Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Twitter’s Buffet of Options: Investors Like DST or Acquirers Like Google

Twitter caught some undeserved flack over the holiday weekend, after CEO Dick Costolo told a reporter for the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper he is “working on clarity” around Twitter’s ultimate purpose.

The story garnered the unfortunate headline: “Twitter lacks ‘clear long term vision’ admits new CEO.”

The full Costolo quote was more reasonable and simply defined his job:

“I am working on clarity around that at the moment. I am currently trying to define what Twitter’s purpose is in the long term. We will be able to be more specific on that answer in the near future.”

In fact, it’s more like the present for the popular San Francisco-based microblogging service, which sources said has been wrestling with several lucrative scenarios over the last several weeks, including acquisition interest from both Google and Facebook and also a number of favorably termed major funding offers.

The big push is coming from DST Global, as this site reported a month ago, which was clearly implied by both DST’s Yuri Milner and Twitter’s Evan Williams in onstage interviews at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco earlier this month.

In a recent visit to Twitter’s downtown HQ, sources said, Milner underscored DST’s generous funding offer to top execs.

Sources said DST, which has made big investments in Facebook, Groupon and Zynga, has offered over $100 million to Twitter at a valuation closing in on $4 billion.

It’s a move to shut out others, apparently, including, more recently, Kleiner Perkins–specifically its well-known John Doerr, who has been angling to move the venture firm more squarely into the social space.

After scoring a late entry to the social scene with its investment in the fast-growing Zynga, Kleiner has made a big marketing push recently to allocate a dedicated $250 million “sFund” to social start-ups.

Also reportedly interested in the deal are Andreessen Horowitz, which this summer outplayed and outlasted other VC firms and potential acquirers to get a piece of Foursquare.

Not surprisingly, Twitter has also been on the receiving end of serious look-sees in recent weeks from both Google and Facebook, according to sources, although there has not been an actual term sheet presented from either party. Those valuations for an acquisition have been well above $5 billion.

Of course, the interest in Twitter has been ongoing for a while from both the search giant, which has struggled in the social space, and the social networking giant. (And meanwhile, Google is also looking at buying Groupon.)

In late 2008, for example, Facebook tried to buy Twitter for $500 million in cash and stock, an offer Twitter rejected at the time.

Former CEO and Co-founder Evan Williams was behind the decision to go big rather than sell out then.

He turned down the deal after sleeping on it, penning a long email about “why there’s still so much we have left to do,” which Twitter investor Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital recently told the New York Times was “inspiring.”

Inspiring or not, Twitter’s board would have to seriously consider the landscape again if there was another massive offer for the company.

And, if a bidding war were to happen, Facebook seems unlikely to win versus Google. A deal costing billions of dollars would be dramatically different and more difficult than the “acqhire” talent strategy Facebook has employed to date. For Facebook, the biggest upside of deal would simply be beating Google.

Raising a monster round would be in keeping with Twitter’s short history so far.

In the fall of 2009, the company raised funding at a $1 billion valuation, when it had about 50 million accounts, under 100 employees and had yet to secure its first major revenue stream through deals to deliver real-time data to Microsoft and Google.

As a company and a service, Twitter is growing quickly. But it still only has 325 employees today, serving its 175 million users.

Williams, who stepped down from the CEO job in October, played coy at Web 2.0 when asked about additional funding rounds, simply saying “We have a lot of money in the bank.”

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on its latest funding and acquisition options and Facebook said it had “nothing new to report” on the subject.

And Google, DST and Kleiner have not yet responded to requests for comment.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

[Image courtesy of Flickr user kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop).]