/ Epic Missed Opportunities in Tech

In 2009, Josh James sold Omniture to Adobe for $1.8B. Never one to sit still, James started Domo in 2010, which has rocketed to a $2B valuation. But not all deals in tech have such a happy ending. In fact, some never happen at all.

It’s insane to think that Larry Page and Sergey Brin once tried to sell Google to Excite for a mere $750,000. Even more insane is the fact that Excite turned them down. Were their executives lost at sea before they could respond to the offer? Did their dial-up internet make them miss the deadline? Let’s get to the bottom of this and other huge missed opportunities in tech history!

This is Part 1 of a three-part series. Read two juicy stories now, and stay tuned for five more . . .

1. Excite could have bought Google for $750,000.

When Google made its way onto the tech scene in 1996, Excite was one of the leading brands in Internet search. Two years later, Google had made a name for itself as the better search engine – rivaling Yahoo and Excite. However, Google’s founders were worried the search engine was taking away too much time from their research. So in early 1999, they offered to sell to Excite for a mere $750,000.

According to George Bell, Excite’s CEO at the time, Larry Page drove too hard a bargain. As part of the deal, Page insisted on a sort of Trojan-horse takeover of the company’s root engineering and technology, and Bell didn’t think the cultural risk was worth it. In an interview with Internet History Podcast, Bell described his reasoning:

“The economics of [the deal] were really okay to us. The thing that Larry insisted on that we all do recall, is that Larry said, ‘If we come to work for Excite, you need to rip out all the Excite technology and replace it with Google’s search.’ In my recollection, that’s where the deal fell apart.”

Excite was eventually sold to Ask Jeeves in 2004. It wasn’t long before Ask Jeeves lost the search engine battle to—you guessed it—Google. That $750,000 would be worth $167 billion today. Oops.

2. Blockbuster could have bought Netflix for $50 million.

Blockbuster once ruled the video rental industry. In the mid-2000’s, Netflix started edging out brick-and-mortar rental stores, and driving to Blockbuster for movie night felt prehistoric. But what makes Blockbuster’s demise particularly tragic is that it had several opportunities to purchase Netflix for just $50 million.

Netflix is now worth $29 billion. But back in 2000, Netflix was just a two-year old DVD-by-mail subscription service with only 300,000 subscribers – and it was losing money. Blockbuster, on the other hand, was a seemingly unbeatable giant in the video rental industry, dominating the competition with thousands of retail locations, millions of customers, and billions of dollars in revenue. It wasn’t without reason that Blockbuster executives weren’t threatened by a struggling start-up. On top of that, the Internet was much less prevalent, and cable TV was much more powerful.

Of course, even if Blockbuster had acquired Netflix, it might not have been enough to keep the company afloat in the face of rapid technological changes. Netflix is surely thanking its lucky stars that we never had to find out.


Watch for Part 2 of this series next week!

Tags: Executives