Modern Software Experience

2010-09-23

Ancestry.com acquisitions

Ancestry.com IPO and valuation

Ancestry.com filed for IPO on 2009 Aug 4 and went public on 2009 Nov 5, at  US$ 13,50 share for 7.407.407 shares of common stock - that is roughly US$ 100 million. Ancestry.com is trading under the four-letter stock symbol ACOM.
Today, there are 43.810.000 shares trading at more than US$ 22; that is a market capitalisation of roughly 970 million, at a price / earnings ratio of 39,5.

Ancestry.com seems close to becoming a one billion dollar company.

What Do You Think They're Worth

A market capitalisation of close to US$ 1 billion at a P/E ratio of almost 40; Ancestry.com seems close to becoming a one billion dollar company.
The ACOM valuation seems inflated to me, but it is the market leader, and is hard to say what a reasonable P/E ratio is when financial analysts have no direct competitor to compare it against. Expectations for ACOM remain high - in no small part thanks to the interest generated by television shows, in particular the Ancestry.com-sponsored NBC edition of Who Do You Think You Are (WDYTYA).
Some viewers have criticised the NBC edition of WDYTYA as an hour-long Ancestry.com commercial, a characterisation that implies awful NBC television making, but fantastic Ancestry.com exposure. No wonder then that Ancestry.com committed to sponsoring a second series.

Mundia.com

Mundia logo

The first major development after the IPO was the introduction of Mundia.com in December. Ancestry did not announce Mundia during the IPO's quiet period, and forgot to announce the site.
Many have wondered how I managed to get the Mundia scoop. Well, I'll reveal the secret: anyone who bothered to read through the IPO prospectus knew that Mundia.com was coming. The prospectus did not tell what Mundia was going to be, but I just kept coming back to the Mundia.com site to find out.

Mundia is Ancestry.com's rather late response to social genealogy sites such as Geni.com and FamilyLink.com. For a long time, Ancestry.com management thought that it existing offerings where sufficient competition, but that is only partially the case. Mundia is a real social genealogy site, which leverages Ancestry.com Family Trees; it currently offers free access to almost 2 billion profiles.

Ancestry.com is probably most interested in buying Geni.com, but Geni does not seem to be for sale yet. Right now, a more likely scenario is Ancestry.com buying MyHeritage after MyHeritage has bought what remains of FamilyLink née WorldVitalRecords.

FamilyLink

FamilyLink

FamilyLink used to be big on promises (of no less than yet another revolution) and poor at executing and delivering on those promises. Ever since CEO Paul Allen started focusing on the financial crises instead of the company, FamilyLink seems to be in execution. FamilyLink is selling and closing down assets. Key employees have left the company. FamilyLink was so eager to introduce FamilyLink Plus and sell subscriptions, that it asked users to pay for non-existent features and has been spamming users with one special deal after another.

MyHeritage

MyHeritage

MyHeritage has a history of buying relatively small and failing companies in addition to strong organic growth, but lacks what it takes to compete with Ancestry.com. Their organic growth is based on doubtful practices, their technologically dated site and desktop software are unimpressive, their focus is on small low-quality trees and they continue to damage their own reputation with dishonest PR activities. MyHeritage seems unlikely to become a serious competitor until it makes some serious changes to its corporate culture. The company remains worth buying for the millions of users, millions of photographs and for the SmartMatching technology it obtained when they bought Pearl Street Software.

Genline.se

Genlines.se

On 2010 June 14 Ancestry.com announced its intention to acquire Genline.se, a Swedish company, for roughly US$ 6,7 million, on 2010 Jul 15 they announced the acquisition was completed.

Genlines offers access to 26 million digitised Swedish Church records from 16th to the 20th century. At the time of the acquisition, Genlines had more than 17.000 subscribers.

Genlines is small compared to Ancestry, but it is the major consumer source for Swedish Church records. Ancestry.com already had an international presence, but Genlines is Ancestry.com's first International acquisition. The acquisition is important to American subscribers; about 4 million Americans claim Swedish heritage.

Expert Connection: ProGenealogists

ProGenealogists

The research needed for the NBC WDYTYA show wasn't left to Ancestry.com's in-house genealogists. That was a smart decision, considering the low quality of their in-house staff; their Dracula Claim made it painfully to clear that Ancestry.com still lacked a respectable genealogy research department.

In 2009, Ancestry.com introduced Expert Connect, a service that competes in a market pioneered by smaller companies such as Genlighten, GenealogyFreelancers, eXpert Genealogy and GenealogyPro.
It seemed to be competition for the sake of competition, to establish a presence in the market in case it gets big, as Ancestry.com management did not exactly go out of its way to demonstrate their faith in the quality of this service yet. When they needed research done for the NBC WDYTYA, they did not turn to Expert Connect as they would like their customers to do, they instead turned to ProGenealogists, a ten-year old genealogy research company. That is embarrassing.

