Facebook acquires taste for Israeli R&D

Roy Goldenberg

Facebook's Israel development center will provide greater access to the skills of Israeli developers and expand its global R&D workforce.

With the acquisition of Onavo Ltd., Facebook Inc. (Nasdaq: FB) ties with Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG), with the acquisition of three Israeli companies each. Facebook's first Israeli acquisition was in March 2011, when it bought Snaptu for $70 million. Snaptu's app for regular mobile phones (not smartphones) provided easy access to Facebook, Twitter, and other services. Snaptu was founded in 2007 by Lior Tal, Ran Makavy, Micha Berdichevsky, and Barak Naveh.

Following the acquisition, Snaptu's staff moved to Facebook's headquarters, where they joined its mobile division and developed a special Facebook app for regular mobile phones as part of Facebook's effort to enter emerging markets, where the use of smartphones was only just beginning.

In June 2012, Facebook made it second deal in Israel, acquiring Face.com, which developed facial recognition software that was partly based on open code. Facebook paid $60 million. Face.com was founded in 2007 by Gil Hirsch, Yaniv Taigman, Moti Shniberg, and Eden Shochat. Hirsch and some Face.com employees quit Tel Aviv for Facebook's headquarters in the US, closing their company behind them and leaving external and self-employed programmers on their own.

As was the case with Snaptu, the acquisition by Facebook resulted in the closing of Face.com's popular service and app.

Onavo's is set for a different fate. In contrast to Makavay, Hirsch, and their colleagues, Onavo's employees will not have to go to Facebook's headquarters in Silicon Valley, but will make a little history by establishing Facebook's first R&D center in Israel. The center will give Facebook greater access to the skills of Israeli developers and expand its global R&D workforce.

It is not yet clear how many people Facebook will employ at its Israeli R&D center, and whether Onavo's two mobile apps will continue as is or be absorbed by Facebook one way or another. It can be assumed that the new center will focus on mobile apps, Onavo's expertise and one of the reasons why Facebook acquired it.

Mobile is one of the areas on which Facebook has placed it emphasis in recent years. One third of acquisitions are mobile app companies - digital advertising, group chats, location-based services, etc. not to mention the $1 billion paid for Instagram.

The Israeli center's focus on mobile is intended to attract to Facebook more developers and companies in this field and beyond. Facebook has already indicated that its interest in the Israeli developers community does not stop at smartphones. For example, in the past year, it has hosted events for Israeli gaming developers, and, on Tuesday, it will host another event, FBStart Tel Aviv for start-ups and developers. FBStart Tel Aviv follows FBStarts in London, Berlin, and Istanbul. The events' purpose is to connect Facebook with local entrepreneurs to create platforms for the company in order to promote its business.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 14, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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