Today, Amazon announced it is buying Skybox Imaging, a startup that is in the business of taking high-resolution satellite images, including some that can be overlaid to capture high-res, 3D perspective. The six-year-old company has been operating in the heavily competitive business of selling drones as part of its business, and it is often used by the Defense Department for a variety of applications. It’s not clear what Skybox will be used for under the Amazon acquisition.
But take away the focus on drones and consider another new idea that is starting to become the industry standard. A little over a year ago, Acacia CEO Clayton Haynes showed off the technology he was developing that would create a platform for data visualization and analytics. He also announced that he had raised the startup’s first outside investment round of $30 million. Investors included the auto giant Ford and venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
Today, Acacia announced it has received more than $175 million from investors including Ford, Google, SoftBank, Sequoia, Tencent, Alibaba, and Flipkart. It is now the fastest-growing venture-backed company to invest nearly $200 million, according to PitchBook. That comes three months after it announced it had secured a $100 million deal, bringing its total amount invested to $325 million. It has now raised more than $385 million from investors, and Acacia’s stock is up 10 percent on the news.
(To contrast, two years ago we wrote about 50 percent price drop and massive insider buy.)
Acacia provides back-end data storage and cloud computing for cloud apps like YouTube, among others. The founders came up with the idea to store and distribute data automatically when their customers upload videos, which drives hefty marketing cost, and, the company says, results in more engaged customers. According to Alexa, almost 11 percent of all the traffic on YouTube come from within users’ video feeds.
But as a cloud provider, Acacia doesn’t get the benefit of revenues from anyone who actually uploads the content. Instead, it acts as a middleman between the cloud storage and the videos themselves. And as a savvy marketer, the company knows how to turn its well-known service into an attractive business. Acacia has built platforms for its partners and partners like Amazon, YouTube, and Apple to see the user data Acacia is storing as they upload, and that has made it a favorite of big brands.
For now, it looks like Acacia will continue to focus on serving the YouTube and other video streaming properties. But for now, folks in Silicon Valley and elsewhere are looking ahead to a new kind of sharing economy. It’s creating a slew of companies that let consumers do things for a fee. Some of these services are unrelated to software, like TaskRabbit and Zirx. But others appear to be a direct competitor to services like Airbnb and Uber. In that way, Acacia fits right in. As of 2018, a third of all new homes were “hosted” in a place and rented out for less than the cost of what it cost the homeowner to buy the home. (And last year Airbnb had a higher percentage of its bookings on nights than Uber does now.)
Meanwhile, Acacia has managed to secure a ton of venture capital. In late 2017, we pointed out that Acacia’s revenues were growing faster than other so-called second-stage venture-backed companies — meaning they had fewer than $200 million in annual revenues — which led to speculation of an eventual IPO. But in a blog post titled “Acacia Is Still Private,” the startup said that “it is certainly doing much better than we originally expected, and in some cases does well beyond our own wildest dreams.”