Dropbox has led the way with more than 20 acquisitions of other startups, but some companies like Pinterest have accelerated their pace and could be catching up.

The phenomenon of a startup acquiring another startup is not new, but as companies stay in private markets longer and raise large war-chests, the frequency of this occurrence has increased. These acquisitions often happen as startups seek to diversify into new customer segments, absorb new talent, or acquire new technology (as just some of the reasons).

Using CB Insights data, we analyzed this trend in order to identify the most active private tech companies acquiring other companies within private markets.

Global Tech Exits: IPOs and M&As for 2016
The 2016 global technology exits webinar will cover M&A and IPO trends over the past few years and highlight global venture-backed exit trends as well as the most active tech startup acquirers in 2016. 

Overall, the number of tech startups acquiring startups has increased significantly since 2011. That year saw fewer than 350 of these acquisitions, while 2015 saw more than 2x that number, at 736. The number also represented a 24% increase over the 2014 total.

This year we have already seen more than 440 of these types of acquisitions, putting 2016 on track to fall slightly below the 2015 peak. It’s possible that the slowdown is due to a general slowing of funding with companies having less cash on hand to make these acquisitions. Or it’s also possible that many companies are waiting for possible acquisition targets to set more realistic prices, after a frothy time in mid-2015 which saw many tech startups set sky-high valuations.

The trend could accelerate through the end of the year if valuations adjust. There were already seven of these transactions of $100M+ in 2016 through 8/30/2016, including Bitstrips and Vurb (acquired by Snapchat), Hayneedle (acquired by Jet.com), and Otto (acquired by Uber for $680M).

Startups Acquiring Startups Trend 8.30.2016

Most active startup acquirers of other startups

Dropbox has been the most active acquirer of other private companies, with more than 20 acquisitions including buying ClementineUmano, and CloudOn this year. Infor, a software company targeting mid-sized enterprises, was second with 17 acquisitions.

Rocket Internet-backed Foodpanda and Delivery Hero have been rolling up other food-delivery startups around the world, making a combined 25 disclosed acquisitions of other private companies. India’s private company ecosystem has also seen well-funded players scoop up other startups. India-based Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Zomato all made the list. Pinterest has increased its activity significantly, making 9 of its 14 acquisitions from 2015 to 8/30/2016. In all, 18 still-private companies have made at least 8 acquisitions of other private companies.

Startups Acquiring Startups 8.30.2016

While its 23 acquisitions puts Dropbox in first place among presently private tech companies, we took a look at some of the larger, now-public tech companies to see how many startups they acquired before they went public.

While Twitter reached approximately the same valuation as Dropbox in private markets, it also acquired more companies, 31 in total before it went public. Twitter was private for a little more than 6 years from its first funding, compared to Dropbox which is already into its 9th year since it graduated from Y Combinator.

Facebook also acquired 29 private companies before its IPO (though Facebook had a much higher valuation). Facebook was private for a little under 8 years since Peter Thiel wrote Facebook its first check, for $500K, in 2004.

Both Zynga and Groupon went on acquisition sprees, grabbing many startups in their space (with Groupon having a particularly international focus). HomeAway also acquired more than 10 startups before it went public including Escapia and Second Porch.

Private Companies Acquired Public Companies

*Analysis included investor-backed acquirers

**Only company first exits were analyzed

***While we only analyzed private tech acquirers, we counted the investor-backed private companies they acquired regardless of sector in this analysis

Want more data on startup acquirers? Check out our venture capital database below.