On 2010 Aug 6 Ancestry.com announced that they had acquired ProGenealogists. In its ten-year existence, ProGenealogists had built a name for itself, and it continues to offer its services under that name. In isolation, the ProGenealogists acquisition does not make much sense; Ancestry.com does not need a research company, its main business is offering original records and family trees (previously done research of variable quality) to researchers.

In the context of the preceding facts, the acquisition makes perfect sense. The acquisition of ProGenealogists ends the embarrassment of not having a quality genealogy staff themselves, passing over its own Expert Connect service and having to go outside the company. Going forward, Ancestry.com can claim to have experienced professional genealogists in-house, state that research for NBC WDYTYA was done by Ancestry.com staff, and use this staff to improve its Expert Connect service. The press release states thatwe expect the addition of ProGenealogists will also enhance and expand the professional research offerings currently available through Ancestry.com Expert Connect..

iArchives

Today (2010 Sep 23) Ancestry.com has announced that will acquire iArchives, the parent company of Footnote.com, for approximately US$ 27 million, in a mix of Ancestry stock, cash and assumption of liabilities. As part of the transaction, Ancestry will release about 1 million shares of common stock. At the same time, Ancestry announced that the board has approved a share repurchase program to buy back about US$ 25 of common stock, in part to offset the dilution of resulting from the release of those 1 million shares.

Footnote

Footnote

The Footnote brand is well-known in genealogy circles, but few are aware that it is owned by iArchives.com, or what iArchives does. Initial reactions focus on Footnote, but the iArchives acquisition is more significant.

Footnote has made many documents digitally available for the first time, documents that had not been digitised before. It often managed to grabbed media attention for its initiatives such as the Interactive Vietnam Veterans Memorial and its thematic collections, such as the Native American Collection, The Civil War Collection and the World-War II collection.

Its introduction of Footnote Pages as FaceBook for the Dead was a mistake, as was my initial reaction of comparing it to memorial sites such as Tributes.com. Several sites may offer the U.S.A. Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and several sites may offer the ability to add content, but the genealogical focus makes FaceBook Pages different from memorial sites. It's basic idea of one page per person invites comparison to WikiTree. There are significant differences beyond that basic idea, but today both contain a lot of genealogical information that may help your research.

Footnote's most ambitious project is its Interactive [American] Census Project. The complete 1860 US census in there, and Footnote is working towards getting all the public US census in it. Fresh high-quality scans combined with a custom viewer,  and the ability to add comments, create a Footnote Page as well as the I'm related button make the Footnote Interactive [American] Census the best US census in the industry. No wonder that Ancestry.com wants to have it. Now let's just hope they fix the name.

iArchives

Ancestry is not just interested in footnote, but in the parent company as well. Footnote may have more brand recognition, but it is the parent company that really matters. You can think of Footnote as a front-end, serving digitised collections to customers, and iArchives as the back-end, creating those collections. iArchives has digitisation technology, image viewing software, and partnership deals focused on turning microfilm and print collections into searchable databases. Not all of that is focused on genealogy. iArchives is active in several markets, including but not limited to newspapers, libraries, universities and law firms. The weakness in iArchives' offerings is their focus on Intranet Explorer instead of web browsers.

Footnote's future

Footnote does not have as many subscribers as Ancestry. It has more than 35.000 subscribers, while Ancestry.com has 1,3 million subscribers. However, Ancestry.com did not buy Footnote for its 35.000 subscribers, it bought Footnote for its potential to grow much larger. The Interactive [American] Census in particular is likely to keep attracting new subscribers.

When you consider how much brand-recognition, technology and partnerships Ancestry.com acquires, it is hard not to think that they got themselves a bargain. They'll get the best US census collection and viewer on the web, a growing collection of Footnote Pages, the entire back-end that produced it all, and many industry relationships. Ancestry plans to take advantage of iArchives's capabilities to increase and improve its collections.

Footnote is to become wholly-owned subsidiary of Ancestry.com. In other words: it will have a new owner, but it will continue to be a separate consumer brand, much like MyFamily.com and Genealogy.com continue to be separate brands. Unlike Genealogy.com, which now seems a ghost website from the past, Footnote is not likely to become stagnant soon, it is much too vibrant for that. It will largely be business as usual. The difference is that it is an Ancestry.com brand now.

Ancestry.com's IPO provided the company with cash to go on a buying spree. It has done just that, and its buying spree may not be over yet. The company has plenty of cash left to buy more.

updates

2010-09-24 Ancestry.com US$ 1 billion

Ancestry.com shares are trading at almost US$ 23,00; well above the US$ 22,83 needed for a market capitalisation of US$ 1 billion.

2011-04-22 Subdomain gone

The expertconnect.ancestry.com subdomain is gone. The broken link has been removed.

links

2011-08-18 Footnote renamed Fold3

Ancestry has renamed Footnote to Fold3, see Ancestry renames Footnote to Fold3. All Footnote links have been updated.

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