Twitter has stepped up its pace of acquisitions in recent months after years of languid deal-making, a change that reflects the social network’s stronger financial standing and a renewed effort to speed up the addition of new features.
Last week, Twitter announced the purchase of news reader service Scroll with the goal of adding the product to an eventual subscription offering for its social network. The deal was Twitter’s sixth announced so far this year, and the seventh since December.
While many of Twitter’s transactions have been small and driven by a desire to quickly add more employees or technical expertise, Twitter’s activity this year is markedly different from 2017 and 2018, when the company completed just one public acquisition in two years.
Twitter, which a few years ago was itself a buyout target, is also taking bigger swings, and has been part of the conversation around higher-profile deals since last year, including efforts to acquire Discord, Clubhouse and even TikTok.
The shift is part of a concerted push to launch products at a faster rate, following the admission from chief executive Jack Dorsey in February that the company has been dragging its feet for years on new tools for its platform. Twitter set out to double its “development velocity” and the “number of features per employee” that affect revenue and user growth, and acquiring teams and products that align with the company’s plans bolsters that effort.
“The pace has picked up as our hiring needs have picked up, as our clarity has picked up, as our investing levels have picked up,” chief financial officer Ned Segal said of the acquisition strategy in an interview. “It shouldn’t surprise you or others to see our name mentioned around things big and small.” He declined to comment on specific deals.
Twitter’s six purchases so far in 2021 – less than halfway through the year – are the most the company has made in a calendar year since 2015, when it publicly announced eight acquisitions. Many deals this year have been directly related to Twitter’s effort to build a subscription offering, which would generate revenue outside of the main advertising business.
In addition to Scroll, Twitter acquired start-up Revue with plans to build out a subscription newsletter business. Other employees added through deals this year are working on “super follows,” or letting Twitter accounts charge followers for special content or access. Twitter will eventually take a cut of these subscriber fees, providing the company with a more predictable revenue stream than its current advertising business.
This focus on a specific product road map seems to be the most likely explanation for Twitter’s flurry of deal activity, said Mark Shmulik, an analyst at asset manager Sanford C. Bernstein. At Twitter’s Analyst Day presentation in February, the plan outlined was the “most put together and coherent” he’d ever seen from the company, he said.
“It all starts with the clarity of ‘where is the North Star and how are we getting there?’” Mr Shmulik said. “For a long time, they didn’t really have that.”
Adding start-ups to help with new consumer features is the most likely reason for Twitter to make deals moving forward, said Mandeep Singh, a technology analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. He pointed to commerce and augmented reality as industries where rival social media platforms like Facebook and Snap are currently invested.