Editors' pick: Originally published Feb. 10.
2016 is not shaping up to be a great year for Internet unicorns -- but if recent history is any indicator, not all is lost.
The venture capital industry has seen startup valuations soar in recent years. According to Fortune, there are upwards of 170 companies valued at more than $1 billion -- commonly referred to as "unicorns" -- in the world today. But lately, market turbulence and company underperformance have fueled the flames of anxiety among VCs as valuations drop and exit opportunities appear fewer and farther between.
In 2015, the number of venture capital exits globally decreased to 1,053 from 1,139 the previous year, according to alternative assets intelligence agency Preqin. Moreover, 2015 saw the first decline in the aggregate value of exits since 2008, falling 42% to $73 billion from $125 billion. The agency points out that this is largely the result of a lack of "blockbuster exits," such as Alibaba's (BABA) IPO and Facebook's (FB) acquisition of WhatsApp, which both occurred in 2014.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, Jim Breyer, a venture capitalist who was an early investor in Facebook, said that while his long-term picture for the technology industry specifically is strong, he thinks it's in for a tough go in the near term, reports Business Insider. He said there is "blood in the water" and sees a situation in which 90% of unicorn startups will be repriced or die.
That isn't necessarily bad news. As The Deal's Chris Nolter recently pointed out, lower valuations may also create an opportunity for buyers with cash on the balance sheet. But it does change the game, given that the Internet sector was responsible for over a quarter of the total number of venture capital deals and a third of aggregate deal value in 2015.
The tech sector has managed to eke out some major deals in recent months. Here are three of the biggest venture capital exits -- and the companies behind them -- to come out of the Internet industry lately, according to Preqin.
It's worth noting that all three exits were announced when the acquired companies had already gone public. A Preqin spokesperson explained that although the companies had already undergone IPOs at the time of the transactions, some of the venture capital investors still maintained stakes.
King Digital Entertainment - Activision Blizzard
In November 2015, the announcement was made that King Digital Entertainment (KING) , the game maker behind the popular Candy Crush Saga, was to be picked up by Activision Blizzard (ATVI) for $5.9 billion, marking one of the biggest venture capital exits of the year -- if and when the deal closes.
Backed by Apax Partners, Index Ventures and Mosaic Ventures while still private and having brought in an estimated $43 million in venture capital deals since 2005, King went public on its own in 2014.
When the deal was first revealed, Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, said he believed combined revenues and profits of the two entities would "solidify our position as the largest, most profitable standalone company in internet entertainment."
There are still hurdles to the acquisition's closing, including approvals in Europe and Ireland. On Monday, Activision Blizzard announced it had cleared regulatory obstacles in Korea.
Youku Tudou - Alibaba
November was big for multi-billion-dollar deals. Early in the month, e-commerce giant Alibaba (BABA) announced its plans to buy Youku Tudou (YOKU) , often referred to as China's YouTube, for $4.8 billion.
According to Preqin's data, a number of venture capital investors were early to entry in Youku Tudou, including Boyu Capital, GGF Capital, Tiger Global Management, Silver Lake and Xiaomi. Alibaba put money into the company as well.
"We believe this combination with Alibaba maximizes value for Youku Tudou shareholders and significantly benefits our customers, users and team," said Victor Koo, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Youku Tudou in a statement at the time.
"We are eager to work with Alibaba to grow our multi-screen entertainment and media ecosystem. We are confident that we will strengthen our market position and further accelerate our growth through the integration of our advertising and consumer businesses with Alibaba's platform and Alipay services. With Alibaba's support, Youku Tudou's future as the leading multi-screen entertainment and media platform in China has been firmly secured," Koo said.
Youku Tudou recently announced an extraordinary meeting of shareholders set for March in order to authorize and approve the Alibaba merger, which is still pending.
HomeAway - Expedia
Expedia (EXPE) revealed its plans to acquire vacation rental site HomeAway in November 2015 and closed the deal just over a month later in December. It paid $3.9 billion for the transaction, which was largely part of an effort to compete with Airbnb.
According to Preqin, HomeAway received $578 million in venture capital funding over the years, with investors including American Capital, Austin Ventures, Redpoint Ventures and Trident Capital. The company went public in 2011 at a valuation of $2.2 billion.
A number of companies reportedly considered investing in or acquiring HomeAway before Expedia's bid, reported Skift. When the deal was completed in November, HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples said his team was "eager to benefit from Expedia's distribution and to learn from their expertise in technology and online travel," calling the deal a "perfect next step" for the company.