The rest of the world might not know about it, but MenuPages, an online compendium of restaurant and take-out menus for eight major U.S. cities, is a pretty big deal in New York. But is it ripe for the picking? A source close to MenuPages told us that the Gotham-based start-up has been acquired, or is close to it, but didn't know who the buyer was, which means this one remains a rumor.
The ad-supported MenuPages, operated under the company name Slick City Media, runs local sites for New York to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Miami region, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. According to Compete.com, the site pulls in over 300,000 visitors per month and has grown steadily since last year, although the chart shows a bit of a plateau.
It's easy to see why someone with the available cash might want to buy it. A site like MenuPages provides opportunities for locally-targeted ads--literally down to the neighborhood--and the fact that people visit the site specifically to search for food means more opportunities for niche advertisers. And it's equally easy to see why the site management might want to cash out and move on: the company's been around since 2002, which is ancient in Web years.
So, assuming MenuPages is indeed a buyout target, who's the buyer? It's likely someone with interest in the local-search market, which means there are a few possibilities.
IAC/InterActiveCorp. Barry Diller's ocean liner of a Web conglomerate has made it through some stormy waters recently, and signs indicate that the New York company has resumed its feisty, pluck-em-up acquisition habits. Recently, IAC has purchased teen fashion site GirlSense and the parent company of Dictionary.com.
The thing you always read in IAC's acquisition announcements is that the company plans to integrate new buys with existing brands. And considering IAC operates local business directory Citysearch and would-be Google rival Ask, it seems like the most logical buyer for a site like MenuPages. But a source at IAC didn't know anything about a MenuPages acquisition, so this one remains a question mark.
AOL. Bebo aside, most of AOL's recent acquisitions have been in the advertising or technology space: widget maker Goowy, content-linking service Sphere, and ad firm Tacoda. Search doesn't seem to be at the top of its list right now. But it did buy a fantasy football site last month, so who knows?
Yahoo. Like AOL, Yahoo's focus in recent months has been advertising, not search. But even amid the Microsoft snafu, Yahoo still made a number of purchases itself, like Mac search aid Inquisitor and marketing analytics software IndexTools. If Yahoo still wants to grow its local-search options, this could be a nice pick for it. Still, unlikely.
Google. Probably not. Mountain View would likely prefer to serve MenuPages' ad space than own it. We all know Google just isn't known for content buys.
Yelp. The business reviews site is probably too small to make acquisitions, but it did raise another round of venture cash a few months ago, and providing menus alongside its restaurant reviews could give it a leg up over bigger rival Citysearch. Wildly popular in San Francisco, Yelp could use a MenuPages buy to broaden its footprint in New York--where it recently opened an office.
Somebody you haven't heard of. When it comes to New York start-ups, don't discount these guys. Around town there are new-media conglomerates, shopping-happy millionaires, and investment firms with a taste for majority stakes. And because there isn't a coherent culture of "tech" the way there is in the Bay Area, sometimes big names can fly under the radar entirely. Example: The Pilot Group, a firm spearheaded by former AOL exec Bob Pittman, has acquired or purchased majority stakes in a handful of niche content start-ups like locally-focused e-newsletters Thrillist and DailyCandy.
"Old" Media. Never rule it out. Sometimes they know what they're doing and sometimes, well, they don't. Either way, city-focused buys could be on the rise: NBC Universal showed an appetite for locally-flavored purchases when early this year it purchased LX Networks, maker of New York and L.A.-oriented video programming.