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Thanks to paperwork Twitter has to file in Ireland, we seem to have discovered two previously unknown Twitter subsidiaries—which may well point to some unreported acquisitions the company made.When a startup gets swallowed up by a bigger company, it doesn’t just disappear.
Traces of its existence haunt corporate databases. Its phantom shares sit, wholly owned, in a filing cabinet. More often than not, lawyers become the caretakers of these graveyards of legal fictions.
This is how Alexander Macgillivray, Twitter’s top lawyer, gained the distinction of serving simultaneously on the board of a dozen disappeared startups bought by Twitter—including a couple of mysterious ones Business Insider can’t link to announced deals.
Macgillivray’s directorships came to light when we downloaded an annual report for Twitter International, Twitter’s Irish subsidiary through which it runs its fast-growing overseas businesses.
Twitter has been a voracious acquirer of smaller companies since its purchase of Summize five years ago, as we’ve noted. Everything from Twitter’s iPhone app to its search engine to its weekly email digest stems in part from an acquisition. Acquisitions have also been a key way Twitter has built up its engineering team.
Ireland requires corporations to disclose their directors and any other boards they serve on. Twitter International is a subsidiary of Twitter, but it still has its own board, consisting of Macgillivray, Twitter’s general coujnsel; Twitter COO Ali Rowghani; and Robert O’Shea, a partner at the Irish law firm Matheson who specialises in creating such international corporate structures.
There’s nothing surprising about Macgillivray holding board seats on so many of Twitter’s subsidiaries. It’s typical for in-house lawyers to serve in this role. It’s just eye-opening to see them all so neatly listed. Normally, finding them would require an exhaustive search of state business registrations and other documents.
Even so, this is nowhere near a complete guide to Twitter’s acquisitions. Not all deals generate this kind of paperwork, for one. Those startup buys described as “acquire-hires”—where the main target was the engineering staff of a company, not its technology or intellectual property—don’t involve an actual acquisition of a corporation.
It’s also possible that Twitter assigned someone besides Macgillivray to serve on the board of an acquired corporation, though he’s pretty consistently listed wherever there’s been a significant deal.
Here are all the boards Macgillivray serves on. With two exceptions, we’ve matched them up to deals Twitter has announced.
We asked Twitter for comment and didn’t hear back.
- Backtype: Social analytics, acquired in July 2011.
- Cloudhopper: Mobile messaging, April 2010.
- Summify: Social news, January 2012; represented by two different entities, Context Media Technologies and Vault Acquisition. Blakes, a Canadian law firm, says it represented Vault Acquisition, a subsidiary of Twitter, in its acquisition of Context Media, the maker of Summify.
- Dasient: Web security, January 2012.
- Julpan: Social search, September 2011.
- Mixer Labs: Location information, December 2009.
- Posterous: Blogging tools, March 2012.
- Smallthought Systems: Analytics, June 2010.
- Summize: Social search, July 2008.
- Tweetdeck: May 2011, including both UK and US entities.
- Tweetie LLC: iPhone app maker, April 2010. (Some people misreported this deal as an acquisition of Tweetie maker Atebits by Twitter, but that’s not what Twitter announced at the time. Atebits founder Loren Brichter worked for Twitter for a time, then returned to Atebits, which now makes a popular iPhone game, Letterpress. )
- Seagull Acquisition: This company was registered in Delaware on August 1, 2011. Twitter announced the acquisition of Bagcheck, a social sharing site, shortly afterwards, so that’s a possible link.
- Willow Acquisition: The State of Delaware reports a company by this name formed on November 14, 2011. We haven’t found any related deals announced around that time.
Here’s Twitter International’s annual return filing: