Google to fight Facebook for Waze
DOUGLAS MACMILLAN, BRIAN WOMACK AND ARI LEVY
Google, maker of the Android operating system, is considering buying map-software provider Waze, setting up a possible bidding war with Facebook, people familiar with the matter said.
Waze is fielding expressions of interest from multiple parties and is seeking more than US$1 billion, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup might also remain independent, instead seeking to raise a round of venture capital financing, the people said.
As consumers gravitate toward mobile devices away from laptops and desktops, Facebook, Google and other companies are beefing up efforts to court customers on the go. The potential bidding tussle for Waze, which uses information from online communities to improve driving directions, reflects the widening importance of maps on smartphones and other handheld gadgets.
Facebook has held talks to buy Waze for as much as US$1 billion, two people familiar with the matter said earlier this month.
Google and other large tech companies have approached Waze about a possible deal since the Facebook talks became public, people said.
None of the bidders is close to clinching a deal and the talks may fall apart, they said. Waze may also walk away from the discussions and use more venture backing to expand its mapping program, which has more than 40 million users.
Google has a widely used mapping tool and could use Waze's technology to add social features to the software. A takeover would also eliminate a competitive threat and keep the startup out of the hands of another company.
Apple, which distributes a competing mapping tool, is not currently part of the discussions, a person with knowledge of the matter said.
Waze's investors include Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, people said. Waze raised US$30 million in 2011 in a funding round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing's Horizons Ventures Hong Kong. Earlier investors include Magma Venture Partners and Vertex Venture Capital in Israel and BlueRun Ventures in Silicon Valley.
Julie Mossler, a spokeswoman for Waze, declined to comment.
Waze announced a partnership with IMS Internet Media Services in April to expand in Latin America. Waze's mobile app alerts users to potential traffic slowdowns or suggests alternative ways to reach destinations. The service also notifies drivers of road work, speed traps other potential hazards, using input from users.
Waze, a free service, generates revenue via location-based advertising. Its tools are also available over the Web.