One of Norway’s most remarkable start-up firms that became big in the browser business looks likely to be taken over by Chinese interests. Opera Software’s founder isn’t pleased, but its board is unanimously recommending that shareholders sell out to a Chinese investment fund that’s offered NOK 10.5 billion for the company.
Opera Software, which reportedly had been courted by potential acquirers lately, has remained based in Oslo despite massive international expansion over the past two decades. It was founded at the dawn of the Internet age in 1994 by Norwegian-Icelandic entrepreneur Jon von Tetzchner, who later built it into a company that now bills itself as having more than 350 million Internet customers around the world.
Von Tetzchner quit as Opera Software’s chief executive in 2010 after disagreements with its board over the company’s strategy and direction. He sold himself out of the company a few years ago, taking an estimated NOK 600 million with him when he left, but has remained keenly interested in the company and told the website for newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday that he thinks the looming takeover is “sad.”
“So the rumours (of a takeover) proved to be true,” von Tetzchner, who also has had recent conflicts with Opera’s management, told Aftenposten. “I think it’s sad that Opera will no longer be a Norwegian company. Yet another Norwegian company will disappear.”
Opera Software’s stated vision of “championing an open Internet” and “shaping an open, connected world” may seem at odds with an acquisition by investors from a country known for restricting Internet access. Its chairman Sverre Munck, however, said the board, “after a thorough evaluation,” backs the offer from Golden Brick Silk Road Equity Investment Fund II to buy all outstanding shares in the company for NOK 71 each.
Munck said in a statement that the board recommends shareholders accept the offer. He also thanked Opera’s management team “for the good job they have done on behalf of shareholders, emoloyees and other interested parties.” The price offered by the Chinese investment fund is around NOK 20 higher than the level where Opera Software’s stock has recently traded.
Aftenposten reported that the investment fund is backed by, among others, the Chinese information technology companies Kunlun and Qihoo. Large shareholders of Opera Software ASA, who together control 33 percent of the stock, reportedly have accepted the offer already.
Management also supports the proposed takeover: “There’s a strong strategic and industrial rationale behind this offer,” Lars Boilesen, chief executive of Opera Software ASA, stated in a press release. He said he thinks the Chinese consortium behind the offer “will be a good owner for Opera,” based on their “broad and strong position in many markets.” Boilesen believes the new owners will “strengthen” Opera’s position by helping the company “take care of its users and partners, give us more innovative ability and increase our ability to keep growing.”
Von Tetzchner remains unconvinced. “Opera was a company with fantastic possibilities,” he told Aftenposten. “The value of the company lay in the technology we developed. Instead of continuing with that, management chose to focus on digital advertising.” He claimed the company he founded isn’t being bought, “it’s being sold,” adding that the company started talking to potential acquirers four years ago.
“This is the end of a project we were proud to build up,” said von Tetzchner, who last year launched a new browser venture, Vivaldi Technologies (external link), which also competes, like Opera, against giants like Google and Microsoft. “I hope we can fill the hole that Opera will leave.”