue) that traded on an obscure stock exchange (the Nordic Growth Market) would have been deeply wounded – even fatally so – by the commoditization of its business. (That’s what happened to Nav4All, for instance.) Instead, Wayfinder managed to sell the business for about $30m, representing a 200% premium and a decent valuation of two times trailing sales. The alternative strikes us as pretty bleak. Had it not done the deal, Wayfinder could very well have been in the process of winding itself down. As it was, Vodafone wound it down, but at least Wayfinder and its backers pocketed a bit of money before that.