Waze Holds Out for the Big Bucks

After reports of the Israeli mapping start-up's impending acquisition by Apple were debunked, it is revealed that the company held talks with the other big guys, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

Waze, the Israeli crowdsourced navigational app start-up, may not be in talks to be acquired by Apple as was previously rumored, but the company's senior executives did meet in the past month with senior folks at Facebook, Microsoft and Google. Some of the talks included Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. These three companies, along with Apple, all made offers to acquire Waze within the past year, but were each rejected.

According to a source close to the company, Waze is holding out for an offer that values the company at $1 billion. Among the potential suitors, Microsoft has been the closest to pulling off a deal. Microsoft even invested several million dollars in Waze during a $25 million round of new investment at the company that concluded in December 2010, which valued Waze at more than $100 million.

The tech world was buzzing with news of the potential Apple acquisition after the technology blog Tech Crunch last Wednesday ran a story that Apple was about to take a bite out of the popular app. But they dispelled the story just one day later, prompting other news sites who also ran with the headline to either issue retractions or play down the nature of contacts between Apple and Waze. In fact, most senior Israeli high-tech and venture capital executives couldn't confirm the news of a looming acquisition deal and said that they had only heard of such negotiations from media reports.

The two may have been flirting, sites said, but a hook-up was far from imminent.

Waze, for its part, refused to comment on the potential deal.

This wouldn't be the first time that the rumor mill churned with stories of potential acquisitions of the company. About half a year ago, according to media reports, Waze turned down a purchasing offer that landed between $200 million and $300 million.

Since the original story broke last Wednesday, Apple's shares have dropped four percent.

Waze tripled its number of users over the course of 2012 to more than 30 million people. It partly has Apple to thank, after a glitch in the map app of Apple's new iOS operating system, rolled out in September, prompted hordes of users to switch to non-Apple navigation.

Following Apple's mapping snafu, Waze's market share among navigational app users in the United States jumped from 7 percent to 10 percent based on figures provided by the Israeli mobile analytics and data-use start-up Onavo. During the same period, their daily downloads increased by a whopping 40 percent.

Waze was founded in 2008 by Israelis Ehud Shabtai, Amir Shinar and Uri Levine and has so far raised $67 million in capital from investors. In 2010, the company raised $25 million from investors including Microsoft, Vertex Venture Capital, Magma Venture Partners, Blue Run Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures based on an estimated company value of $100 million. A year later, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers' Digital Growth Fund and Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing's venture capital fund, Horizon Ventures, invested $30 million in the company.

Daniel Tchetchik